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3 Ways to Fix U.S. Science Education.

When Jamie Hyneman and I speak at teacher conventions, we always draw a grateful crowd. They tell us Thursday mornings are productive because students see us doing hands-on science Wednesday nights on our show MythBusters, and they want to talk about it. These teachers are so dedicated, but they have difficulty teaching for the standardized tests they’re given with the budgets they’re not given. It’s one reason the U.S. is falling behind other countries in science: By 2010, Asia will have 90 percent of the world’s Ph.D. scientists and engineers. We’re not teachers, but our show has taught us a lot about how to get people interested in science. Here are three humble suggestions that might help reinvigorate American science education. 

1. Let students get their hands dirty.

It’s really difficult to absorb things just by being told about them—I know I don’t learn well that way. If students could get their hands dirty in science class they’d be more likely to internalize information. You can lecture about the surface tension of water, but it’s not as effective as conducting an experiment with a needle and a single beam balance. Jamie and I are in touch with a lot of teachers from industrial engineering programs, and one of them told us he thinks our show has helped shift the emphasis from the strictly theoretical to a more hands-on approach. (For an example of kids doing down-and-dirty engineering, click here.) 

2. Yes, spend more money on science.

We like to do things on the cheap at MythBusters, and we often find the most elegant solution is also the least expensive. But we still need significant resources. It drives me crazy that one of the first things to go when educational budgets get slashed is science supplies for kids to play with, so students end up just listening to explanations of scientific concepts. MythBusters is not a show where two guys read about stuff—it’s two guys doing stuff. When we need a valve to fire a baseball at nearly the speed of sound, we get it. Most of my friends who are grade school teachers pay for their own supplies. People say, “You can’t just throw money at the problem.” By all means throw money at the problem! Learning science by experi­mentation yields innovation, inspiration, intuition and fascination. 

3. Celebrate mistakes.

A good scientist will tell you that being wrong can be just as interesting as being right. The same holds for our show. We love hearing from fans who challenge our conclusions—especially kids. We gave a talk at the Uni­versity of Florida, and a 12-year-old girl asked us why, when we tested whether elephants are afraid of mice, we only used white mice. She was right; we should have tested different-­colored ones. For our fuel-efficiency myth, windows versus a/c, we drove two cars at 45 mph until they ran out of gas; our data showed that driving with the windows open was more efficient. But a fan pointed out that over a certain speed, open windows create so much drag that a/c is more efficient. We repeated the test at 55 mph—and the fan was right. Kids need to know that teachers and textbooks don’t have all the answers—and that’s okay. Sometimes, even a failed experiment can be a good learning experience.”


This is from a couple years ago, but I still think it rings true. The decline of education, much less in the fields of science, in the United States schooling system[s] is appalling. 

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, #United States #education #humanactions #science #science education #mythbusters
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    Is this not what Miss Frizzle was teaching children for years?
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