Planting the Seeds of Scientific Curiosity

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In a rapidly changing world, scientific education is becoming more important to ensure the next generation is equipped with the skills and intellect to pursue fulfilling careers and lifestyle choices. When we look at the global challenges facing us now and in the coming decades – climate change, population growth, food and water security and renewable energy to name a few – we see that many of these problems, and most likely their solutions, lay in the realms of science.

Despite this, and despite the growth in the market for scientific and technological minds, Australia is experiencing a decrease in the number of students pursuing science both in their further education and in their careers. More worryingly, although Australia is still highly regarded on the global scale for scientific education, Brian Schmidt from Australian National University stated that we are going backwards in this area faster than any other OECD country.

Long story short, we could be facing a future with a great need for scientific minds and very few people qualified or adequately equipped to get the job done.

What is at the root of this issue? Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer. Research, and the opinions of highly regarded scientists like Ian Chubb, point to a disinterest of students as a result of unconfident teaching, and information being presented in such a way that students are unable to see how it affects them and the world around them. This can often be traced all the way back to early high school and even primary school experiences within the science discipline.

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Young children have a natural curiosity, especially about the world around them.

Since the national curriculum was put into place, a focus on primary school scientific education was introduced, with the idea being that children’s natural curiosity would be piqued in their early years and impassion them to continue science into their high education. However, this national curriculum is not always implemented as well as it was intended. As the long standing decline of interest in science feeds into the teaching discipline, many teachers are finding themselves under-confident in teaching that content.

That being said, blame cannot be placed squarely at the feet of primary school teachers. Consider the number of things teachers need to focus on with their students. Then throw in assemblies, excursions and numerous other disruptions a class can experience, and it becomes very difficult to have enough hours free to adequately teach primary school science.

I may be painting a grim picture, but all is not lost!

As science and innovation go hand in hand, there are many exciting people working hard to improve primary school education in science, especially so that it is interesting for the kids. Richard Johnson, science teacher at Rostrata Primary School in Western Australia is once such teacher, and he is even vying for the 2016 Global Teacher Prize as a result of his efforts. By decking out the school’s laboratory with innovative equipment, he believes that running excitement experiments and allowing the kids to learn by doing will instil in them a passion to keep STEM in their careers and lives.

This consensus of “Science by Doing” is echoed by the Australia Academy of Science, whose plethora of online resources gives students (and educators) free access to experiments, interactive worksheets and an introduction to the inquiry approach of scientific learning. Primary Connections is a similar resource targeting the primary school curriculum, and is available to teachers for free through Scootle. However, these resources require interest and commitment from teachers, and time dedicated to it in the schooling day, which isn’t always able to occur.

An education in science doesn’t need to begin and end at school either, there are a multitude of ways children and their families can interact with science on a daily basis, even in their own backyard. Aside from the incredible number of YouTube videos, animations and online games, there are also more hands-on ways for kids to pique their curiosity outside of school hours.

Here at Living Books, we are aiming to educate children on interesting scientific principles through the garden. Kids will be able to learn things like: How do plants eat and drink? What is photosynthesis? Why do our bodies need fruit and vegetables to live? By actually partaking in activities that get them out in a garden and touching and tasting these raw foods, the natural curiosity of children will be sparked, and give them a good experience of scientific education that will hopefully stay with them in the coming years.

Look out for the Living Books school holiday program coming to your area soon. We realised that there is an opportunity for children to learn while they’re away from school and extend the ideas that are being taught in schools through specific hands-on activities and games.

Until then, I have provided a few ideas below for easy ways you and your children can become more engaged with science and the world around you!

  • Create a compost pile in the corner of your back yard. This way your kids can see how food breaks down and can become useful again as fertiliser for your garden.
  • Make a potato battery to light up a small LED, igniting questions about how electricity works and where power comes from.
  • Grow small pot plants under different coloured lights, to help explain the way plants get energy from the sun.
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Maybe one day the potato battery will become a viable alternative energy source.

If you have any questions or feedback please feel free to comment below.

– Christie

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