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Middle School kills the scientists in kids.


23 replies to this topic

#1
Ms. Spam

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NPR is having an interesting discussion about how science and being a scientist is killed by middle school because it's all learning by rote. 

 

But much like the Karate Kid you had to do the boring stuff first to get to the part where you do the fun stuff. Wax on - Wax off!

 

When I was in middle school we did lots of learning definitions by copying and writing them down. The names of different cloud formations and different types of rock.

 

I can see how this might kill the drive to learn and be a scientist when you grow up and we have to - as teachers - add additional work that may give them applications for what they are learning by rote so they learn that this is not just for the sake of doing it but because you have to know how to verbalize things in terms that others will understand and how the things work. 

 

So what say you? Did your love for science get killed in school or did it never happen or did it make it MORE!?



#2
Tank

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I'd say the media's disinterest in science, and the slowly lowering IQ of the general populace is also to blame.

 

Can you imagine not liking science in the 60s? Remember when space was cool.

 

Right now there's talk about living microbes on Mars, there's four viable HIV cures close to realization, and no one cares.


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#3
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I had friends that loved science but for me I dreaded doing the science project. It was the worst. I was terrible at coming up with ideas. It was not until college I liked doing lab work. I did  enjoy making aspirin in chemistry class. But doing the "build a compound" was hard. 



#4
Robin

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I have fond memories of my teachers, I love learning and believe that in all the ways that matter I will never stop being a student first. My experiences with my childrens teachers are that they are so much like the ones from my generation: they are compassionate, balanced, skilled and very hard working. In this area, I consider myself and my family to have been very lucky.
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#5
Poe Dameron

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Isn't science hard, often tedious, work though?  This seems to be like complaining that math isn't fun.  Some people are going to enjoy physics and chemistry more than others, but you're going to have to put in the effort to really learn those subjects.

 

I get what you're saying, but I think the "rote" problem is more a problem of just giving the kids something to be graded even though they're not learning anything.  But that's more poor teaching.  Rote is a step in learning.  The problem is that the kids never start making connections or learning how to make the connections.  Just getting kids to the point of being able to answer the question "What does that mean?" or "How does that relate to this other thing?" when they give a rote answer would be a step forward.

 

They aren't really encouraged to engage their brains and really understand.  Which is the biggest failing.


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#6
El Chalupacabra

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More just asking a question here, but it seems to me that due to all the new technology and media that exists and continues to be innovated (EG PCs, tablets, smart phones, and all the apps on them, video games, and internet), that kids have a much shorter attention span.  If that is the case, could this account for a lowered interest in science and math, namely when it relies on learning by rote?  Maybe it isn't a learning issue, but the way it is being taught that needs to change, because the way kids learn and absorb information has changed?


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#7
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Chalupa! That is exactly what I'm arguing in my Masters program for math ed. That's why I find this so interesting. Math and science go hand and hand because you need something to base measurements on and formulas and algorithms are just as important. At first I thought technology would be a boon for teaching in school but some technology is not applied correctly I think. More like window dressing for a lesson. There is also fear of new technology in the classroom by the teacher doing lessons.  I think that have a phone or tablet app can help with rote learning but making the leap to applying it in the real world is where we as teachers seem to fail.

 

One thing that I found is that younger kids seem to stick with things more and are more willing to learn so the attention span part in elementary school is still there although some kids need refocusing. But once you get to middle school the boredom sets in faster so I have to learn to see when it's too much and  switch gears as a teacher to match that. The expectation to be entertained all the time has to be changed. When we were kids school was seen as a kind of work by me, personally. How we set that expectation is where I think we as teachers need to change to meet this failure to keep kids learning and being interested in science. 


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#8
Ms. Spam

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@Poe: Is science hard though? I admit chemistry was a struggle for me.  And I got geometry much easier than algebra II because geometry is visual.



#9
El Chalupacabra

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Chalupa! That is exactly what I'm arguing in my Masters program for math ed. That's why I find this so interesting. Math and science go hand and hand because you need something to base measurements on and formulas and algorithms are just as important. At first I thought technology would be a boon for teaching in school but some technology is not applied correctly I think. More like window dressing for a lesson. There is also fear of new technology in the classroom by the teacher doing lessons.  I think that have a phone or tablet app can help with rote learning but making the leap to applying it in the real world is where we as teachers seem to fail.

