TITLE: More Dissatisfaction with Math and Science Education AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: June 20, 2007 1:20 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Another coincidence in time... The day after I post a note on Alan Kay's thoughts on teaching math and science to kids, I run across (via physics blogger and fellow basketball crazy Chad Orzel) Sean Carroll's lament about a particularly striking example of what Kay wants to avoid. Carroll's article points one step further to his source, Eli Lansey's The sad state of science education, which describes a physics club's visit to a local elementary school to do cool demos. The fifth graders loved the demos and were curious and engaged; the sixth graders were disinterested and going through the motions of school. From his one data point, Carroll and Lansey hypothesize that there might be a connection between this bit flip and what passed for science instruction at the school. Be sure to visit Lansey's article if only to see the pictures of the posters these kids made showing their "scientific procedure" on a particular project. It's really sad, and it goes on in schools everywhere. I've seen similar examples in our local schools, and I've also noticed this odd change in stance toward science -- and loss in curiosity -- that seems to happen to students around fifth or sixth grade. Especially among the girls in my daughters' classes. (My older daughter seemed to go through a similar transition about that time but also seems to have rediscovered her interest in the last year as an eighth grader. My hope abounds...) Let's hope that the students' loss of interest isn't the result of some unavoidable developmental process and does follow primarily from non-science or anti-science educational practices. If it's the latter, then the sort of things that Alan Kay's group are doing can help. I haven't written about it here yet, but Iowa's public universities have been charged by the state Board of Regents with making a fundamental change in how we teach science and math in the K-12 school system. My university, which is the home of the state's primary education college, is leading the charge, in collaboration with our bigger R-1 sisters. I'll write more later as the project develops, but for now I can point you to web page that outlines the initiative. Education reform is often sought, often started, and rarely consummated to anyone's satisfaction. We hope that this can be different. I'd feel a lot more confident if these folks would take work like Kay's as its starting point. I fear that too much business-as-usual will doom this exercise. As I type this, I realize that I will have to get more involved if I want what computer scientists are doing to have any chance of being in the conversation. More to do, but a good use of time and energy. -----