Kids Talk Science

Education GeekMom
Image By Rebecca Angel

I am not a scientist, but I consider myself science literate. I understand how studies are conducted and I have a basic knowledge of statistics. But more importantly, I actively keep up with science articles in everyday magazines, compare them to each other, and ask questions of people I know in the science fields. Being science literate means I care about how science affects my life. I also thinks it’s pretty cool.

My children are surrounded by scientists in the family: Their father, aunt, and grandfather all have PhDs in molecular biology, and their great-aunt is currently working on her doctorate in nursing. Granted, the science topics veer towards biology more than astrophysics, but as scientists, they all enjoy talking about any new discoveries.

I started college as a psychology major, not because it was better than “undeclared” but because I thought it was interesting. I ended up in music, but I still enjoy hearing about new studies in that social science. All this means is that my children consider science a part of life, not just a subject in school.

I decided to take this science literacy skill into our homeschooling group. For six weeks, I led a class of kids from ages six to fourteen on a discovery of what science literacy means. Their homework was to find a science article from a lay-person’s source, and then try to find the original scientific article referenced. This was very tough because real science journals are often expensive for libraries to carry, are not easily accessed on the web unless you are part of a scientific community, and are generally not for sale in stores. Yet, many were at least able to find the original title and abstract for their chosen article. The most amusing part of class was when the children would read the lay person title like: Alzheimer’s Linked to Lack of Zzzz and then the scientific study title, Rapid appearance and local toxicity of amyloid-beta plaques in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. They came to appreciate good science writing for non-scientists.

That first class, I told the kids to choose any topic, as long as it was a current scientific study. I’m running a science literacy class again this spring and decided to narrow down the topic to health and nutrition. This time around I’ve also allotted more time for discussion. I hadn’t counted on how intense the kids’ options would be on the various studies presented in the first class. I had to cut them off just to make sure everyone had a chance to present.

What about at your home? Don’t have a couple of PhDs to pass the potatoes and ask a question about the validity of the latest diet craze? Start reading good science articles. Science News is by far the most accessible, varied, and current science publication. Regardless of your educational background, you will be able to understand and get a quick look at the most recent and groundbreaking work in a variety of scientific fields. Read one of the shorter articles aloud at dinner and start a conversation about possible life on the moon of another planet, how robots are learning like babies, or if obesity is linked to too many hours playing video games.

Here’s a short checklist for evaluating science in the news:
-Who funded the study?
-How broad was the sample (people of different ages? genders?)
-How many people?
-Was it a blind study? Double blind?
-Did the reporter tell you about other similar studies to compare?
-Did other scientists review and comment on this study?

Science shapes our culture, politics, and personal health. Read about it, talk about it, become more science literate with your kids!

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4 thoughts on “Kids Talk Science

  1. Thanks for sharing your checklist! I think my oldest son might be old enough to really start understanding Science News! We are definitely a science-ey family here (my husband has a PhD in meteorology) so we ensure our kids understand the “fine print” of some of the studies published, or some of the news that gets all sorts of media hype.

  2. Your class sounds great! I’ve kind of assumed my kids know how to evaluate a study, but putting together a mini-unit like the one you describe would probably be a good idea before I send them off to college.

    This homeschooler thanks you for the idea, Rebecca!

  3. This is my entire career. The museum I work at is a hands-on science museum whose entire focus is to “reveal the wonder and relevance of science” translated here as teach science literacy. This is so refreshing to see someone whose already there. We can’t make you a scientist and we really don’t want to. Thousands of colleges and universities are chomping at the bit to do that. And tens of thousands of employers are waiting to hand you copious amounts of money to do it (be it scholarship or employment) should you choose that path. But science literacy is important for all the rest of us who chose history (like me), literature, music, philosophy and what not. It affects everything we do from the next keystroke I make to the next sip I take of my coffee to the next person that reads this wonderful article.

    Science is a part of everything and the world is a much more wondrous, amazing, fun place if we learn to appreciate (if not fully understand) all those processes.

    Good Job! And yay for Science Literacy!!!

  4. Thanks Rebecca!

    We’re major science geeks here. To get better access to science journals of all kinds, look into what your public library offers. Typically larger library systems (and partnered smaller systems) pay for membership in research databases giving you access to all sorts of journal articles, the newest dissertations, etc. Fantastic resource, usually available online.

    Our favorite science periodical is New Scientist, out of the UK. It’s a weekly. Make sure you get the student rate. You can do so by mailing in a student ID (or a copy of your approval to homeschool notice). It seems expensive even at the student rate but it is totally worth it.

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