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Sputnik Moment Or No, Science Fairs Are Lagging

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the joe-vs-the-papier-mache-volcano dept.

Education 414

An anonymous reader writes "The NY Times is running a story about the response from some high school science teachers to Obama's State of the Union address. It's nice that he wants to celebrate science fair winners, they say, but his obsession with standardized math and reading test scores means they have no time to teach students the fundamentals of how to do science. 'I have so many state standards I have to teach concept-wise, it takes time away from what I find most valuable, which is to have them inquire about the world,' said one teacher."

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414 comments

"Everybody wins" mentality (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111116)

I'm a judge at one of the major Canadian Science Fairs and we've been given direction that we can't criticize and only good comments are allowed. Some of the projects are absolute CRAP for the age level... thrown together overnight... judges should be able to say "Your project is CRAP... prepare for a job at Burger King"

Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111136)

What a dick, you should be able to say the project is crap but don't assume you know that that person wont improve.

Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111188)

Have you ever dealt with some of the students like those that he's referring to?

Due to decades of flawed and failed immigration policies, many of the larger Canadian cities have large refugee populations. Although they are the recipients of much social assistance, they've never used these gifts well, and many still live in impoverish situations.

Now, most sensible people in such a situation would realize that having kids is a bad idea. Well, these people don't. Some of them can barely support themselves, but they'll still have six or seven children anyways. Of course, they can't properly raise these children.

Many of these children end up falling into the thug lifestyle. They don't care about education. They don't care about getting a job. They don't care about contributing to society. They don't care about science. They don't care about science fair projects. They only attend school and do these projects because it's a condition of the probation that many of them are under after having committed what are often very serious crimes, yet aren't punished properly due to a failed youth criminal justice system.

There is absolutely no hope for these kids. They are failures in every way possible. Nothing you, or him, or anyone else can do will help them, because they have absolutely no interest in helping themselves.

Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (0)

JockTroll (996521) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111432)

The solution to this problem is another science project: "How do gas chambers work". Prize awarded for anyone who comes up with a better solution than cyanide. Bonus points for the most efficient and ecologically sound cadaver disposal method. Winners will have access to fund their own Death Camp Project.

Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (3, Insightful)

FuckingNickName (1362625) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111438)

Due to decades of flawed and failed immigration policies

Oh, I can smell where this is going...

There is absolutely no hope for these kids. They are failures in every way possible.

Nope, you've just illustrated a new failure mode which these kids don't have the privilege to indulge in.

FTFY (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111476)

Have you ever dealt with some of the students like those that he's referring to?

Due to decades of flawed and failed immigration policies, many of the larger Canadian cities have large bible-thumping redneck populations. Although they are the recipients of much social assistance, they've never used these gifts well, and many still live in impoverish situations.

Now, most sensible people in such a situation would realize that having kids is a bad idea. Well, these people don't. Some of them can barely support themselves, but they'll still have six or seven children anyways. Of course, they can't properly raise these children.

Many of these children end up falling into the thug lifestyle. They don't care about education. They don't care about getting a job. They don't care about contributing to society. They don't care about science. They don't care about science fair projects. They only attend school and do these projects because it's a condition of the probation that many of them are under after having committed what are often very serious crimes, yet aren't punished properly due to a failed youth criminal justice system.

There is absolutely no hope for these kids. They are failures in every way possible. Nothing you, or him, or anyone else can do will help them, because they have absolutely no interest in helping themselves.

Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (3, Insightful)

Third Position (1725934) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111664)

Well, there is that, but the other side of it is that quite a few of the materials for decent science projects are no longer available or even legal. Anyone attempting to assemble the kind of chemistry set I had in grade-school (bought off the shelf of a department store's toy department) would likely be getting themselves a visit from the FBI. Come to think of it, I haven't seen a kid build a model rocket and launch it in decades.

What if you just do the right thing? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111142)

Sometimes justified criticism is just the right thing to do. So why don't you go ahead and level it when it is deserved? If a kid comes up with a shitty project, tell that kid the truth. Point out exactly how it's shitty. The science fair organizer might not like that, but fuck them. They're part of the problem if they're not willing to accept that not everything is positive.

Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111474)

Telling a child "your project is crap" is bad teaching, even if the project is actually much less than what you would expect from that age group. There is no point in discouraging children. They can always improve and the point of having schools is to help them do that, not tell them they've fallen behind and should expect to stay behind.

You're not supposed to give them the impression that their project is as good as the others if it isn't, but notice what they did well, no matter how little that may be, and show them what they could have done better and how. Give them something to aspire to instead of kicking them when they're down. You want them to improve, right?

As a child I always knew when I was outclassed, and the teachers who helped me most were always the ones who picked me up where I was and helped me from there, not the ones who made me ashamed of myself.

Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (5, Insightful)

malkavian (9512) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111596)

When I was a kid, I was the geeky enthusiastic type.
I spent ages on work pieces, and was among the top of the class. This, however, didn't correlate to the recognition given to work/achievement.
I can remember doing a long project, and it came out well. When it came to the judging/awards, the 'winner' was one of the most mediocre pieces of work in the set.
Several parents asked why on earth this project won, and the answer given was "The kid came from a deprived background, which affects his self esteem. The award is to make him feel better about himself, in the hope that he'll do better and strive harder".
The kid in questions was proud before the award that he'd got away with doing the minimum possible, and he couldn't give a rats arse about the work.
After the award, it just reinforced that he didn't have to work, he could play victim, and he'd get rewards.
This was back in the 70s, and about the time I realised that the fluffy optimistic approach to dealing with people really didn't work a lot of the time.
If he'd been told his work was crap, and that he could do a lot better (he actually could), and that this kind of performance was just failing himself, then maybe he'd have tried harder. Telling someone that a piece of work is crap doesn't mean you can't help them get better, it just stops them getting that instant gratification of 'recognition and respect' for doing sub-standard and lacking work.

Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (3, Informative)

FuckingNickName (1362625) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111494)

I'm a judge of character, and I want to say.... your interpersonal and motivational skills are CRAP... prepare for an irrelevant job as a minor technical functionary following by a lonely old age ending in a death noticed by none.

Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (2)

malkavian (9512) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111638)

However, his practical skills, and forthrightness are perfect for higher management, where all that really counts are results.
You can't just the interpersonal skills from that snippet, so that's not even on the table here..
I'd say your wishful thinking that everything is all solvable by a nicely nicely approach is perfect for a purely political post with lots of fluffy aspects to it and telling people that it's all alright, apart from the nasty people who tell them then have to look after themselves..
You know, the kind of job that's being cut in the global recession, because everyone does have to look after themselves, as well as try and help out who they can.

Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111550)

or say "Prepare for a job as an economist" since the student demonstrated an understanding of opportunity cost.

Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (4, Insightful)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111572)

Isn't it better to ask the question: "What did you learn from this project?"

That may be the critical key - if they can't tell what they did learn then they know that they need to better themselves.

And when starting a science project it's important to tell the students that failure is an option - it's not the result that is important but the road to the result. So even if the result is a puddle of clay oozing out of a box when it should have been a pot the student shall be able to tell why it was that way. Not being able to understand why is the real failure. Real science is a lot of failures and a few successes.

As a reminder. WD-40 is the 40th variation of a lubrication able to be used in Wet and Dry circumstances. The previous 39 ones wasn't good enough.

Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111584)

No, they are children. You can make suggestions for follow-up experiments or improvements to the current one.

Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111708)

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Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (5, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111760)

I'm a judge at one of the major Canadian Science Fairs and we've been given direction that we can't criticize and only good comments are allowed. Some of the projects are absolute CRAP for the age level... thrown together overnight... judges should be able to say "Your project is CRAP... prepare for a job at Burger King"

I'm all for constructive criticism, but "prepare for a job at Burger King" is nothing but abuse.

Re:"Everybody wins" mentality (1)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111776)

You're not doing these kids a service by not criticizing them either.

Imagine they really slapped it together over night (which is actually likely. I mean, think back on your science week days and how some people handled them). What do they learn if critique is not allowed?

Those that slap it together over night learn that they can get away with minimal effort, slacking and cheating.
Those that actually invested time to put together a great project learn that it doesn't matter to work hard and create something to be proud upon, because slacking would have gotten them just as far.

