Last Saturday, I had a wonderful time constructing and launching foam rockets with a group of kindergarten through eighth grader students at an event in Milwaukee. It was a take-off on our product called Rocket Math. The students constructed foam rockets and launched them at a pre-determined angle to try to determine what the optimum angle was for achieving the greatest distance. The event was truly a STEM activity. The project was hands on and allowed students to use various tools from scissors to rulers to hot glue.
I had one seventh grade girl build seven rockets and test each one. She built rockets with lengths of three feet down to four inches and tested them for greatest distance. I asked her if science was her favorite subject and she replied no, it was art. I asked why science wasn’t and she replied that her teacher just make them read and answer questions in class. This troubled me. I realize that reading about science is important in acquiring ideas and information regarding events, people and experiments that have occurred in the past, but more importantly, science is about doing.
Too often as teachers, we are crunched by the time necessary to cover the curriculum and the demands of a system that assumes that by pouring knowledge into students and having them regurgitate that knowledge on a test is somehow teaching them science.
Science is about trial and error, failure, revising hypotheses, thinking out of the box and using engineering design principles. Too many texts provide information and experiments that amount to nothing more than a recipe with a predetermined outcome. These oversimplified and childish activities don’t give students a sense of real science and how it is conducted. As a teacher, I would urge you to break away from those kinds of activities and give your students some authentic challenges. Sure, it takes more time and planning, but the reward is a greater sense of enjoyment for you and your students and an appreciation of real science.