Baby Toolkit. Adrienne also blogs and podcasts about family games.
At first blush, Judy Dutton's Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, A Robot Named Scorch. . . and What It Takes To Win looks like Spellbound recast with science geeks. Don't be fooled. While Science Fair Season
explores the lives of a handful of contestants in the Intel
International Science and Engineering Fair, it deftly illustrates artful
parenting and success in learning as well.
The high school students' projects are sometimes mind-boggling in scale
(like building a reactor for nuclear fusion). I expected the top
achieving high school students to be working on an undergraduate level,
but these noteworthy projects more clearly resemble post-graduate
research. Because the students approach their inquiries with fresh
perspective, they see possibility and challenge where more conventional
researchers might not explore.
While no two contestants' stories are remotely identical, patterns do
emerge that speak to science education and parenting young children. So
often the students' stories begin with an early spark of interest in
something (horses, electricity, cars, astronomy) which parents
encouraged with exploration. Though the kids' interests didn't usually
mirror parental interests, the parents went out of their way to feed
their child's curiosity and enthusiasm. Time after time, parents
provide opportunities (like a homebrew chem lab, a borrowed Geiger
counter, or time with horses) and find mentors with similar interests.
Granted, not every child is going to become a super-competitor in
science by the mere magic of parental support, but these stories clearly
illuminate a parent's ability to multiply interest into inquiry and
Yet the book is not populated with Tiger Moms or Stage Fathers, the
burgeoning interests are consistently directed by the kids (and I say
kids because this explosion of interest seems most common in early
childhood). These biographies are full of freedom and exploration.
The other looming discussion is that of how students come to love
science learning. Halfway through the book I became painfully aware
that, although some "outsiders" come to science interest in junior high
or high school, most of the kids with scientific fervor (and the
resulting knowledge) fully embraced science long before most schools
begin to seriously teach it. We, as a nation, are missing the critical
window where kids fall in love with science. Thanks to budget cuts and
lack of advocacy, science is barely taught when young students are
making decisions about what they love. When schools finally start
teaching science in junior high, the approach is often dry and makes the
very foundation of existence seem irrelevant and esoteric.
During the space race, science charged into unsuspecting homes through
popular media. While the media marveled and quaked at Sputnik, rocket
scientists became the heroes of coal mine town boys like Homer Hickam (NASA engineer and author of Rocket Boys).
This book reminds me that not only are science heroes present today,
they're still coming of age (though in increasingly shorter supply).
Our tech role models need to be more than wealthy boys with killer apps
(Apple's Steve Jobs, Facebook's Mark Zuckerman). Kids would be better
served to know about Pluto Files atrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson and science humanitarian Amy Smith.
In my life as a university academic advisor, the most frustrating
academic trajectories were those of students with no real interests. A
student sorting through a abundance of passions brimmed with energy, but
one without a single definable interest made me want to bang my head
against my desk. I knew then that, should we ever have kids, I wanted
them to deeply love some thing that challenged and expanded them.
Science Fair Season left me with a long to-do list. I want
Ranger, Scout, and the Detective to gain exposure to math and science
beyond what they'll get in the elementary classroom, and I also want
those opportunities to be available for their friends and classmates.
My mom's fifth grade class had this amazing interactive experience put
together by an orthopedic surgeon dad; the dad set up hands-on stations
where the class could use real orthopedic tools to meet objectives (like
screwing a nut on a bolt) through obstacles (inside a bottle) to
simulate surgical challenge. My mom believes that one presentation
converted more students to science than any other single event of her
long teaching career. This it the type of early experience I want for
my kids and as many other kids as we can involve.
I think the future, not just of our kids' educations, but of the country
and the world, may lie in the opportunities we offer our kids in their
Well written and entertaining, Science Fair Season is going to have the broad voyeuristic appeal of subculture documentaries like Word Wars and The Farmer's Wife, but it also has the seeds of one of the most critical educational discourses of our generation.
Hyperion, hardcover $25 MSRP, $15.99 on Amazon.
Read excerpt at author's site.
Do you like to talk about things like making and science? Join for #STEMchat on Twitter, Tuesday, August 21 at 8 PM Central. In August we'll be talking about how to get your kids to love science.
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