She blinded me with science…

Here’s something that’s been bothering me…

So I’m on this committee for a Science Rodeo at my kid’s school. It’s going to be fun; lots of easy experiments, the UT Physics Circus is stopping by, the middle school science fair honorable mentions will be there (winners have their next level of competition that same night), prizes, pizza, you name it. I’m in charge of coordinating the take home experiment kits. Anyway, this is all to get the kids excited about science and enhance the curriculum at the school. And the problem is….?

Ok, let’s start with the parent volunteers. Or total lack thereof. We’re getting the “I don’t know anything about science” riff from so many of them. Hello? History major! It’s not like we’re doing particle physics here. The stuff we’re doing is like pH testing with yellow paper and ammonia, a cantilevered bridge, keeping a paper towel dry in a cup. You know, super basic stuff. It’s all very cool, and all very easy, and all on Bill Nye or Steve Spangler’s websites. But if I hear “science is hard” one more time I may just lose it. And we need volunteers for stuff like shopping for supplies and crowd control. Don’t need to know much about science for that.

Next is the administration. Apparently, we are to do this in such a way as to not cause the teachers to have to lift a finger. Now I understand that the teachers have a lot on their plates, but they don’t even want the teachers to have to collect the take home kit results so that the kids can get a prize. Or mention it “too much” in class. Attendance by the teachers is not even stressed. It was rumored that the teachers couldn’t offer extra credit points for attendance. So the parent committee is hoping that we can get some of the teachers there that night, if for no other reason than to participate with their students and have fun. In the principal’s defense, she will be there and so will her husband with an astronomy display. But the bureaucratic message she’s sending is odd.

This gets a big ol’ WTF from me. This is the same school that lost its top ranking because of the results on the 5th grade science TAKS. It was our principal’s first year, and boy people were calling for her head. They lost the ranking because not enough students made “commended” on the test. Anyway, you’d think more people would have jumped on this idea to stimulate interest in science. I’m still concerned that we aren’t going to get a good turnout of kids. We have about 975 kids in the school, and I think we’ll be lucky to get 250.

I just get baffled when we (as a society) talk out of both sides of our mouths like this. We need our children to learn and do well, but when it comes time to facilitate it, we just don’t show up. What does this say to the kids?

Ok, rant over. I know I’m preaching to the choir here with these thoughts. I just had to get them off of my chest.

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7 responses to “She blinded me with science…

  1. I know just what you mean about having trouble getting volunteers. I have organized clubs from scratch that are centered on personal development – a skill that seemed ideal for the MBA students I was recruiting – and yet I had very little participation overall. The group that did come always felt they got a lot out of it, both in their classroom improvement as well as their future potential in a career. Still, so few wanted to be a part that I wouldn’t be surprised if the club disbanded a year after I graduated. I suspect it didn’t because I handed it off to some interested first year students, but it sometimes felt like I was pulling teeth to get people involved.

    I also remember how hard it was to get parents involved in academic meets when I was in school. We needed proctors and question readers, as well as people to help the flow of students from area to area. Thankfully the groups attending often had a few parents along for the ride willing to shore things up.

    I also remember when I was in undergrad and went to a church that needed an eighth grade Sunday School teacher. I offered to do it, and I had a lot of fun. I thought at that age it was more important that the kids continue wanting to come to church than they get some particular piece of scripture memorized, so my classes were often very social. Most of the parents who ever spoke to me said things like “favorite teacher ever” or “thank you for helping [name of their kid] want to come to church”. But the youth minister pulled me aside one day and said “There have been some complaints from the parents that you aren’t teaching enough.” I was twenty years old, but I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Next time one complains, send them to me. I’ll be happy to remind them that I have the job because none of them would do it.” I never heard anything more about it.

  2. I did not, however, remember to change the opening words of my third paragraph. It’s been a long day. Sorry.

  3. Here’s an interesting take home experiment. We call it “paper TLC (thin layer chromatography)”. Cut a 1″x3″ piece of paper, like printer paper, and use a couple of different pens to place dots about 3/8″ from the bottom. Place the paper in a cup with a small amount of rubbing alcohol, less than 3/8″ deep. As the rubbing alcohol wicks up the paper, it can separate the constituent chemicals in the ink. It’s really neat to see black ink contain 3-4 various colors.
    I volunteer to do chemistry demonstrations at my kids schools. It’s a lot of fun, although it’s been harder and harder to get real chemicals into the school.

  4. tigger, I’ve seen that done the same way, only with an eye dropper of alcohol, so it makes a circular tie-dye effect. My pre-schoolers were wowed.

    My daughter is only in Kindergarten, so I don’t have any advice or much experience, but I can sing in the choir. We go to a private school which requires 15 service hours a year, which, if unfulfilled, you must pay for at a rate of $20/hr. We just had the mid-year meeting, which was poorly attended, and everyone who was there probably already had their service hours completed for the full year. So even when you hit parents in the pocketbook, they’re not participating.

  5. Okay before I totally agree with you I have to caveat my own personal suckage: I withdrew from volunteering at the preschool because that director has so pissed me off I can’t even verbalize a cordial hello to her in the hallway. I grimace my mouth in a mockery of a smile and nod. I’d begun tapering off last year and have tapered right into pretty much nothing this semester. I don’t volunteer at the elementary school because of, well, their requirements and my time commitments elsewhere and okay I usually got annoyed.

    I am really not a hair-trigger temper, I’m NOT!

    These are just not good places for me right now. Not to mention the kids.

    That said…WTF? Science is HARD?

    OMG that is a newsflash to me!

    Liberal arts major here who has always loved science. I mean what in the world is not science?

    Ironically it ended up I had encouraged math and science more with my kids!

    Due to unforeseen circumstances that cropped up, we didn’t get the science fair thing done in time, but boy it was a neat experiment (can you change a flowers color with dye in the water).

    Sorry you are lacking people. It stinks and is necessary.

    An idea if I may:

    In MA we had a great system where local businesses and professionals partnered with the schools in a mentor program. Obviously I volunteered in the language arts programs, but other people volunteered in maths and sciences. Sometimes locals, especially young DINKS, can fill in those gaps. It was SO successful. See if local businesses will donate volunteer and willing employees’ time to the school.

  6. I am a elementary teacher who has seen the same apathy to science that you are talking about. I’m glad you found Steve Spangler’s website (www.stevespanglerscience.com). He has been an inspiration in my teaching career… his seminars address exactly the problem you are talking about. Thankfully, there is someone out there who is trying to get teachers excited about teaching!

  7. OK, you need to realize that my comment is biased by someone who volunteers to teach music in my daughters PRESCHOOL class twice a month. If I don’t get to homeschoo, I will at least be a pretty involved mama. So, now that you have the preface, here are my two cents.

    I think that some people really are scared of scince. (I am one of the. I took the very smallest amount of science possible in college,and it is NOT my strong point.) But even being scared of science, I would probably go serve refreshments or something. Puhlease! Why do people think that educating children is completely the school’s responsibility? It ought to be the other way around. The parents are responsible for their children with the schools helpng out. In a world like that, the parent would do everything they could to support the schools too.

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