In the last Century, scientists have made great strides for humanity. Discovering DNA, confirming gravitational waves, and creating the Internet were all major steps for mankind, let alone landing on the moon.
But who has been responsible for these discoveries? Who were the minds that taught us what kids learn in textbooks these days? And why should we care? How have they affected our personal lives? Are we only aware of Einstein as a scientist because of his notable hair-do? Do kids in your classroom even know when Einstein lived?
You may be wondering: but why is it important to teach kids about modern day scientists? Isn’t it the science itself that is most important? Well, we’d argue both are! Here are some important factors to consider when teaching kids about important people in science today:
Famous scientists inspire kids
Hearing scientist’s stories is relatable. Kids can think, ‘I can do that too!’ It makes the fantasy of being an astronaut real to them, for example. Chris Hadfield is a Canadian who went to space, and he’s a real, guitar-playing person! He makes singing videos on YouTube! How relatable is that?
But not only that, the stories of famous scientists can inspire kids to never give up. Bill Nye was continuously rejected when applying to be an astronaut. But today, he’s accomplished a lot in his role as a popular science educator and engineer. His resume goes far beyond TV appearances. Plus, it’s no secret that scientific discoveries require trying, and trying again.
See our related article:
How to teach kids to try, try again
Another way some scientists can inspire kids is through their diversity. Neil deGrasse Tyson, for example, is an African-American, which is rare in his field. And women especially face a male-dominated field, which has historically been a barrier to overcome. Science has no boundaries when it comes to who can be a scientist.
Modern scientists teach kids that knowledge builds upon the foundation others have laid
This is important – no one can do it alone. And sometimes it takes generations to make discoveries. Isaac Newton may not have had access to modern day computers to make the discoveries he could have made, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have tried. Using the same logic, young scientists of today shouldn’t give up on the dream of curing cancer, for instance, just because it hasn’t been done yet.
When you hear the stories of how some famous scientists made it to where they are today, you will notice that they started their fascinations at a young age. As this article describes, fostering science-thinkers can happen early, and in the classroom. This is especially important for reasons of diversity and inclusion in science, noted above.
Modern-day scientists show kids that anyone can study STEM subjects
Here we follow the thought above, about fostering science interest in the early years, to promote diversity in the field. This is badly needed in our modern society, as not enough students are studying science, technology, engineering and math (the STEM subjects). And our modern economy depends on these fields.
Here, it’s also important to note that scientists don’t need to be ‘gifted’ or ‘good’ at school (as this article would explain). Often times we have the impression of the scientist as being the ‘brainy’ or ‘geeky’ kid at school. That doesn’t have to be the case. But they do need some important traits:
For one, they need to be interested, like Tim Berners-Lee was by his railway toys. Or the way Neil deGrasse Tyson loved looking at stars. And, theoretical physicist Brian Greene explains in this video that the way science is taught could be the problem here. “Abstract nonsense” is not helpful. Instead, kids need to see that science is exciting, and it explains what we would think is impossible. Think about it – ‘invisible’ atoms, mysterious black holes and plants that ‘talk’ – science reads like a superhero book!. “Science is your ticket to understanding the world and the universe,” he says.
Next, kids need to be dedicated. Stephen Hawking wasn’t the best student in his early years. But once he was told he had little time left, he was ‘all-in.’ All he needed to be the genius he is known for today, was a little motivation.
Still feeling like, ‘this is hard!’? See our article on how struggling students have a lot of potential:
Students who struggle to learn may actually learn better
And, an article we wrote explaining how to teach math in a way that matches a student’s learning style
Math Tutoring Tips for Children with Different Learning Styles
Teach kids about modern-day scientists to promote their future ambitions
As we’ve seen above, teaching kids about modern-day scientists and their stories can help inspire them to become scientists themselves. And even if they don’t become scientists with great discoveries, it is still encouraging to know about the stories of exceptional humans who changed life for others. At the same time we can let kids know that they couldn’t have done it alone.
Stay tuned for next week’s article when we will cover just a handful of these successful scientists alive today.