 

One thing that I found is that younger kids seem to stick with things more and are more willing to learn so the attention span part in elementary school is still there although some kids need refocusing. But once you get to middle school the boredom sets in faster so I have to learn to see when it's too much and  switch gears as a teacher to match that. The expectation to be entertained all the time has to be changed. When we were kids school was seen as a kind of work by me, personally. How we set that expectation is where I think we as teachers need to change to meet this failure to keep kids learning and being interested in science. 

Interesting, Spam.  From my end, I do tech support in higher ed, and I have long noticed that at least at the university level, most students are far more comfortable than many faculty members, when it comes to technology.  I'd like to say it is basically faculty who are Baby Boomer age or older, but it really isn't.  I've had to assist many faculty members who are as young as late-Gen-X to early millennial age, with very basic instruction of operating anything from checking email, running their Blackboard site (uploading assignments, grades, etc), to using basic mediated classrooms. 

 

Technophobia is not limited to older people, apparently, and for teachers this is a big problem. This is literally all stuff that you would think anyone born after 1980, if not 1970, should be able to handle.  As an aside, I find it interesting when these folks can operate Instagram or Facebook, but can't operate MS Office or Blackboard....the skills are there, but I think it may partially be due to technophobia, and partly due to laziness.

 

When students see teachers fumbling with technology, they loose confidence in their other abilities at the college level.   I can only imagine what kids think of their teachers at the grade school and high school level.   Perhaps that accounts for some tuning out in the classroom?

 

@Poe: Is science hard though? I admit chemistry was a struggle for me.  And I got geometry much easier than algebra II because geometry is visual.

My $0.02 is math and science are often not hard once a student gets the hang of it.   Science to a large part, and math in particular, are procedural and are the type of subjects where something either "is or isn't;"  meaning they are not interpretive like say history or English lit.  But math (including algebra, calc, trig, etc) is a very dry subject for a lot of people, and it is hard to stick with it when your eyes glaze over.  Which kind of goes right to my questioning the presentation of teaching such subjects.  


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#10
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Math and science are mostly hard because it's acceptable to just say that it's hard and give up. We don't allow that with reading and writing, for the most part, but throw an X into a math problem, or expect a kid to use a number line, and you might as well be talking voodoo.
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#11
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More just asking a question here, but it seems to me that due to all the new technology and media that exists and continues to be innovated (EG PCs, tablets, smart phones, and all the apps on them, video games, and internet), that kids have a much shorter attention span.  If that is the case, could this account for a lowered interest in science and math, namely when it relies on learning by rote?  Maybe it isn't a learning issue, but the way it is being taught that needs to change, because the way kids learn and absorb information has changed?

There's some truth to this, especially with younger children who are still developing, but the "phones ruin everything" argument is one I like to push back on. When I was a kid I was constantly told TV was going to rot my brain. It was my favorite thing. And now I write on a TV show.

 

My son is obsessed with video games, (cause when preteen boy isn't) and yes, part of me is worried he'll turn into a slug as an adult, but at the same time, I foster it by getting him into coding classes, or taking him to conventions and exhibits that show more of the behind the scenes aspect.

 

Technology is great, you just have to teach responsibility along with it.


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#12
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@ Tank OMG Agree! I have brought in nurses that work in neonatal units to show titration math that is used to figure out dosages of medicine for babies and had a surveyor friend come in and we mapped a road through the football field in middle school. When they see the reason for the boring learning sometimes it helps. It's the hardest thing about teaching. A kid shut down when he's being lectured at. Also I HEART a parent that gets involved. 

 

@ Fozzie - you are correct good, sir! We focus on one thing too much. I work in a charter school that focuses on language arts but I'd like to see teachers make math and science more fun and interesting and not scary!

 

@ Chalupa! Still processing! HA at using Blackboard. We use some version of Gradespeed. 


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#13
El Chalupacabra

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Not familiar with Gradespeed, but have worked with Canvas a little. I prefer Canvas to Blackboard....but that is setting the bar low.  BB is so old school, pun intended. 