"This is CRAP" is probably not really a good way to judge a project, because it can be very disheartening as well. But you should definitely be allowed to tell a student that he could have done WAY better, that there is lots of room for improvement and that he should put more effort into it. Else, why should they bother to?

You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (5, Insightful)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111156)

Back when I was a kid, you could legitimately blow some shit up with your Jr. Scientist kit. Enthusiast experimenting books from Dad's era suggest using hydrogen cyanide kill the bugs for your bug collection. Stop pussifying science, and maybe kids will be interested again! I'm seeking funding for the Greyfox Science Kit, which will include a 2 inch "supermagnet", samples of lithium and sodium metal, a burner you can hook up to your gas line, a 1 watt laser and... what's that? I'm being the first lawsuit has already been filed...

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (3, Informative)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111206)

Contemporary chemistry sets might not encourage you to kill insects or blow stuff up, but chemistry sets are still around. I just went to Amazon and did a search for "chemistry set" and the very first one (the Thames & Kosmos beginner set [amazon.com] ) even guides kids through working with electricity. Indeed, in general this set doesn't look any more tame than what I had growing up in the 1980s.

If chemistry sets today are less popular, blame parents. But parents who are clued-up and want to introduce their children to the scientific process still have the possibility of buying these sets.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111244)

gets crazier when you look at genetics kits. kits meant for 12 year olds that allow them to splice dna from jellyfish into ecoli and stuff to let them extract their own dna from cheek swabs. that stuff definitely didn't exist when I was a kid.

Or electronics kits that let them build radios and simple digital multiplexers.

or microturbine model airplanes

the schools may be full of fail but the science kit industry is getting grander than ever

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111230)

Please answer these honestly: As a parent, would you be willing to take full responsibility for any injury your child sustained while doing "science"? Would you be willing to, out of your own pocket, cover the full cost of any medical treatment? Likewise, would you be willing to, out of your own pocket again, cover the full cost of any damage they may do to the property of others?

I think you'll say that you would be, but in reality I don't think that'd be the case. When you're suddenly facing a $650,000 medical bill because your child splashed acid in his eyes or crushed his genitals with a "supermagnet", and then you're facing a further $300,000 in repairs to your neighbor's house and property due to damage that his "science" caused, I think you'd see the appeal in launching a lawsuit against the science kit manufacturer. You sure aren't going to be able to pay back nearly a million dollars worth of damages on your lowly $40,000 a year salary.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (3, Informative)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111266)

Any kid who achieves $300000 in damages to a house with a chemist kit deserves a scholarship.

You're right about being a danger to his health, but that's why you should supervise them; it's your job as a parent.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (3, Informative)

DarkTempes (822722) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111336)

Kids can burn down houses playing with matches.

I know someone who did it...twice.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (2)

Nikker (749551) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111372)

Exactly, people like GP are always looking for education to babysit their kids, no wonder everything has to be "nerfed" these days. Keep the kit somewhere where the kid can't get it and bring it out when you two have time to get into it. All of these people who want to have everything including parenting come with the kit are making their kids lose out and mine as well get them a burger flipping kit rather than prepare them for ground breaking work.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111296)

There's this thing called liability insurance. Over here it's mandatory. And if your kid damages himself there's the normal health insurance.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (5, Informative)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111300)

When you're suddenly facing a $650,000 medical bill because your child splashed acid in his eyes or crushed his genitals with a "supermagnet"

Medical insurance doesn't cover accidents?

and then you're facing a further $300,000 in repairs to your neighbor's house and property due to damage that his "science" caused

If the kid can cause $300k in damage with the basic ingredients from a science set, they deserve a job with the DoD. I guess they could burn the house to the ground, but then you can do that with a box of matches.

I think you'd see the appeal in launching a lawsuit against the science kit manufacturer

Sure. And any sensible legal system would then tell the parent to fuck straight off and supervise their kid next time. 'Guns don't kill people, people do' and all that, after all...

You've got right to the heart of the problem here - that people can pass the buck for their own mistakes and the courts will sometimes uphold that. It's a risk companies can't afford to take. Look at New Zealand's liability laws, and you'll see how it should be done so as not to stifle anything that could be remotely considered risky.

Incidentally, the one thing I probably wouldn't want to see in a science kit is the 1 watt laser. If your kid doesn't understand the dangers of acid, you leave them to play with it, and they blind themselves, that's your problem; any idiot could've seen that one coming. The chances of them accidentally blowing up a neighbour's house are slim-to-none - if they're crazy enough to deliberately blow up a neighbour's house then you've got all kinds of other problems. If they put on their tinted goggles, turn on the laser, and accidentally knock it so the beam reflects off a car mirror three houses away, that could very easily blind me, and that's something I do care about. I still wouldn't want to see the things banned, but I think 'sensible handling' of high powered lasers is beyond the knowledge of most people, whereas sensible handling of chemicals is generally pretty self-explanatory.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111342)

We're talking about the US. "Insurance" means you pay a hefty fee each month, and if something actually happens, the insurance company will find some obscure clause in your lengthy contract that'll keep them from having to actually pay out. So now you're facing a million dollars in damages, plus hefty legal fees just to try and get your insurance company to cover the cost of the damages.

It's not difficult to cause $300,000 worth of property damage, and it surely doesn't indicate any scientific skill. There's no intelligence or science involved when your son thinks it'd be "cool" to aim his model rocket sideways before launching it, not realizing that it'll shoot through the window of your neighbor's garage, hitting a bottle of automotive oil and causing a serious fire.

Talk about "sensible legal systems" all that you want. That's just not the reality, however. Why should a doctor go unpaid after rendering medical services to your son, just because you were an irresponsible parent? Why should your neighbor have to cover the cost of damage that your son inflicted?

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (1)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111386)

Talk about "sensible legal systems" all that you want. That's just not the reality, however.

As I pointed out, it is in some countries. There's no real reason the US system couldn't be reformed somewhat; given the widespread support it would garner (even those who abuse the system don't like to think they're doing so) I doubt it'd even be that politically difficult.

Why should a doctor go unpaid after rendering medical services to your son, just because you were an irresponsible parent? Why should your neighbor have to cover the cost of damage that your son inflicted?

They shouldn't. Why should the chemistry set manufacturer have to?

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111788)

Yeah. Anyway, you can make up all the numbers you want. It's your delusion, not mine.

I did bring up my kids more-or-less that way (as much as one can these days). Our neighbour's house remains intact, as are the kids. Eldest kid got into Cambridge (UK), middle kid will probably go somewhere good, too. The youngest kid still has a chance of blowing up the house, so check back in a few years.

And, strangely enough, even I managed not to burn the family house down when I was a kid. Not even that week when I was building a propane-powered backpacking stove in the basement and the rubber hose popped from overpressure. And, strangely enough, even when I was 14, I aimed my model rockets more-or-less vertical.

So, come on and get real. Don't inflict your fears and repressions on the rest of us.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (2)

Stormthirst (66538) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111614)

But I don't live in a country with a backwards medical system like the USA. So guess what - yes I'd encourage my kids to use a science set. You could make the same argument for sports. How many high school kids have blown out their knee? The medical bills make schools less willing to push kids to go out and exercise. And what happens next? You have a serious growing obesity problem. Please stop making excuses like this. It makes the USA look pathetic. It's not about health, *OR* education. It's about BOTH.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (1)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111676)

Funny, I live in the USA and don't live in this country w/ the backwards medical system that you're talking about.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (2)

thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111652)

Please answer these honestly: As a parent, would you be willing to take full responsibility for any injury your child sustained while doing "science"?

As a parent, yes. Because as a parent, it's also MY responsibility to educate my son, sit with him while he does experiments until I'm comfortable that he understands what he can and can't do, and why; and ensure they're both educational and fun. a parent accepting full responsibility, that means *full* responsibility -- which starts long before the dire consequences you predict here. It begins with working to avoid the negative consequences by guiding him in thinking his actions through, and encouraging the positive ones in the same way. This starts years before I even order a science kit for him.

Would you be willing to, out of your own pocket, cover the full cost of any medical treatment?

Even if I didn't have health insurance, a thousand times yes -- that goes hand in hand with accepting full responsibility.

