"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How to Motivate Students to Pursue Science Careers

A former professor of mine offered the following suggestion when asked what needed to be done to improve science education in the Philippines, "Let's not go the route of science quiz contests, please! We should discourage the practice of using quiz contests to show whether the science program is successful or not."

Students from Manila Science High School winning First Place in the National Astronomy Week 2015 Astro-quiz
(above photo copied from the Philippine Astronomical Society)
I graduated from Manila Science High School and during those times, one would certainly not miss the central role science quizzes and contests played in the consciousness of students, teachers and parents. The results of those competitions basically served as measures of how good our school was performing. Winning those contests seemed to be the main goal or prize of our basic education. As a recent paper scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, there is wisdom behind my former professor's suggestion.

The paper states in its abstract:
Using an expectancy-value perspective, we identified and tested 2 types of utility value: communal (other-oriented) and agentic (self-oriented). The culture of science is replete with examples emphasizing high levels of agentic value, but communal values are often (stereotyped as) absent from science. However, people in general want an occupation that had communal utility. We predicted and found that an intervention emphasizing the communal utility value of biomedical research increased students’ motivation for biomedical science.
Science has value for the community. It requires people working with each other, collaborating. It involves people who are trying to find solutions to problems and challenges a community faces. Science contests only paint a competitive picture. This goes against what apparently works in motivating students to consider a future life in the sciences. How science is presented to students can make a difference. For instance, the following different presentations can significantly influence the motivation of a student towards science:
(1) “. . . in the early stages of a project that could help infants with early brain injury learn to move similar to other infants. Goldfield calls it “second skin”—smart clothing whose fabric would pick up attempts at motion and improve brain function” 
(2) “. . . in the early stages of a project. Goldfield calls it “second skin”—smart clothing whose fabric would pick up attempts at motion and improve brain function.”   
Adding that the research actually aims to help infants with early brain injury can make a difference. It paints science as so much more than just discovering or making something for the first time. It depicts science as a human endeavor to help others.

Across science departments in various universities, there are regular seminars held during which an invited scientist presents new findings. In all of these talks, the speaker often begins with the values of the study. Among these values are those that benefit or help society. A speaker does not usually begin with achievement or power yet science contests in elementary and high school levels tend to portray these self-oriented values more. This is perhaps simply a consequence of not having a scientist as a science teacher in basic education. My former professor is of course a scientist. It is probably the reason why he apparently knows what should not be done to improve science in basic education.



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