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#14
Jacen123

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I'll chime in on the higher ed tech issue from the (somewhat) recent student and faculty perspective.  When I was a grad student, I definitely noticed some of the faculty having bigger issues with using classroom technology than others.  We used to playfully mock them for it among ourselves, but we didn't think too much of it.  Having taught classes in many of the same classrooms as them, I will say that some of those room's systems were much more complicated than they needed to be, but I will get back to that in a bit.  My major professor was one of those who had more problems with the classroom tech and it was indicative of his overall computer use.   His students helped him out with things as much as we could, but he still often had to go to our department IT for many problems, partly brought on by having gotten cheap laptops that weren't very reliable.

 

As an undergrad, I didn't really notice the classroom tech issue so much because we didn't use too much technology in most of my classes, which were classical chalkboard-oriented mathematical theory classes.  The few that used technology regularly had professors who were well acquainted with it.  At the time, though, supportive tech like Blackboard was seemingly still somewhat new.  It wasn't widespread throughout the university, but was used uniformly in some colleges.  Such software also varied from college to college (blackboard and WebCT are the two I remember), so it could be difficult for students to get used to the differences in each.

 

More interesting, I guess, are my experiences now as a faculty member.  I work at a large state research university that has had a lot of growth in student enrollment in the past 10 years or so.  The schools I went to before coming here were also large state research schools, but had access to considerably more funding, so a lot of the classrooms were nicer and/or more uniform.  I will readily admit that I sometimes have problems with classroom technology here and it seemed like a switch was thrown in me that started it when I got here, which led to me making jokes about this issue both to myself and to my classes.  At first, part of this was getting used to what were new protocols here, some of which are actually great at simplification, others of which aren't.

 

After the first year, in which all of my classes were in similar classrooms in my building, I started having to teach in other buildings.  The setups for the classroom technology were often very different in those other rooms.  Some of them had great computer stations that were easy to use, but others even lacked computers, so I had to bring a laptop with me to set up manually every day.  Among the ones with decent set-ups, some had systems that would automatically lower the screen when the projector would turn on (even if you didn't want the screen there) and others had to be lowered separately (either manually or via a separate switch).  Some of the classrooms have systems that are very stable and others that would break a few times throughout the semester.  On some occasions, I taught in university-coordinated classrooms, so I had to call university IT for help with problems in them.  On others, I was in my building, so I could contact our great, departmental IT guys, but sometimes I teach in other buildings in non-coordinated rooms, so I have no clue who to actually contact.

 

My main point with that is to stress that it can be difficult for faculty, even the rare ones as young as me, to keep track of how to use vastly differing tech setups in different classrooms.

 

The same can also hold true with class support software.  In grad school, we used the traditional Blackboard system, which I actually liked quite a bit for posting grades and lecture notes.  For the purposes of my class, it was pretty user friendly for both me and my students.  The only problem I really had with it was when students sent emails through it to me, the system wouldn't tell me whether the student was e-mailing just me or everyone, which was problematic when students wouldn't address anybody specifically in the e-mail.  When I got here, though, even though we still use Blackboard, it is their other line of software, which is based on the old WebCT series after they bought that company out.  I found it so much more confusing to use, between requesting a course site on it from the university, posting documents, and uploading grades, so I stopped using it in favor of just maintaining my own simple websites (without posted grades on them).

 

I also "have" to use different online homework systems for different classes I teach.  Some books are affiliated with MyMath/StatLab and others with WebAssign.  Other classes, still, that I don't teach, use the open source WebWork system, which sounds horrible to me, but at least that one is free for students.  Keeping track of what each system allows me to do for making assignments, grading assignments, and displaying for grades, is quite painful.  I have issues, of course, with textbook company practices and always feel a bit guilty using the software for homework since it isn't cheap, but I have actually gotten generally good feedback from my students about the online homework systems because of the fact that they are able to get instant feedback on each part of their homework rather than having to wait a week to get overall feedback from me. :shrug:

 

Combine all of the various different types of technology use in different circumstances with the many other obligations of faculty, some of which require yet additional technologies, and it can be far more difficult than people realize for us to keep track of the procedures for using individual classroom and software procedures.  Again, I am saying this even just in my low thirties after having used computers and other technologies for most of my life and many of my formative years.  I can easily understand the difficulties that older faculty face with the same circumstances.

 

I want to come back to the original issue of science (and math) education later on, so hopefully I won't forget to do so.


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#15
Justus

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I'd say the media's disinterest in science, and the slowly lowering IQ of the general populace is also to blame.

 

Can you imagine not liking science in the 60s? Remember when space was cool.