Likewise, would you be willing to, out of your own pocket again, cover the full cost of any damage they may do to the property of others?

Um, again, see above.

, I think you'd see the appeal in launching a lawsuit against the science kit manufacturer. You sure aren't going to be able to pay back nearly a million dollars worth of damages on your lowly $40,000 a year salary

Seriously? While that may be interesting insight into the way your brain works, it is antithetical to the very concept of accepting responsibility for yourself and your family. Given this statement, I see that there's literally no hope of anything I write here showing you what it truly means to "accept responsibility".

Enjoy your watered-down science kits, your labels imparting such critical information as "this beverage is hot", "plastic bags are not toys", and "CAUTION: small parts are a choking hazard!"; teach your children well the value of letting others keep them safe by taking decisions out of their hands, and how that always provides somebody else for them to blame for their (and your) shortcomings.

As for my wife and me -- we'll take our chances with letting our child explore under our guidance, teaching him to think for himself and understanding important concepts such as responsibility and consequences.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (1)

malkavian (9512) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111658)

Hopefully by the time the kid gets the chemistry set, it'll have learned enough to survive, and not do stupid things. If not, then hell, I did a bad job bringing it up.
Personally, I'd be up for giving the kid a start in life.
Hey, I know what.. What if giving out the address caused a leak of information that paedophiles knew where the kid was? What if letting it cross the road caused accidents and you were PERSONALLY liable?
Basically, deal with things pragmatically. If you live in fear, and never take a risk, you'll never do anything to get the world to be a better place. It's all about calculated risks. And the idea of letting kids do things as they grow that lead to pain and suffering is that they get better at calculating those risks.. So by the time they get to work out the big ones, they'll have a fair idea of what they're dealing with (rather than be stuck like a deer in the headlights with absolutely no idea of how to cope until events steam roller them into the ground).

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111698)

Yeah, and are you willing, as a parent, to take responsibility for your uneducated child, who doesn't have a clue about how to "do science" but ends up as a CEO of a technology-based company and runs it into the ground?

I think you'll say that you would be, but when you're suddenly facing a bill for $24,000,000,000 to make the stockholders whole, and then you're facing a further $10,000,000,000 to rebuild the business, I think you'd see the appeal in launching a lawsuit against the people who made it difficult to learn anything. You sure aren't going to be able to pay back 34 billion dollars worth of damages on your lowly $100M a year CEO's salary.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (2)

jgc7 (910200) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111332)

I have fond memories of all kinds of good stuff. I think my favorite was trying to ignite calcium carbide with toilet paper. It didn't work, but when I tried to put it out with water, I sure learned my lesson.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (5, Informative)

ortholattice (175065) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111446)

Check out The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Book_of_Chemistry_Experiments [wikipedia.org] , an amazing book now considered dangerous. The book was apparently removed from most public libraries. I think you can find a pdf via the wiki p links though - it is an amazing book.

.

While unfortunately I didn't have this book as a kid, I had some others that were similarly "dangerous", along with a chemistry set with most of the necessary chemicals. I made gunpowder once to prove to myself I could do it. I filled balloons with hydrogen with a simple reaction of aluminum strips and lye in a coke bottle, floated them, and of course applied a match on a long stick to watch them explode with a blue flash. I did a lot of experiments with electrolysis (in the cheapest way possible, directly from 110VAC, through a rectifier and light bulb to limit current; by experience I quickly learned to avoid shocks and do this safely). Eventually I got interested in electronics and left the chemistry behind.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (1)

FuckingNickName (1362625) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111470)

What are you talking about? Blowing stuff up and killing the weak are now America's chief exports. The rest is just inertia - give it another quarter century and pan-Asian intellectual property will match American.

Boom powder (2)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111484)

My daddy mixed up potassium perchlorate and sulfur. He wrapped it up in tin foil (that's hat materiel for you Slashdot folks), and hit it with a sledge hammer. Boom! Wake the neighbors, call the cops! When I was older, I did some experiments in our backyard with aluminum powder and sulfur. It sent up a mushroom cloud, which drifted over to our neighbors house. I skedaddled inside the house and put on a innocent smile on my face. You'd get arrested these days for doing stuff like that.

Well, at least I didn't do the Nuclear Boy Scout stuff . . .

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111498)

As a highschool physics and math teacher myself, I can see where she is coming from. However, I have a different perspective to offer. I would like to do all kinds of fun stuff with my kids, but there are two hold ups. The main one, is that kids just aren't that interested in science. They barely pay attention when we have to derive something, they do not know how to study anymore, and if anything resembles hard work to them, they turn away from it. I can remember when I was in high school, I liked physics and math just because of the mental exercise. A side part of this is their maturity. There is a reason people with kids can't have nice things, teenagers break shit. I mean, they have a total disregard for property that is not theirs. I don't know how many meter sticks have been snapped just to do it, and other basic tools that have been broken for the fun of it apparently. I can't trust the lot of them to step foot in a lab, they would end up hurting themselves, or even worse, someone else.

The second major hold up is funding. It sure as hell is easy to get funding for sports teams, dances, and things that make the parents happy, but ask for money for science equipment? It's almost like asking your parents for a new car when you're 16. There isn't money to be given out in our recent times, maybe somewhere towards the end of this decade when the economy recovers. You can only teach them so much without the proper equipment. Concepts can be shown, but true science is in the data, and you can take data without instruments.

One last item that I'll add, is that educators (in the states at least) do not make enough money to justify the position. The first year I started teaching (just a few years ago), I brought home about $22,000. For what I have to deal with, and the amount I actually work to teach my students, I figured I was almost making minimum wage. I make less than our gym teacher, who sits on his ass all day, and has for the last 10 years while half our students are overweight. I make less than our "computer stuff" teacher who lets the kids sit on their ass and play on facebook. The stress and frustration from parents isn't worth minimum wage. Thankfully, this is my last year. It's not that I don't like teaching, in fact, I truly enjoy it at times, its just not worth it financially.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111690)

If it were possible to fire bad teachers and kick out bad students (or at least put them in a different school), then teachers like you could have been successful and rewarded for your work.

The current policy of never firing teachers (exaggeration, but not far from the truth) and never giving up on students means that nobody has any incentive to do anything. And the ones that are internally motivated, or motivated by their parents, are constantly distracted by the behavior of people who aren't.

It cheap to educate people who want to learn, even if you pay the teachers a premium.

Re:You Don't Get to Do Anything Fun Anymore (2)

Dolphinzilla (199489) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111568)

Heck man, back in the day (15 years old) - I built a 4 foot tall Tesla coil in my bedroom - 8" arcs flying through the air - fluorescent tubes lighting up 20 feet away - ozone levels so high I'd get headaches - jamming channel 2 for a block around my house - All my kids care about is texting on their iPhones and playing video games - I made cubic feet of hydrogen gas and mixed brake fluid and granulated chlorine, you do that stuff today and the FBI shows up at your house and accuses you of making bombs, of course those were also the days when you and you friends could grab your .22's and shotguns, head down to the quarry and shoot at TV tubes - its a different world, I think that interacting with science is what made it interesting for me, reading about it in a textbook and watching an internet video is pretty much what it has been reduced to, who the heck would find that stimulating or interesting for more than 5 minutes, let make a career out of it !!

In the good old days (1)

thebian (1218280) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111208)

The whining science teachers are implying that they used to do it better.

Unless I'm so old that my memory is failing, my high school science courses sucked. I learned more from those glossy Time-Life (if that was the name then) books than I ever did in class. I generally read the book they gave us during the first few classes and then stared out the window for the rest of the year. I can still hear my biology teacher reciting his outline of the species in a particularly dull monotone.

It's no wonder that idiot politicians get away with saying the things they do. In a scientifically literate society, any politician who mutters that evolution is just a theory would be tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail.

Re:In the good old days (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111506)

Perhaps you would like to explain in detail how evolution is not just a theory. You can first start by defining a theory. BTW I am a scientist and believe I'm pretty scientifically literate.

