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  • Back-to-School: Confidence in Science

    It's back to school time across America!  Now that the headache of jostling other parents out of my way in the school supply aisle at Target is over, and the kids are in class, I can reflect on what will fill all of those fresh, new notebooks.  My daughter is in second grade and needed a 5-subject notebook for Science this year - I am giddy with the possibilities. 


    First unit: Insects, with a fieldtrip to the Pollinatarium (and hopefully some submissions to BeeSpotter).  At the parent information meeting earlier this week, the second graders that were present were all saying things like "I love bugs" and "I already know everything about bees."  Totally confident that they were going to be masters of entomology, if not already.


    I admire that confidence.  Teachers foster it, channel it into exploration, asking questions, and learning.  In elementary school, girls and boys alike express confidence and interest when it comes to science (and math, too).  Those 5-subject notebooks are filled with words and diagrams that are enthusiastic, creative, and ready for more. 


    The challenge, of course, is keeping that confidence and interest alive, allowing the students to develop an identity as a scientist or engineer - particularly for girls and minority students during the middle school years.  I have high hopes for the changes that may come once we start digging deep into the NGSS, and hope that researchers, curiculum designers, and policy-makers spend some time with STEM Integration in K-12 Education: Status, Prospects, and an Agenda for Research.  


    I think back to my own middle school years and how much I loved science.  Even though my own area is in Physics, I remember 7th grade Life Science with Mr. Anderson (frog dissection notwithstanding) and 9th grade Earth Science with Mr. Stewart as my absolute favorites.  I wonder what was different for me in middle school than for the majority of today's girls?  Was I encouraged and supported more?  Did my teachers provide me with tasks that were authentic or that seemingly resonated with my tween self? 


    Whatever the cause, as an adult I have a confidence in myself when it comes to science that sometimes belies my actual knowledge.  To the extent that when I read this blog post from SparkFun today, I laughed out loud in my office, only too sympathetic with this guy's experience.  While I have never permanently broken anything very expensive (I would never tinker with an electrical box in my car, for instance) there have been plenty of fails.  Successes, too.  I'm a pro at fixing and rewiring kids' toys that make an ungodly amount of noise.


     SparkFun blog


    My wish for science teachers this year is to instill curiosity and wonder in their students, to help them remain interested and engaged, and to build their confidence so that one day when they are adults, they have the hubris to tackle the scientific problems and projects that they encounter, knowing which to attempt, and which toys are just less annoying when broken.