My Note –
When the nation wants to encourage science, math and engineering – well, that sounds pretty good.
But, it doesn’t start in a science class and not even with a nifty experiment seen in class or TV on a science show.
Science starts where we would expect it – in the home, in the community, in the neighborhood, in the family, in the basic curiosity awakened and encouraged.
When and as, a child starts to ask those questions about the world around them that was here when they got here – it is nearly always at the worst possible moment. Will that natural curiosity be met with harshness, contempt, disgust and hurtful words? Or with neglect? With frustration that the question was asked at all? Maybe the adult doesn’t know how the television works and would rather not make that obvious. Maybe dinner needs doing and clothes for work tomorrow washed and a thousand other things. Maybe the other adults in the community tell the child it isn’t anything worth worrying about – it just works because it does.
What is different between that and a neighborhood or moment between an adult and child that awakens an interest in science, discovery, putting together the pieces, learning and understanding (and consequently, in math, engineering and other fun things of learning)?
I suppose I’ve been both imaginative at times, and impatient in the moments with children that found those questions asked, too. Sometimes I’ve told more than they could understand about how that television works and sometimes I’ve had no patience with the moment when the questions came and said something flippant like, go look it up. What I didn’t say is, why do you need to know that? But, both as a child and as an adult – people have certainly said that to me and the first thing I felt was shame for even asking.
The best maybe has been those moments when a book lay handy nearby with pictures to explain it in ways easily understandable and interesting that I could open to that page sitting down in the floor with a child or children who had asked about it and get them started looking at it as I pointed to the big television and back to the small one in the book as it started helping them to see how all those things were inside that cabinet to make it work. Then, I could go back to whatever it was that I thought was so monumentally important, whether tedious or necessary or both.
Of course, I take for granted that when I see the book’s page, it actually does interest me nearly every time, too. There is always something I didn’t notice before which catches my attention and I say, Ooh what is that part – before remembering I’m supposed to be the grown up. Wonder what that part does? And, I’m ever reminded to say – “you know one time there was not any TVs and someone made one before any of them existed.” He built it from scratch, from parts put together in ways no one had ever done when he invented it.
Seems stupid doesn’t it? That our fascination as adults with things around us in science and an appreciation for it translates that excitement and interest and value to our children and the children around us even in the community. When people watched me taking pictures of a plaque on the side of Macy’s in NY which described the first Edison motion picture ever shown being presented there, people stopped and looked as if they had never even seen that plaque before or known anything about it. A child behind me nearby asked her parents – what does it say?
Well, does that child know of a time when there were not TVs and movies and motions pictures and shows filmed to stream live to far-away places? Will she ever know there was a time, a moment when men (and sometimes, women) came together to create these things and to make them available to the world we know today? Will she know that she could be a part of that for a future time in her own life and that whole new worlds are possible for her and her friends?
The other place that science starts beyond attitudes in our communities and homes about it is in vocabulary. Without the ability to understand the written and spoken words available to use for describing and expressing things, no one could learn what has already been studied, explored and known. I put on a twitter awhile ago, this note – when, after sharing this very nifty science thing I had seen on the news or internet, a friend patiently listened, politely showing interest and then asked, “what is a scheme”? That may have read in the mind of my listener as the word “Skeem” or “Skim”or may have been that inside was a personal belief that if it has to do with that science stuff, then its too hard to understand it.
cricketdiane photo of ye olde Webster's Dictionary 2011
Regardless, it reminded me that I had an advantage which many do not have in being completely obsessed to learn all the words that there are for anything and how to spell them, what they mean, how to use them and how to guess what they might mean in any context. However, that said, it is vitally important that words be available in an understandable form whatever the languages involved. There used to be a constant demand from adults around any child in America to look up words they didn’t know in a dictionary that every house seemed to have. I even went to friends houses and they had cupboards with a dictionary somewhere or a shelf under the coffee table with one and they were well used, not some kind of new coffee table book that was never opened. Now, online it is in a way much easier and yet it is not.