Re:In the good old days (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111728)

To be honest, back in the 90s science classes weren't too bad, assuming you had a decent teacher. I still remember my high school chemistry teacher lighting methane filled soap bubbles and the resulting scorch marks on the ceiling. And the 6th grade general science teacher that had us making wet cells. I missed a day because of a big storm, but apparently the students that were in class that day got to use their batteries to power little battery powered cards.

They just don't get it. (5, Informative)

methano (519830) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111212)

The reason that we're falling behind in science is that we, as a nation, don't value scientists anymore. It's hard to learn science and be good at it. I'm in my mid-50's, worked in the pharmaceutical industry for many years but have been out of work for 3 of the last 6 years. I'd doing a post-doc now. That means about a 1/3 salary. It would sound like whining but I have tons of friends in the same situation. Ivy League PhD's, out of work or "consulting". Good careers for a while, then all the jobs go off to China. The STEM crap is just a ruse to get more people to go to school for 9 years post high school and work for 80K if they're lucky. And then be out of it permanently at 45.

You can make a lot more money doing something else. You should only do it if you love it. Science is the new Art History.

Re:They just don't get it. (2)

Ephemeriis (315124) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111450)

It isn't just scientists that we don't value though... It's the whole concept of curiosity that's on its way out.

Re:They just don't get it. (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111510)

It isn't just scientists that we don't value though... It's the whole concept of curiosity that's on its way out.

What do you mean?

Re:They just don't get it. (1)

FuckingNickName (1362625) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111612)

I believe you are misleading us by not posting your requirements.

What do you consider a reasonable wage and working hours?
What working conditions do you require in order to take a job?

To say you have "been out of work for 3 of the last 6 years" may say as much or more about you than the job marketplace. It's trivially true that, as a science PhD, you could get some job - so you are clearly turning down much of what's on offer.

All we know so far is that you want to do what you "love", but you seem to complain that what you love doesn't coincide with whatever actually happens to be in demand. So, tell us, what do you think you deserve yet are not getting? Have you considered moving to China?

Re:They just don't get it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111750)

you missed the point. why go to school that long and then be unable to find a job in your field or one that pays enough to support a family? that's why nobody should go into science.

Teach for the test (4, Insightful)

br00tus (528477) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111214)

I went to a public junior high school back in the late 1980s. There was a standard and advanced student program, I was in the advanced program. There were state exams students had to take, the scores of which would affect principals salary and career path. So my science classes were entirely focused not on us learning science, but getting us to pass these exams. In many ways we were like workers, working for free, to benefit the principal.

I got into the best magnet high schools in my city, but chose to go to the best Catholic high school in the city (which due to an endowment, was free). One reason was we did not have to take state exams. As the school was very selective, and as students scored high on the SATs and got into Ivy league schools, the school felt no need to partake in state tests (the normal Catholic high schools in the city did though). Thus we got a chance to really learn. I know many graduates who say they learned more in our high school then they did in college, and for me this is has often been the case.

While I am egalitarian, even for those who are less so, it is incredibly wasteful, for US productivity, to have the top 1% of students, which I always was on these state exams, have to do the kind of rote, teach for the test learning that the bottom 1% of students on the test take. We can be self-directed and go on a Deweyite learning curve where we would really be learning, and advancing at our own speed, not going along with everyone else and doing this rote for the test memorization.

The real truth is the Bolshevik revolution is what made schools in the US great in the 1950s and 1960s for engineering. The Russians engineers I met who came out of the USSR school systems are the sharpest I've ever met. But beyond that, advances like Sputnik scared the US in terms of falling behind the USSR educationally, so US schools had to revamp to make sure they were staying competitive to the USSR. Not that the USSR was a big threat to the US - the US GNP dwarfed Russia's in 1917, and continued to do so. But now that such threats have abided, all of these things - teach-for-the-test, closing schools, these charter schools which will soon be on a profit model and are being pushed for by the US's billionaires and the like can all come about. There are no threats to the US so dumbing down the sheeple and pouring Glenn Beck and fundamentalist religion in their minds is seen as a better course by the elites - or else they might get smart and start causing trouble like in Egypt.

Re:Teach for the test (2)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111302)

I went to a public junior high school back in the late 1980s

Wait, me too! Is that you, Matt?

Re:Teach for the test (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111576)

I went to a public junior high school back in the early 1980s. It was crap then, as now. John F. Kennedy Jr. High in North Miami Beach, Florida. My high school was North Miami Beach Sr. High. I was in gifted, took AP classes, bunch of honors classes. I wasn't the sharpest kid, but I was never cheated. It was most galling to me to see all the so-called honors kids cheating their asses off. They had copies of the test, brought in crib notes, even had some kids distract the teacher so they could steal answers. The teachers were also highly biased. Anything that was subjective was graded based on how well the student knew the teacher. We had students turn in published stories as their own and STILL get high grades even after the copying was pointed out (the English teacher Mrs. Rosenberg was notorious for allowing this). The journalism teacher (Mrs. Abrams) wouldn't even read some papers and give A's just based on the merit of the student. The physics teacher, Mr. Sturgelewski, was more interested in being a pal to students than in teaching. So excuse me if I think that teachers today are paying for the asshole teachers of twenty years ago.

In spite of this, I was successful. I make slightly above average income ($120K/year) and have stayed out of jail. My daughter will likely go through the same bullshit as I did, but this time she'll have someone to explain that asshole teachers are nothing new.

Teaching science? (1)

gmuslera (3436) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111218)

Quite the opposite [religiondispatches.org] . Is not just that they don't do enough teaching the right thing, but that in good numbers they teach the wrong one. Before putting teachers to teach science, be sure that they understand it. That would be a sputnik moment.

Re:Teaching science? (1)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111486)

In the past, I've posted to Slashdot half a dozen times with points that criticise some interpretation of the standard Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. Every single time, someone has challenged me over the part of what I posted that is in exact agreement with the standard theory, as taught at such institutions as MIT or Cornell.
        I haven't been challenged over my unorthodox conclusions, but over the premises that no respectable evolutionary biologist or organic chemist would disagree with. I've been challenged over exact quotes from Gould, Dawkins or Simon Conway Morris, as though those people were fringe science types with cow college degrees in creation science. I've been told I'm a nut-case creationist for just those points where I am quoting the best standard college texts, every single time, without fail, by someone who thinks they know Evolution from the bits they remember from high school.
      I figure if there is even a one in a million chance I'm right about any of it and not just a crank, then I will never be heard above such a high noise level, so I've shut up about it, but really, how bad is the situation when people here, on a journal for at least slightly technically educated types, are telling me I'm some kind of creation science idiot because I don't believe acquired traits can be inherited? I've been slammed for claiming that evolution proceeds by gradual, incremental changes, and that huge mutations are almost always lethal to the possessor. I've been criticised for presenting a careful timeline of the estimated age of the universe, the earth, and DNA based life (that would be 12.4 billion years, 4.5 billion, and 1.8 billion years respectively, with the last figure having the largest margin of error), by people who think evolution proves the earth is infinitely old, and call me a 6,000 year nut for not believing it.
            I've cited evidence for Neanderthal burial practices that seem to indicate they believed in a life after death (without taking any position on whether they had any actual reasons to do so, one way or another), and been told the Egyptians invented that concept and the evidence is fraudulent, or simply can't be right (and someone added "anyway, what do sub-humans have to do with the true, white human race.?") All this, coming from people who claim to be defending the standard theory, not from those who disagree.
        At this point, I cannot believe that, if the majority of public high schools are teaching evolution properly, there would be so much misinformation among a at least semi-smart crowd that is at least slightly selected to be more educated than the standard "Batboy is Elvis' secret Love Child" types. Slashdot readers are not that damned stupid about everything, ergo Evolution has been taught more poorly than most subjects in the schools.

Re:Teaching science? (1)

shia84 (1985626) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111654)

You sound quite confused. I think those people you mentioned disagreeing with you were not evolutionists, and/or probably trolling you. Otherwise they wouldn't haggle over such straightforward stuff like what you listed (which pretty much everyone with a basic biology education understands). Either that or you are trolling yourself. Really, presenting "clear" evidence and then claiming the contrary (e.g. Earth's age) sounds a bit schizophrenic. As an aside: maybe you're not aware of it, but a lot of your wording is a bit "blurry" and thus inviting contradiction.

