All Kids Should Think Like Scientists

We spend a lot of time writing about digital learning here at edReformer, but I love hands on science.   Rather than cramming science stats for multiple choice test, the best STEM schools teach kids to think like scientists—they don’t teach science, they DO science.
Every student should have the opportunity to become an expert in something every year.  The luxury to focus on a topic of interest, particularly in science, and research it until you can demonstrate that you know more than anyone around about a small corner of the world is to experience academic success.
Science fairs give kids an opportunity to be academic show-offs.  They create the luxury to focus, to research, to experiment, to apply, to create, to demonstrate.
All secondary students should participate in a science fair every year.  The integrated projects should be scored for science content knowledge, process execution, presentation and writing quality (the projects have to include a written report not just the posterboard stuff).  It’s not hard to build standards-based online rubrics that allow judges—teachers and community members—wandering around with an iPad scoring app to provide feedback to a dozen or more projects.  And it’s easy to incorporate this sort of standards-based feedback into a mastery-based progression model.
I’m a fan of the Society for Science & the Public, the science fair people.   For more than 70 years they’ve been promoting science fairs.  Intel has been the long time sponsor of ISEF, the The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. More than 1,600 high school students from over 50 countries show their stuff at the annual event.
ISEF is great, but it’s for serious high school students.  Science fairs are even more important in the middle grades where there’s an opportunity to capture student attention and change their academic trajectory—it’s a time when all students can and should be thinking and acting like scientists.
Broadcom recently took over the sponsorship of middle grade science fairs. “Broadcom MastersMath, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars—will reach the hundreds of thousands of middle school students throughout the United States engaged in hands-on science fairs.”
Many U.S. schools has succeeded in making science boring.  Efforts to make it more important by testing it have only made the situation worse.  It’s time for all kids to DO science  and show what they know in annual community celebrations.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment

Roxy Mourant

I totally agree... LOVE the scientific process and inquiry-based learning. (And I'm a history teacher) Coaching robotics and real-world design project helps kids take the science of hands-on fun and figure things out by just tinkering. I've seen kids blossom from all walks of life, not just the 'tech nerds' as we like to call ourselves.

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