It’s Easy to Teach Kids to Love Science. So Why Do We Keep Failing at It?

Science needs to be about discovery, not rote memorization.

Brian Greene: I think there are a lot of reasons why there are some people — and I don’t consider it to be some major epidemic sweeping the land, but yes, there are some people who resist the insights of science. And I think a lot of this has to do with how we teach science to young kids in school, right. For many people — and I’m talking from experience — people have told me this that science for them in school they didn’t understand it as a body of investigative knowledge that gives us insights into how the world works. No, for them it was some facts that they were made to memorize and spit back on an exam that had no direct relevance to anything that they could directly see or touch or in some sense it was just abstract nonsense that they were force to memorize.

The tragedy of that is when a young kid realizes that science reveals the hidden underside of reality and what it reveals is so exciting — when I talk to kids and tell them about black holes, tell them about the Big Bang, tell them about quantum mechanics and quantum tunneling, how particles can go through barriers that you wouldn’t have thought possible, I can’t tell you the number of times kids will say to me, that’s science? That’s cool. And science needs to have that experience for kids where it just grabs them as the most exciting dramatic story of discovery. And if you have that experience as a young kid, science is not a subject. It’s not a test that you have to take. Science is your ticket to understanding the world and the universe and then it’s with you for life. If you can have that experience, it changes everything.

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Aaron Lehmann

Science needs to be about discovery, not rote memorization. Kids become turned off of science at an early age because the way we teach it makes such little sense. "Science is your ticket to understanding the world and the universe and then it’s with you for life," explains theoretical physicist Brian Greene. "If you can have that experience, it changes everything."

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less