Re:Teaching science? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111692)

In the past, I've posted to Slashdot half a dozen times with points that criticise some interpretation of the standard Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection. Every single time, someone has challenged me over the part of what I posted that is in exact agreement with the standard theory, as taught at such institutions as MIT or Cornell.

I haven't been challenged over my unorthodox conclusions, but over the premises that no respectable evolutionary biologist or organic chemist would disagree with. I've been challenged over exact quotes from Gould, Dawkins or Simon Conway Morris, as though those people were fringe science types with cow college degrees in creation science. I've been told I'm a nut-case creationist for just those points where I am quoting the best standard college texts, every single time, without fail, by someone who thinks they know Evolution from the bits they remember from high school.

Sorry man, I feel for you. Would a cookie help to make you feel better? [xkcd.com]

Very true -- Please read. (5, Insightful)

Proudrooster (580120) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111220)

Standardization is the thief of creativity and creativity robs standardization.

It seems that no one is ever happy. The countries with high graduation rates and high standardization like South Korea have a low dropout rate [usatoday.com] . However the annual standardized test in South Korea always coincides with massstudent suicides. [atimes.com]

Education is the USA is moving to a point where there is no depth, no love of learning, and no respect for the transormative power of education. Much of this is a direct result of standardized tests and limited teacher autonomy and resources. The weekly cycle of cover the standard: Powerpoint Lecture -> Read the Chapter -> Do your worksheet -> Scantron on Friday. move on to next state standard then rinse and repeat crushes any love of learning.

I would rather see a USA where we foster a love of learning, go deep on interesting topics then work on them in a meaningful project based way rather than the drive-by, inch-deep mile wide education system that we have become. If we work in a meaningful way the questions about math and science will come and apply to a realworld situation instead of being taught in abstract isolation.

When the USA can not longer produce innovators with a love for learning and/or attract innovators from foreign countries, we will become the low-cost labor market for those who do innovate. I implore everyone who reads this to help stop this madness. When George W. Bush was in office, he had a plan to take the Perkins-IV funding and shift it away from career and technical learning programs (nursing, welding, computer programming, cad, autobody) and shift that money to fund more standardized testing [ed.gov] . If that would have happened, programs would have ceased to exist and dropout rates would have soared even higher.

Re:Very true -- Please read. (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111350)

And yet what is driving our fear of inferiority? Largely, global standardized test scores. "USA is #42 in blah blah." Well, those who think low standardized test scores are the problem are likely to feel that higher standardized test scores are the solution.

Re:Very true -- Please read. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111352)

Standardization is the thief of creativity

It must be; every time the issue of standardized tests comes up, we get this same argument you just wrote.

(I kid, I kid)

Re:Very true -- Please read. (4, Insightful)

cetialphav (246516) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111370)

Standardization is the thief of creativity and creativity robs standardization.

Every time I hear teachers gripe about having to teach towards a standardized test, I think, "There goes another awful teacher." Good teachers are good at getting students to learn. When students learn a subject, they can absolutely blow away a standardized test with no effort. I had a fantastic teacher in high school for Biology and Chemistry, and she definitely did not teach towards any standardized test as she had all her own materials. After going through her class, the standard science tests were a breeze because they were way easier than anything we ever did in her class.

It bothers me that little Johnny can pass an algebra class, but can't solve 3x=15 on a standardized test. Passing a class means that the teacher vouches that you have learned something. The standardized tests are busting teachers who are vouching for students who haven't learned anything. And to make it worse, most students learn early on that there is really no way to fail so they can be lazy and coast along.

What is concerning to me is that passing a standardized test has become a primary goal, which is not what it was intended for. The standardized test should be a way of measuring teaching effectiveness. They make it easy to see who the good teachers/schools/districts are and then you can apply the techniques they use to those that perform lower. The standardized test just represents the lowest common denominator of required learning so by setting that as the goal, we aim for a really low target. If schools aimed for a much higher target, then the standardized test would be a non-issue because everyone would easily pass.

Re:Very true -- Please read. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111646)

Standardization is the thief of creativity and creativity robs standardization.

We need a standardized test to test creativity.

Re:Very true -- Please read. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111722)

You know teaching fluffy bullshit like creativity and love of learning is one thing. But America's problem is that too many students can't do the basics and simply don't work hard enough to learn the basics. It's not that they can't - programs like KIPP show that. But too many Americans, like yourself, believe that hardwork and rote learning have no place in the classroom.

Standardized tests are unpopular because they point out the confluence of shitty teachers, shitty students, shitty parents or some horrible shitty combination of the three. A proper solution would address all three problems, but good luck with that when teachers are shielded from improvement by their unions, kids are told it's ok they can't do math because they didn't love it anyway and parents spew accepting, supportive but ultimately demotivating garbage asserting the same. Thats not to say i don't agree subjects shouldn't be studied in greater depths, but only after the basics have been covered and confirmed through standardized tests. Teaching to the standard shouldn't take up all the time available. If it does, somebody isn't working hard enough.

Re:Very true -- Please read. (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111782)

Education is the USA is moving to a point where there is no depth, no love of learning, and no respect for the transormative power of education.

I think it depends on where you go to school. I had the pleasure of going to High School in scenic Haddonfield, New Jersey. I had a physics teacher, who drove a Pontiac GTO, and would always mention that, when trying to explain f = ma. My chemistry teach would try to fool us. She would hold up a lit candle below some piece of metal, and described her "Black Crud Theorem", which, of course, was simply the soot from the candle. One of my English teachers was a Princeton grad. It came in helpful when I applied myself. My "World History" teacher was an ex-marine. We called him "Rock Smith," because he didn't look like the type that you would want to mess around with.

So, unfortunately for the US (I live in Germany now), the quality of your education depends on where you grow up. Rich communities = good schools.

everything is fine and well (2)

digitalsushi (137809) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111238)

Before our time, when our parents were children, the world was at war with itself. Great technologies were developed with significance so broad, the greatest minds of the planet trembled at the wake of their unfolding. Each and every action performed by the simplest individual was a thread sewn into the fabric of this country. Each forward notion was a declaration of intend for a better tomorrow, a promise they made hand in hand that the world they saw on the brink of annihilation would some day be preserved for their children, and their children's children. There was a pride and a hope, and through this there was no time to consider the derivative effects of how we would factor together as a society. How could they have known what was to be? On the edge of destruction their thoughts were of the present.

In the future, their progeny yields the shining beacon of their ultimate savior, prolific technology that has changed everyone's life on the planet. But through this ubiquity the change has become a constant. Our grandparent's hopes and dreams are our faded concrete walkways and crumbling bridges. Our pride is worn with the wind and faded with the sun. Our goals no longer are how to stay alive, but now simply how to stay atop the throne the rest of the world approaches. Our goals, our national fate, our fears as a nation of people. A nation so scattered with opinion that it is a raft adrift the sea, each paddle pushing outwards from the center.

But when you ask the single oarsman how his sons and daughters are, you may find that he has not consigned the fate of his children's knowledge to the government. You may find that he is proud enough to ensure his children learn. The maths, the sciences, the dramas and comedies. The satires so that they too can someday ignore the beating of the drum on a march through the shanty towns of our idyllic past. For this oarsman knows that the success of he and his is not the duty of a corrupt far away bureaucracy, but safe within the confines of the home has has created.

Law of unintended consequences (2)

aurispector (530273) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111252)

In their never ending quest to Make The World A Better Place, the do-gooders continue to dig us into an ever-deeper hole Because It's For The Children.

One of the biggest problems with big government solutions to everything is the difficulty involved in making changes as needed. Every decision requires congressional approval, every decision becomes political and once the decision is made nobody has a choice. Public education is a classic example of how such a system loses focus on it's primary reason for existence, i.e. educating children. I instead it becomes a vessel for social engineering experiments and and the political interests of the teacher's unions and politicians du jour.. The children themselves have essentially no representation as the various powers that be fight to further their agendas.

The worst part is that you can't buy or legislate the single biggest predictor of academic success: parental involvement. No amount of money, no law, no program can motivate parents to get more deeply involved in their kid's education. You can not change parents that want to dump their kids and attendant responsibilities onto the school districts.

