Boosting Learning and Interest in Science

Interest and Learning in a discipline can go hand in hand. With interest, there maybe a greater motivation to learn. The Education Development Center in the United States has recently published a report on What Parents Talk About When They Talk About Learning: A National Survey About Young Children and Science. This report highlights the finding that parents are indeed enthusiastic about helping their children learn science, but are not confident that they have the ability to teach science. Research shows that science activities outside school do enhance interest in the sciences but parents do have a reason to be reluctant because research also shows that the same activities negatively correlate with learning in the sciences. (See previous post, Raising Interest and Learning in the Sciences)

Above copied from the Education Development Center

According to the authors of the report, here are the five key findings:
  • Most parents say they are confident about their ability to teach their young children literacy, math, and social skills, but fewer parents are confident about teaching science.
  • Parents with less formal education are less likely to feel confident in helping their children learn than are parents with more education.
  • Nine out of 10 parents report doing learning activities with their children daily. About half of parents report doing science-related activities with their children daily.
  • Seven of 10 parents say that knowing what young children need to learn about science, and having ideas for doing science with everyday materials, would help them do a lot more science.
  • Many families say they use science media weekly or more—particularly videos or TV shows about science—but few parents think these media resources have helped their children learn a lot of science.
Unlike in literacy, arithmetic and social skills, misconceptions abound in the sciences. We can even see easily these misconceptions in our everyday language: "The sun rises, the sun sets." It should not be surprising then to see that it is difficult to teach children that the earth actually rotates such that we see the sun when our side of the earth faces the sun, and we do not see the sun once our side of the earth we are on faces the other direction. Even in the science of education, myths abound. Here is a list from a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology:

Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic).
Differences in hemispheric dominance (left brain, right brain) can help explain individual differences amongst learners.
Short bouts of co-ordination exercises can improve integration of left and right hemispheric brain function.
Exercises that rehearse co-ordination of motor-perception skills can improve literacy skills.
Environments that are rich in stimulus improve the brains of pre-school children.
Children are less attentive after consuming sugary drinks, and/or snacks.
It has been scientifically proven that fatty acid supplements (omega-3 and omega-6) have a positive effect on academic achievement.
There are critical periods in childhood after which certain things can no longer be learned.
We only use 10% of our brain.
Regular drinking of caffeinated drinks reduces alertness.
Children must acquire their native language before a second language is learned. If they do not do so neither language will be fully acquired.
Learning problems associated with developmental differences in brain function cannot be remediated by education.
If pupils do not drink sufficient amounts of water (=6–8 glasses a day) their brains shrink.
Extended rehearsal of some mental processes can change the shape and structure of some parts of the brain.
Individual learners show preferences for the mode in which they receive information (e.g., visual, auditory, kinesthetic).
Teachers, those who practice the profession of educating our children, are found to believe in the above myths. These are teachers and yet most of them believe in the above misconceptions on learning. One can just imagine how many myths there are that nonscientist parents hold when it comes to science. It is helpful if parents can nurture in their children an interest in the sciences. Curiosity needs to be encouraged, but parents are correct in recognizing their need to be informed adequately and properly with regard to how they can in fact help their children not just to enjoy science but more importantly, learn science.