When a dictionary in book form gets opened, there are ways learned to look up a word even sometimes when the spelling isn’t known. Best guesses are forwarded and it causes a treasure hunt game to ensue. Other things are found along the way. If two friends, sisters or brothers are sitting looking up a word, the tendencies are to share those interesting entries found along the way with the spelling, definition and how it is guessed to be used. Adults around the kitchen table used to do this too when words were looked up in the household dictionary. And, then that habit and interaction carries forward into other forms of information and learning – of searching and sharing, talking about it and guessing together how it applies into real life.
It is an integrated approach where even the adults in the household learn and grow while sharing and teaching in an intimate conversation as equals in the learning of new words, and new things about words already known, and where those fit into other things of living. I think of a word I found once which had the little note, (archaic) in front of its definition. I turned to my mom and dad and said, “archaic” – does that mean its some word y’all would have used?
I’m sorry, but that is a level of intimacy in families that cannot be suborn by television, cable, internet or contempt for all things of learning.
It pays to read the dictionary. And, I do mean one with two covers, charts in the back for science stuff and words in between.
One other note –
When my lifetime started, there was likely a leftover common desire in our nation for educated children and educated adults. It seemed as though there was a lot more support for that “smart people” thing during the space race and national efforts to lead the world in technological and scientific breakthroughs, which I might add – we were caught off guard because we weren’t.
Then during my school years and beyond, it has been unpopular to be the nerd, the geek, the smart kid or adult in the crowd, to be the mathematician, the science geek, the astrophysicist or chemist or engineer. It was popular to be dumb and fun. That didn’t simply apply to girls and women – it applied to everybody. Well, if it popular to be dumb and show obvious stupidity, even better to be all together ignorant of those “science’ things, then that is what will happen – more and more people, including children will find it either unnecessary or undesirable to be smart, to be intelligent, to reason through things or to want to be educated and learned.
The infinite invitation to disdain, being publicly shunned and bullied exists in the above scenario and then to realize in an adult world that the riches and ease and comforts got to go for the dumb and fun who helped one another get it, acquire it, accumulate it and keep it – makes it hardly worth the efforts of study and apprenticeship to master the sciences, math and engineering disciplines. When the very stupidest of all are given the greatest wealth, whether it is on television shows, movies or in the society that supports doing it that way, there is very little good reason to develop one’s own talents, intelligences and abilities.
That would be the biggest barrier we have today in America to STEM education. It will keep being the problem as long as the lion’s share goes to those who would trade on the backs of others while never being a part of the solutions. Strangely enough, those same people are rarely the ones, for all that ease, comfort, resources, networks of powerful people, money and opportunities who can or do make innovations, inventions of merit, scientific discovery, engineering breakground or breakthroughs, developments or new innovative approaches to problems in the real world in real people’s lives. I don’t know why that is. It would’ve been my guess that the opposite would have been true but true reality proves otherwise. The pursuit becomes only to make the money faster and better within those spheres of influence without ever making a productive contribution with any of it in the multitude of other ways that individuals could with that level of resources. At the least, they sometimes create foundations which support others doing those things, but with far fewer of the resources than they would contribute if it were their own heart’s passion and inventions.
Because of these things, the most needed understandings are the most unappealing – Science, Math, Engineering, Technology and other disciplines of the same heady ilk. The teaching of these range from the most difficult to follow to those few whose passionate understanding of the underlying principles are conveyed with ease and clarity. It is a very muddled approach with any student at any level of the process getting a very hit and miss gamble whether the concepts will flow or be withheld by some ineptitude in conveying them. It is my belief as well, that when it comes to women, girls, daughters, mothers, female students, grandmums, there is an automatic distinction of assumption which determines the efforts. That assumption is that girls won’t get it, that it wouldn’t be worth explaining it to them. that college and university professors are wasting their time with the women students in their classes because they won’t get it or they won’t stick with it through to any real career with it, and that out of a group of any – the girls and women are the ones who simply won’t or don’t know anything about it or have any real interest in it. The “it” I’m talking about is, Science, Biology, Chemistry, Higher Mathematics, Scientific Studies, Research, Space Sciences, Physics, Computer Sciences and other Technologies, Engineering, Architecture, Structural Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Aeronautical Engineering, Oil and Petroleum Sciences, etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
When there are four people standing (adults or young adults) and three are women versed in the sciences and one is a man who has no information nor education and no interest in any of it – the tendency is still for the person coming to that group to assume that the one male in the group would be able to answer a science question, an engineering question, a math question, a computer question or be the only one of the group capable of knowing any of it.