Re:Law of unintended consequences (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111290)

Hmm, never thought of Bush with his "No child left behind" standardized testing as a do-gooder before.

You can argue all you like about different reasons why public schools suck but the only correlation that's easy to verify is poverty. If you have a single parent working two jobs or two parents working four jobs they aren't going to have time for parental involvement.

Re:Law of unintended consequences (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111742)

You are absolutely right, but your observation has an implication that is too uncomfortable for most people to come to terms with: people who don't have the means to support children should not be allowed to reproduce. Yet far too often it is the case that the people who reproduce the most are the people who don't have the means to support themselves, much less children, so they spend their whole lives freeloading off of the nanny state and perpetuating the cycle of poverty. But even so, the REAL problem is that the entitlement system in this country has killed peoples' motivation and turned them into kept livestock. Have you ever worked in urban communities, and seen people gloating that they don't have to work because the government gives them money simply for existing? I have. It really turned me off to community service. The GPP is right when he concludes that you can't make people help themselves. I used to work at a shit job testing keyboards in a warehouse for a big-name computer company while I was in college. One of my female coworkers asked me if I had kids, and I scoffed, "Hell no, I'm only 19!" To which she replied that her daughter was 19 and had kids. These are people who can no longer imagine a better life for themselves, so they just stumble through life like Gomer Pyle letting things happen to them, and before they know it they're 50 and they say, "Shazaam! I'm 50 and have nothing to show for it! You need to give me free medical care, food, and housing!"

I have another heart-warming story that shaped my attitude towards trying to help people who don't want to help themselves. When I was in middle school, this nigger named James used to give me shit in PE class all the time. Every day he would make some asinine comment about what a nerd I was. He actually thought he was insulting me when he made fun of me for wanting to go to college. One day he pretended he was holding a rifle, and pretended he was shooting all the white people. He was a real winner, as you can tell. The black community's dirty little secret is that education, especially higher education, is just not valued by them. They may say it is, but look at who their idols are. They make fun of black kids who do well in school for being "too white." WTF? Blacks love to bitch about unequal opportunities, even though white America has dumped literally billions on them in the war on poverty via scholarships and affirmative action programs with little to show for it. You can't help people who don't want to be helped. Anyway, back to James. I ran into him at a shit job I was doing at a hotel between my senior year of HS and my freshman year of college. I was working temporarily on the bottom rung of society to make money to buy myself my first computer, but he had begun his career. That ignorant fuck will now spend his life cleaning up after well-to-do white folks, and I can't say he doesn't deserve it. I might even go back just to let my kid shit on the floor and make him clean it up.

P.S. - "No Child Left Behind" is what happens when the President lets Ted Kennedy write a bill for him. I'm glad that fat, murdering fucker is dead now. May his Catholic-in-name-only ass rot in hell for eternity.

clarification, please. (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111780)

In their never ending quest to Make The World A Better Place, the do-gooders continue to dig us into an ever-deeper hole Because It's For The Children.

One of the biggest problems with big government solutions to everything is the difficulty involved in making changes as needed. Every decision requires congressional approval, every decision becomes political and once the decision is made nobody has a choice. Public education is a classic example of how such a system loses focus on it's primary reason for existence, i.e. educating children. I instead it becomes a vessel for social engineering experiments and and the political interests of the teacher's unions and politicians du jour.. The children themselves have essentially no representation as the various powers that be fight to further their agendas.

The worst part is that you can't buy or legislate the single biggest predictor of academic success: parental involvement. No amount of money, no law, no program can motivate parents to get more deeply involved in their kid's education. You can not change parents that want to dump their kids and attendant responsibilities onto the school districts.

What do gooders are you referring to? I'm pretty sure that liberals and conservatives (instead of the non-descriptive do-gooders title) both have forced their various agendas on to public education. You then go on to blame the parents, and yet, control of their child's education has been removed from them. Fifty years ago, local school boards managed their schools. Yes, they had agendas, but they were local agendas. Not some state or federal system. The local system was not perfect, but to improve it, it got replaced with today's administration from afar. If you want parents to take more responsibility for their child's education, then you also need to give them more authority.

Of course doing this means that in some places kids will not be taught about evolution, birth control or whatever. It might even mean that some kids won't be academically ready to go to college. That was the system that was in place that educated a nation that was able to send a man to the moon. Education, then was a limited resource, just like oil is today. Back then, you got an education to move ahead of the pack. Today, you need an education just to maintain your place in the pack.

But, I digress. What do-gooders are you referring to and what agendas have they forced?

I doubt this (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111282)

It seems like if the students really understood these "fundamentals" or whatever they are, then they could trounce the standardized tests. As I understand it, the primary problem with all this standardization n' stuff is the extra paperwork and funding hooks that are attached to it.

A lot of kids will refuse to perform for reasons outside of school, regardless of how wonderful teachers are. I'm guessing that in many cases meeting funding-driven performance targets boils down to attempting to trick these students into learning the material.

Role of teachers? (2)

digitalhermit (113459) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111284)

Back in the day --- which, old as I am, wasn't all that long ago -- the role of the teacher was to explain concepts and teach. The homework, the rote exercises, the role of counselor, the teaching of discipline and social skills, was left to the parent. Add to this that kids have no voices in government, corporations see them as an access valve to parents' money and government sees them not as potential leaders but as a liability, it's no wonder that teachers end up underpaid, overworked, and asked to do much more than is appropriate.

Politically, there are a few obstacles:

There is a lot of pressure for the status quo. An easy tactic to maintain the status quo is to counter a request for change by saying that no problem actually exists. If someone says that the richest country in the world is not maintaining a lead or is trailing in education, someone counters that the statistics are skewed or the data is being misinterpreted or that there's nothing wrong with the status quo. Not taking any side, but we see the same with global warming and deficits and gun control and tax reform.

Education has no quick payoff. Investments in education will pay off in ten years or more. Politicians care about the next election cycle and not the long term benefit to the country. It's thus easier to push money to a new baseball stadium or to build a billion dollar fence or fight the evil file sharers than it is to fund meaningful education. Hell, it's easier to pull money from education than it is to maintain the status quo.

Children have little voice in Congress. They can't vote. They can't contribute to re-election funds. They usually can't/don't write letters to their representatives. They have little direct spending power.

If these issues are important to you, maybe the approach is to enlist the teenagers and the twenty-somethings who still remember their primary education to improve the situation. Maybe parents can also be convinced. I don't know if anyone else cares,

Re:Role of teachers? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111488)

Teenagers are pretty much the only people you can get fired up about anything. Unfortunately, they're easily led. Further, any adult attempting to mobilize teens for political goals, however beneficial, is going to quickly be painted as a pedo or something by the opposition.

Lame excuse (3, Insightful)

camg188 (932324) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111286)

if we have no time to teach students how to do science

Concepts about methods of scientific testing can be taught in a couple of lessons. The basic concepts like postulating and testing theories, repeatability, precision vs. accuracy, double blind studies, etc. are not difficult, so to say there's not enough time to teach them is a just lame excuse. The real reason for declining participation in science fairs is given later in the article: "One obvious reason for flagging interest in science fairs is competing demands for high school students' extracurricular attention." Nothing the president or dept of education does will change that.

Re:Lame excuse (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111566)

I grew up in the 80s/90s watching cartoons from Duck Tales to the Chipmunks etc. and Family Matters. All over the media students participated in science fairs they could win. When I got to my first in 5th grade I was excited. But we couldn't win. It was just a graded assignment. I don't think it's fair when students are picked on for doing poorly in sports or academics, but this meant that out of 100 people or so 50 did "can a plant grow with X instead of water" using milk, soda or something. That has been popular the year before and was popular the year after. There wasn't even a part of the grade for originality. Just completion. As it turned out, that 5ht grade science fair was the only one in the school system.

Kids can get their feelings hurt. Don't let it happen every single time to some poor kid, but people need to learn what they are good at or interested in and what isn't going to happen in their life.

Misleading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111294)

This is a pretty misleading story. This isn't a new problem. The Obama Administration hasn't introduced any new federal test score standards or anything like that. The biggest federal law mandating a focus on test scores is the No Child Left Behind Act, proposed by Bush (although passed nearly unanimously by the House and Senate), see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_child_left_behind.

