Monday, January 02, 2017

Normalize Science

Most people that know me realize I'm a "science nerd," probably more appropriately described as a "science enthusiast." This means I enjoy talking about, reading about and encouraging others to learn about science. Most science teachers I know are enthusiastic enough about their subjects that they randomly insert science into everyday conversations. Sometimes this is greeted with "Hey that's interesting! Thanks for sharing!" type comments. Other times our science related comments are met with awkward science and a change of subject. This happened several times over the holidays and I was struck by how unusual it seemed to be to "talk science."

At both the extended family Christmas Eve and our neighborhood New Years Eve party I shared our plans for a family trip to see the Great American Eclipse next August. It is common when this comes up to have to explain to an otherwise well educated adult what a solar eclipse is and how it happens. At each holiday party I asked kids not "How's school going?" but "What are you learning in science class this year?" When the horn a child was blowing at a party seemed too loud I broke out the decibel meter app on my phone and reminded a mechanic friend to wear hearing protection at work.

My active and conscious support of science for all also presents with gift exchanges. I try to buy science or educational gifts for our family and friends, which I sometimes have to explain after they open it. For instance, this year I gave an Airzooka, a favorite classroom demonstration, to a family member who had received mostly gift cards from the rest of the family. As a young teenage boy he is now "difficult to buy for" and "doesn't want toys." As this video explains the Airzooka pushes a pocket of air that can be felt across the room. As soon as I assembled it for him he began shooting air at others across the room, and soon adults of all ages were stealing it to play with it. They had never seen anything like it, all wanted to know where to buy it and wanted to hear how it worked. Of course I was happy to oblige them and explain the science of it and how I use it to model sound waves in class. Family and friends were surprised how fun the Airzooka and other gifts were since they knew they were science and education related. Somehow labeling them that way came with the assumption that they couldn't be fun or couldn't be for younger kids. We've also given a drinking bird, geodes to crack, a moon night light with lunar phases, a solar robot toy, and more.

Luckily, other friends and families asked what my kids' interests are or if I have any specific ideas for them. They received many science and educational toys this year and I'm happy to report they are loving them all so far. Their Nana gave them Code-A-Pillars which allows them to build a robot caterpillar by connecting segments with different instructions on each. It allows students to practice rudimentary programming and learn sequencing. GG (Great Grandma) got my six-year-old a special viewing planter that allows her to see the plant roots as they develop. And a good family friend obliged when I said she really wanted a toy metal detector and she happily pranced around the yard listening to it ping.

While many science teachers already talk with their friends and family about science or give the gift of science, I'd love to see such practiced by non-scientists as well. A common phrase these days is "We need to normalize [X, Y or Z]." One way to normalize science for all is to talk about it. When someone around you asks "Why did that happen?" or "I wonder if..." discuss it with them, even if you don't know the answer. Encourage the young ones around you to be interested in science, even if they "don't want to be scientists." People like to cook, even if they aren't chefs. They like to go for bike rides even if they don't have professional equipment. I would argue that science can be an interest or a hobby for everyone. All adults can dabble in science without having a degree in science and they can encourage every child around them to do the same. Coloring became a viral sensation and the hobby-du-jour; let's make science the thing to do this year.

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