That would be one problem my daughters should’ve never had to deal with but unfortunately, our nation has gone backwards instead of forwards. They would rather have women run around a football field in their underwear with shoulder pads and helmets playing football or running through videos in their underwear where all the men in the views of it are fully clothed, and the society in which we live would rather have women washing floors than doing science simply because none of the rest of the family want to have to pitch in and do any part of it. That is the world where we live now for America. And, without the brilliant minds of our women being massively involved in the sciences, we are being undernourished and under-served. The first computers were women, the computers of the world wars were women, the decoders were women, the first computer programmers that literally designed the interface that allows the machine’s zeroes and ones to be made into a presentation that looks like English or the written word or numbers and recognizable symbols was a woman and yet, most people wouldn’t know that nor believe it.
And just for a quick note for those who think Science is all that and too hard to understand –
Cooking is Chemistry.
Figuring out how much 10% plus a $2.00 coupon takes off the price of a pair of jeans is Math.
Knowing how much money is being spent as items go in the basket at the grocery is Math.
Knowing not to mix bleach products and ammonia based products is Chemistry.
Reading the labels and following the directions including the safety information is Scientific Method.
Knowing to roll a ball to a toddler who can’t possibly catch something flying at them is Physics.
Knowing how to keep your husband (or wife) from getting all the blankeys in the middle of the night when sleeping with them is, in fact a kind of Science well known in University circles – in fact – it covers several, including Physics, Physiology, Sociology, and Biology with a little Materials Engineering thrown in. If you get up and turn on the light to make them stop it – that is Physics, Physiology, Theoretical Cause and Effect Study – some Photonics and a little Electrical Technology thrown in.
When you Garden – it is Topographical Science, Engineering, and Biophysics, Biology and Botany. Plus if you want to get the right amount of sunshine or shade, you are using Meteorological Science and Chemistry when choices of plant foods are made based on the kind of plants and what they need to grow well.
When you water the garden, put petrol in the car, run to the store, evaluate the overall budget for buying that gas, those are all things involving Math, Science, Engineering and Studied, Educated Reasoning. It is Evaluative Reasoning. It is using Quantitative and Qualitative thinking skills. It is Science stuff. You estimated how long it would take. You took the route most easily, safely and quickly traversed. It was obvious and easy to figure almost automagically.
That’s because Science, Math, Engineering and Technology are simply ways to describe the things we know about the things we do and the ways they are known to work. Some of it is best scientific educated guesses, but much of it is known because it has been studied and conveyed to others who expanded what was known from those studies. Then, when we come to learn it, we are simply learning what they’ve already figured out so far, by observation of what is already there and in the world around us.
Someone asked at some point, “why does the wind blow?” with enough interest and fortitude to try and understand what might be making it do that. We use and understand that Science every single day when we look to the clouds and note which way they are moving or check to see that storms are coming because the feel of the wind on our skin tells us its direction or quality has changed. We know that it means a storm could be on the way toward us because of that line of individuals in our history who thought to ask why the wind blows and find out what could be making it do that.
And, that is Science. That is what all the Math is for – and what the putting together of tangible observations and studies teaches us. As we use it every day, and everyone in this generations’ time is using Math and the Sciences nearly every day no matter where they live, it seems easy, not hard to understand, not too difficult to get it – we use it all the time.
Some Nifty Stuff – Sciencey Stuff –
PopSci Popular Science
2011 Skyscraper Contest: Energy Harvesters, Domes With Holes, and Other Buildings of the Future
TRooseveltNPS Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is celebrating National Park Week April 16-24.
YosemiteScience Yosemite Science
Bears, during hibernation, lose 15-30% of body weight but can lose half. Some will keep losing weight for two months:
BBCBusiness BBC Business
Ever wondered how pencils are made? Peter Day has shared pics for an upcoming programme on the BBC Biz Facebook page:
Aoki Inc. will sell a suit designed to keep the wearer cool in the summer. (as much as 10 C cooler than conventional suits) #CoolBiz
physorg_com PhysOrg Science News
Student creates clothes that trap harmful gases
guardianscience Guardian Science
The art and science of glassblowing