On the other hand, Obama has actually long sought to reform the NCLB: http://www.education.com/magazine/article/Obama_Child_Left_Behind/

While admittedly the reforms he is proposing do not perhaps go far enough, or even address some of what I consider the fundamental flaws of the program as a whole, it's obvious to everyone (even many of the people who voted for the NCLB) that it's not really working, and the proposed reforms do genuinely seem like improvements of some kind, even if they're not all they could be. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/01/AR2010020101129.html

Not enough funding for schools (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111312)

There are lots of teachers unemployed right now and not enough funding. Class room sizes are almost doubling due to budget cuts and school closures. Our nation is only going to suffer unless we invest in education again.

Teachers have such large classes now they simply spend too much time trying to manage all the children.

Recent science fair judge here (2)

vsage3 (718267) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111334)

I have judged my city's (> 500,000 people, South) science fair for the last several years. It has been about 10 years since I graduated from high school, and I had participated every year in my county (~ 1 million people, not culturally Southern) science fair back then. I remember vividly, back then, having kids with amazing projects that were worthy of MS-level theses. One year, for example, someone found a new Group Theory result (with oversight by a college professor), for example. Many others did medical studies, had detailed demonstrations of traffic pattern simulations, and so on.

Fast forward to me judging the high school science fair here, and I'm appalled at what the "best" these kids could muster is. Most kids couldn't even design a simple experiment. For example, one girl was measuring the conductivity of a solution and varying the temperature, but her "data" consisted of her saying that the conductivity went down as the temperature went down. There was no actual data. The best projects were judged "best" by me by at least having some kind of quantitative data, using proper controls, and having some understanding of the implications of the work. Nothing blew me away, and I had to wonder where the mentor involvement was because it seemed like these kids did everything on their own.

Re:Recent science fair judge here (1)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111734)

I'm going out on a limb here based on one remark you made:

~ 1 million people, not culturally Southern

Would that perhaps be a reference to the Research Triangle? Because if so, you've got the whole point right there. Kids who are the children of successful college professors, researchers, and engineers have opportunities that are orders of magnitude better than those available to average high school students.

The father of the girl who won the science fair every year at my high school was the chairman of ophthalmology at the local medical school. He was born and raised in Taiwan, and still had numerous contacts there. As a result, she was able to produce longitudinal studies of the progression of various eye diseases in Taiwanese and American populations. Now, don't get me wrong - she was very, very smart. But that's a project that just doesn't exist for the average student. The average intelligent high school student has exactly zero chance of coming up with new group theory results or traffic pattern simulations, because they don't have the contacts to learn that these are even possibilities, and even if they somehow acquire them they don't have the personal connection that makes the potential mentor want to spend time on them (in the way that, say, a parent would).

As a broader point, people grossly underestimate how difficult the acquisition of human capital is. Even if someone has the intelligence to benefit from further education (which is not a given), opportunities are only available if you know they're there. And if your world encompasses nobody who is a scientist, or an engineer, or a banker, or a successful entrepreneur, only the truly extraordinary will become those things. Just learning what the possibilities are is a huge leap.

from the article's author (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111340)

Hi, it's great to see the discussion here. (Always an honor to get Slashdotted)! I will say that the heroism of the science teachers I interviewed gave me hope. I'd love it if some of you would also post comments on the "reader comment" section of the story on the Times' Web site...it's here: http://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2011/02/05/us/05science.html
thanks!
Amy Harmon

Science fairs???? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111346)

I have five children and came from a family with seven children. Most of us were enthusiastic about science. One became a scientist. I have attended, and participated in a lot of science fairs. I have seen almost no value to the fairs. Occasionally there were one or two students that did anything resembling science. Many students were there because someone made them. Other students enjoy the fairs because they get to do a craft, rather than learn basic math and science. From talking to the high school students I know, about 1% have the basic math, science, reasoning, communication, and organizational skills to do anything resembling basic science. For all but the exceptional students, teaching the basics (the skills needed to pass the standardized tests) is what is required.

Teaching the basics isn't as "fun" as a science fair, but it is what is needed.

Pay them more! (3, Insightful)

Barrinmw (1791848) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111364)

The first thing we need to do to fix science education in this country is to pay math and science teachers more than the other teachers. Not only is it harder to get a science or math degree than it is to be a history major, but there are many more job opportunities for science and math majors beyond teaching. They are a more valuable commodity and should be treated as such.

Re:Pay them more! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111434)

No that hasn't worked. The obviousanswer are private schools and vouchers. In the world US public schools are absolutely not competitve but private schools are. Failure shouldn't be supported with tax confiscated funds.

The public school unions must be broken and massively reformed. School is about teaching children, not about employment and ridiculously fat healh and retirement packages.

Re:Pay them more! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111706)

While you're at, stop cutting the music & arts programs in schools. I am aware that they 'take time away' from math and reading, but music especially is a useful tool/skill for use in a cross-curricular setting. Not only that, but it activates various parts of the brain that are beneficial in developing a creative, inter-disciplinary mind.

Stop stifling the students but getting rid of classes and programs that inspire creativity. Many of the people I have encountered who participated in various music ensembles, theater, art, or dance classes have also done well academically (especially in math and science). ...As a side note, one of the teaching standards for math in the state of NJ was to insure that students (middle or elementary school, I believe) were able to use a calculator. I don't know about anyone else, but I figured out how to use a regular calculator all on my own as a young child. The only types of calculators I have needed instruction on how to use were scientific and graphing calculators, and that was certainly not prolonged instruction in any case.

Ecybermission (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111366)

My middle school kid is involved in this:
https://www.ecybermission.com

I like it.

Lessons from Science Fairs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111406)

Real science can be tedious. Your competitors are less resource-limited. It's best to lie about your results. You'll be judged on presentation rather than rigor. Even if you win, the rewards suck compared to alternative endeavors.

american patents and copyright (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111416)

DOING the American people proud and making everything as expensive as can be ....GO GO GO 20 more years and a pea will have more value

curriculum (1)

paranoic (126081) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111522)

'I have so many state standards I have to teach concept-wise, it takes time away from what I find most valuable, which is to have them inquire about the world,' said one teacher."

They're doing it wrong. It should be "How do I teach the students to inquire about the world and still meet the state standards?". When you have a well designed curriculum, that's what happens. A side effect is that the you don't need endless practice tests to pass the state tests, at worst, you just loose a day when the students take those tests.

Curriculum isn't the issue (1)

Plekto (1018050) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111744)

The number of days the kids at my son's school spend preparing for standardized tests is... ZERO.

No, really. The tests are so simple that they are literally considered a time-waster and a free day off by the staff. They cover everything already and more in the course of normal classes. The issue here isn't that the teachers are spending time teaching the wrong stuff, it's that the parents are idiots who aren't teaching anything at home. So what you end up with are two schools: The ones with decent test scores and grades where the tests are largely ignored and the others where schools serve as remedial classes to teach the basics. Often over and over again in a futile attempt to save and teach every last child. My son's school holds back idiots. There is no conveyor system between grades. The parents figure out right quick that it's their job to get a tutor if there's a problem.

There is a great shortage of decent teachers in the U.S. right now. If you are stuck in a situation having to teach as the OP described, then you need to move to a school where they don't have to waste time preparing for these standardized tests.

The government's solution to this should be even simpler. Any child who cannot pass (IIRC, it's something like 61%?) these tests is held back a year without exception. If that means we have a bunch of 20 year old seniors in high school in some districts, then so be it. Obviously, if it's just one area, remedial class in summer would suffice. Note - they do this is Japan and other nations already. You pass or you are held back. Add some teeth to it and watch the parents and teachers get involved again.

Harvard we’re placing too much emphasis on c (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111544)

No science... (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111558)

No future.

