My husband is a chemical engineer, and he is very critical of the fun-focus where math and science is concerned in public schools today. Our little girl is in grade two and loves science. It is the class we hear most about at the supper table. She will sit through her dad’s driest technical explanation of anything science-related in fact, such is her interest.
He worries though that her teachers are undoing his efforts with fun, but educationally meaningless, activities. In his opinion, the sciences are fascinating enough without saddling them with an impossible to maintain entertainment factor. Science, he will tell anyone who’ll listen, is work, but work can be more engaging than any Muppet or Wii game if it’s approached properly and related to a child’s real world. This view is very different from the one the President is touting in his belief that video games and more passive hours in front of the television are the answer to the country’s lagging in the fields of math and science.
As a former classroom teacher, I can attest to the fact that there are bigger issues for science and math than the lack of song and dance. For science in particular, there has never been a standard curriculum that ensures that each child learns the same basic things at the same grade level. As a result, children arrive in high school possessed of a mish-mash of science that may or may not be enough of a base for the biology, chemistry and physics courses typically taught at that level.
Couple this with the severe lack of teachers with science degrees teaching at the elementary and junior high/middle school levels and the rate of readiness is further jeopardised.
Even at the high school level, chemistry and physic teachers are hard to come by. Competition from private industry is fierce and college students with the proper credentials are lured into the private sector with higher salaries and jobs that are far easier than teaching rooms full of hormonal teenagers. School districts are tied to a seniority based pay scale simply can’t compete.
But the fun factor dogs education. It can’t be completely dismissed as an issue, it seems, despite the fact that the data on teaching via media isn’t all that convincing. Schools have been pummelled in the last decade with the idea that what they do is dull and kills the desire to learn.
Boredom equals sinking standardised test scores more than aptitude and effort in the minds of non-educators. As an English teacher who had 13 year-olds happily diagramming sentences and reading Shakespeare, I found that relevancy out-weighs fun in most instances. A child convinced there is a real relationship between what they are learning and the real world will readily learn anything. Even if it isn’t in cartoon form. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Like adults, kids can be taught to recognise value and they will respond accordingly.
What do you think? What has succeeded with your kids? Tell us.