 

Right now there's talk about living microbes on Mars, there's four viable HIV cures close to realization, and no one cares.

Why would they? The entertainment and clothing industries spent decades increasing the state of mindless idolatry/materialism to the point where the average person's only bit of "scientific curiosity" (especially the young at any given period of time) has been boiled down what new app is in the next version of an iPhone, or worse, they might watch the endless pseudo-science documentaries on Discovery or the "History" Channel where science has to be coated with hosts and or scientists making enough references to impossible creations from sci-fi TV & movies, all just to fill half the program with movie clips to keep viewers interested.

 

Microbes on Mars? Silence. Taylor Swift's flat ass releasing another screech-a-thon? News of the week. That's America.


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#16
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If she had a bigger butt would it be better?

#17
Justus

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No.



#18
Poe Dameron

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Just can't please some people.



#19
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I also would add that science is so politicized now that by the time they're in middle school, kids have likely heard quite a bit about scientists being liars and scam artists.

#20
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I think we have to figure out a way to make science more about science and not about politics. I like Benjamin Franklin and a lot of stuff he worked on was science like. That's the closest we need to have politics involved. I guess it all started getting politicized back when Nukes were being developed. 



#21
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Preschool-8th grade school admin here and did my dissertation on student achievement in STEM subject areas.  

 

I would like to know why NPR thinks middle school is killing science.  The number of students entering college to go for a STEM degree and graduating with the STEM degree are up.  Also, why is it specifically middle school.  The number one predictor of long-term success in science is 7th grade math and 3rd grade literacy. If student's aren't on grade level in math by 7th grade and literacy by 3rd grade they will likely not be successful in STEM.  This is the time when science and math begin to merge and students that do not have emerging algebraic skills start to drop off. 

 

I have a much longer answer, but in general, math in elementary school takes a backseat to literacy.  For example, very few elementary teachers have a strong math background.  Most elementary school's professional development are focused on literacy.  Despite all of this literacy training, reading for science is different than reading a story.  This skill needs to be explicitly taught to many students....but never does.  Adding to this problem is that gaps in mathematics are much more difficult to fill than literacy.  Finally, I believe that as a educational system we move from concrete examples (think actually physically putting two blocks and three blocks together to make five blocks) into abstract (the traditional 2+3=5).

 

But to what many are saying, yeah...learning about dinosaurs and animals is cool and all, but **** starts to get hard in middle school so if you aren't up to speed in math and literacy you aren't going to be successful in STEM subject areas.  


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#22
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It wasn't a Science Friday topic. Like you it is part of what I do, so I loved that topic if only because it opens discourse. I will try to find the episode to post. 



#23
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I think STEM education needs to be more hands on. When I told my daughter that I signed her up for a week of science camp this summer, she groaned and said science is boring. Of course, I about had kittens right there. I pointed out that she earned every single Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science badge offered at her Girl Scout level that year (8 of them!). She was like, well Mom, you make it fun! I've taught a troop of 12 kindergartners this year and helped run an engineering workshop for 40 K-5 girls. The kids really thrive with hands on examples and learning concepts instead of memorizing formulas. That stuff is still important, but you need to build the conceptual foundation to make it more innate. I can get kindergartners to understand coding without even using a computer by having them play games that use coding principles, or making a bracelet that spells their name in binary. But that even works at the middle school levels. Have the kids do experiments, build stuff. I admit, not every kid is going to be great at it, especially at design work (I even kind of suck at it, I'm much more of an analytical/mathy engineer). They are rolling out the STEM badges for grades 6-12 at the end of the week, I'm interested to see what they did for the older girls, because I like what they did for the younger girs, but obviously they have to increase the difficulty.

In middle school, I liked biology far better than physical science because the teacher was a lot better. He had us doing things. The physical science teacher pretty much had us read from the book.

By the way, this week is that week of science camp. She made slime today and measured it's strength. I'd rather be at science camp than work.
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#24
Ms. Spam

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Exactly,  Destiny! I try really hard to make my lessons hands on. Visual learners like it better too. Your experience in middle school was exactly like mine. 

 

We've done some really cool lessons on taxonomy in my class. I had the kids draw and write and use physical examples (they could take leaves of trees to their books) of 5 different plants and 5 different animals of their choosing. They made little books and had to describe and break down their genus and species. We did it on the Museum Reach of the Riverwalk and as take home work. 





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