While being able to read and count *is* important, if all we do is rehash what we have now, we become stagnant then die.

science fairs replaced by robotics teams, etc (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111560)

The article brings up several good points.
One aspect touched on is the problem of time resources, both for students and teachers.
The schools around here are not doing science fairs, but are doing more "team competition" stuff such as Aca Deca, Science Bowl or Robotics. This meets several needs: one teacher can advise 20 students on a common project as opposed to on 20 separate projects; it provides an opportunity for resume building on the students' part, either as a "president of the robotics club" or as "member of the Robotics Team".. it makes it more "team sports" oriented which is a familiar model for the school, for the local press, and it also is "everyone's a winner for participating" friendly, for those that have that philosophy.

the other thing is that to be competitive at the high school level in science fairs requires a lot of time and generally a multi year effort, and certainly not "start the project in November". In middle school, there's generally more participation over a wider spectrum of quality, so someone who starts a project in November and shows in March both a) stands a chance of winning; and b) if they don't win, there's lots of other people with comparable sophistication in their projects in the fair. A person getting a late start at the high school level is going to show up and get blown out of the water by projects that would often do well as a Master's thesis or Doctoral dissertation.

Unlike a team sport or a group activity (drama, choir, scouting, etc) which meets regularly and so can be scheduled around, science projects are more individual and require a lot more discipline on the part of the student to allocate enough time among all the competing demands. And frankly, the regularly scheduled activities tend to get the time at the expense of the more ad-hoc scheduled one. The other factor is that if you are participating in a group or team activity, the coach or leader, as well as the peers, will tend to make you put a priority on that activity, and if extra practices are needed or you have to go to a competition, that gets priority. This tends to select only for students who don't participate in other activities AND who are incredibly self directed, which is a very small percentage of the high school population (all that resume building, you know.. schedule those activities)

Add to this the rarity of science fair winning being a sure path to admission at a highly (or not so highly) selective college. The counselors, the articles the parents read about "how to get your kid admitted to Harvard", etc ALL stress "well rounded individual, lots of activities, team sports, leadership"... this is not the life planning path that is consistent with science fair success.

Now, it *is* true that you can do well. My daughter did well in middle school science fair going on to win at the state level, but when she got to high school, the support from the school evaporated, there's no advancement path, and even though she had ideas on what to do for projects, etc. there wasn't a clear path forward to success (so few high school students do projects in the county, the county fair winners don't go to ISEF, which is the big banana in the science fair world.).. "county science fair winner" in a not very well known county is not a big plus on the resume. OTOH, on the basis (partially) of her middle school win, she was able to apply for a summer program during high school, and that worked out pretty well, both in terms of the content and in terms of the resume recognition for the awards garnered from work in the program.

Maybe robotics teams and programs like Univ of Calif COSMOS are what are replacing the science fair pipeline to STEM careers.

Our teachers aren't any good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111578)

The problem is the teachers as much as the tests. If the teachers were any good, the standardized tests who have never come about to "fix" the teacher's inability to teach. I went to an engineering school. Education majors were just one step above communication majors. If an engineering student couldn't cut it, they would change their major to math education or some similar degree. Education is basically a liberal arts degree. You can't have people who can't do STEM themselves trying to teach inspire others to pursue STEM careers.

Disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111580)

Enquiring about the world comes naturally to chiildren -- it's not a skill that needs to be taught. However the intellectual tools that enable this inquiring to be fruitful, such as math or even just reading, do need to be taught. The earlier and the more comfortable children are with these tools, the less frustrated they get with their own natural curiosity and the more they will open up and not shut these inquiries down. I've been to science fairs at my daughter's elementary schools and most of the "projects" from 1st-4th grade don't have much to do with science or the scientific method. Yet they get praise anyway, which I think is very misleading for the children and can end up in frustration later on when the standards will be hire. Algebraic, geometric, abstraction and reasoning, reading should be rigorously practiced early on and will pay off later.

Not a new problem (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111606)

I remember vividly being the only 4th grader to get excited when the teacher told us were were doing science that day. Every other boy was more interested in sports. (I don't recall what the girls were into other than gossip and tattling on whatever mischief the boys were getting into). Point is that our priorities have gone south. IMHO, schools should slash their athletic budgets by 50% and "redistribute" that money to science programs. And not this touchy-feely ecology crap. I'm talking real, practical science and engineering. BTW, the U.S. spends more money per student than every other country in the world and yet we're slipping further and further behind. Throwing money at the problem isn't going to solve it. Sh*tcanning lousy tenured teachers needs to be possible and straightforward.

You kids, my lawn, do the math (3, Interesting)

sticks_us (150624) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111624)

Maybe it's because I grew up in another era, but I remember that the zeitgeist here in the US during the 60s/70s was all about Science. Your highest aspirations always involved pursuing some kind of career in Science, and if not that, to at least approach life in a rational, objective, semi-scientific manner.

Now it seems like it's all about emotions and chest-thumping. Maybe it's just Devlotuion [wikipedia.org] in action. Don't say we weren't warned! [wikipedia.org]

On a more serious note: I was a science-fair geek, and although I can look back now and see how crappy my work was, it was a very cool and enlightening experience. I remember military recruiters would show up at these fairs, and unless your research had something to do with blowing something up (I wrote computer programs for field biology) they sorta overlooked you.

Fun times. This article is probably just another signpost on the road to our demise.

Teachers don't care (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111714)

From my experience, most teachers were uncaring and pompous petty authoritarians. The higher you go in the education system, the worse this seemed to be. Greed and incompetence are the top hallmarks of modern education

Standardized Testing (1)

the Dragonweaver (460267) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111738)

This sort of problem is one of the reasons I hold the radical view that the federal government should not be involved in education (beyond some basic standards saying what an eighth-grade diploma or high school diploma consists of.) It's too far away from the issue and there's way too much involved; the ONLY way that the feds can get any information is to reduce it to a basic level. Which means "one size (doesn't) fit all" education, and we all know that means rote, rote, rote.

Here's my idea: Trust the teachers. Sure, make it so you can swap your kids around a bit easier, but give the teachers the authority to go with their responsibility. Every teacher I know bemoans the amount of time spent teaching to the test. My friend the English teacher would love to be allowed to teach novels before spring. My SiL would like to tailor her education to the wide variety of elementary students she has. My BiL would like to be able to spend time explaining why an education is important because of the students he has from a culture that doesn't value education at all. But with one test after another, they have to spend all of their time trying to meet the deadlines.

Geek Dads (and moms) unite! (1)

lythander (21981) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111740)

I have helped organize and judge science fairs at my kids' school. I've moved on, and my younger son doesn't participate any more, because we do cool stuff instead. Built an arc light. Had a mythbusters-themed birthday party with liquid nitrogen fun and thermite. All the while learning how the stuff worked. We take apart things and try (emphasis on try) to put them back together.

In elemantary school, when little science is being taught in school, and the scientific method isn't at all, it ends up falling on the parent to emphasize the paper aspect of the science: a hypothesis, collecting data, recording data, control groups, etc., and if the parent isn't a scientist, or inclined that way, its just not going to go well. Frankly, at that age, important as process is to real science, it's terribly boring (and often it's boring at any age.)

I personally think that a maker faire with a long lead time and a strong effort to get parents involved with their kids would be much more meaningful to many of these kids, and likely incent the kids to further pursue these activities more than the science fair from our collective youths.

A humble proposal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35111758)

I would argue that if a young person knows a great deal about part of a field, it is usually a sign that he or she can learn about other parts of it quite easily.

So cut out the "standardized" and "curriculum". Make the curriculum more like a menu. Some teachers have really heavy science backgrounds themselves and feel like giving a more theoretical and personally involved teaching about the principles of science - whilst others may not have a science background, or don't want to/can't put in the resources to tailor a "curiousity course", so let them present the factbooks and use multiple-choice tests.

I guess there is a desire for some kind of "progress measure", so create a scale when you create the module, and then standardize scores later.

What was actually done after Sputnik (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#35111790)

In 1957, a major effort, organized by MIT, was made to revise the teaching of high school physics. This resulted in the PSSC Physics [compadre.org] curriculum. Top physicists were involved, including Hans Bethe and I.I. Rabi, both Nobel prize winners who'd worked on the atomic bomb program.

That program focused on experiments, collecting data, analyzing it, and comparing it with theory. Here's some of the lab equipment. [sciencekit.com] It's not elaborate; the original equipment was mostly wooden.

This was acknowledged to be a very good curriculum, but a lot of work for teachers. Schools seemed to have backed away from it by the early 1970s.

That seems to be where things took a wrong turn.

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