I didn’t get along too well with science when I was at school unless you count scraping a grade C in Higher Biology as academic success, which I don’t – particularly as it all left my brain the minute the exam was finished.
Anyway I’d always defined myself as more of an arts-type of person long before I could even have given science a chance. In short it never really captivated my interest.
What might have helped would have been some sort of friendly introduction to the subject that made it creative, fun and relevant before I started studying them at high school. Otherwise when the time comes you’re just confronted with a series of seemingly pointless experiments, confusing formulae and terrifying terminology that will bore you rigid if they’re not explained properly or made interesting.
I’m encouraged to see that things are changing for my son’s generation. This is important because science underpins everything. Without science we’d know nothing at all about who we are, why we got here, and how everything works. And that’s kind of a big deal.
Toby’s primary school has been excellent at introducing science into the curriculum, presenting topics in all manner of fun and lively ways. He has returned home full of conversation about his science endeavours and it’s the most animated he’s been so far in his short educational career.
I thought I’d nurture some of that interest by arranging a trip to Glasgow Science Centre, and Toby was really excited at this plan, telling his teacher about it and everything. You see, even if your school is not all that great at teaching science, we live in a time where there are a load of really accessible resources available publicly to help you develop your child’s scientific curiosity.
Scientific researchers are now actively encouraged by funding bodies to promote the value of what they do to us laymen, and that has resulted in a growth of opportunities for the public to engage with science in many fun ways. In Edinburgh there’s the ever-popular International Edinburgh International Science Festival, which boasts an exceptional programme for children of all ages. London’s Science Museum is of course well known. Dundee has a Science Centre. Plus, most free public museums offer interactive displays with scientific relevance.
The Glasgow Science Centre is an exceptional three-floor facility with a multitude of interactive stations to try out activities, experiments and puzzles. The centre provides shows throughout the day and for a modest but extra cost you can experience the planetarium.
It’s set up to be pure fun, and ok I’m not sure how much true scientific value there is in making hand shapes in a giant pin impression frame, or in timing yourself doing a mini sprint, but these simple activities help introduce complex ideas in accessible ways. This may help pave the way for the boring, repetitive but essential science you learn in secondary school; the stuff that forms the vital building blocks that will help you progress to the sort of study that sounds a lot more exciting, like climate science, astronomy or robotics.
This is important because it is in society’s interest that the next generation are equipped to find answers to some of the world’s biggest challenge. Sharp, enquiring minds can be found in all walks of life but without the right introduction to scientific subjects, how do we capture that potential talent? It’s not something that should be left just to the private schools so public facilities like science centres play a valuable role in helping children connect those dots without even realising it.
This occurred to me when I was wandering around the Glasgow Science Centre’s second floor, which was themed around energy. We take for granted that we can just go to a petrol station and fill up our cars to make them move, or that we just press a button and our homes are heated but generations of scientific minds from a range of disciplines have had to develop the knowledge and technology to get us to that point. To progress society further it will be the turn of the kids in that room, and beyond, to build on that knowledge.
How we identify new and sustainable energy sources is a major modern-day conundrum with potentially catastrophic consequences if we make the wrong decisions. Through playing computer simulations Toby and I learned how expensive and difficult it is to find and drill for oil. We also learnt that the world’s crude oil supply is running out and fast and we were able to investigate alternative ideas and solutions through a series of hands-on exhibits.
It’s only in my adult life I’ve thought more broadly about science and technology and its application to real-world issues. With ignorance I’ve previously closed my mind to anything too “techy” but here was Toby at the age of seven being introduced to fairly fundamental concepts about how we source our energy. Did he take it all in? It doesn’t matter too much, it’s the exposure that counts.
What he does with the knowledge presented him today and on other similar occasions is very much up to him but if you can’t access the knowledge in the first place how will you ever know how far your brain can stretch? It’s important that we don’t project our preconceived ideas about the limits of our own intelligence on to our children. They never cease to surprise with their capacity to absorb information.
As parents we are guardians of the next generation. No pressure. Unfortunately we’re leaving this next generation with a series of quite shitty problems to resolve: climate change, sustainable energy, food security, mass migration. The list could continue.
Whatever solutions can be found, they will come from scientists. The science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) subjects have always shaped society but now they are needed to save society. That’s why making STEM subjects appealing to our children is vital, not just for their futures but for everyone’s.