Slate Readers’ Brilliant Ideas To Fix Science Education

What's to come?
June 29 2012 7:15 AM

Slate Readers’ Brilliant Ideas To Fix Science Education

Showcase research in public, put cool engineer characters on TV, and more.

Read more from Slate's special issue on science education. 

A teen boy connects cables to his computer.
Here are the best ways to improve STEM education

Comstock/Thinkstock.

On June 1, we asked Slate readers for ideas on how to improve science education in America. Since then, you’ve responded with more than 100 proposals that address funding, teaching strategies, closing the gender gap—even flatulence.

Here are our 10 favorite reader submissions.

User “BioNerd” suggests the problem isn’t that we need more Ph.D.s—it’s that we have a shortage of good science jobs. (Derek Lowe made the same case in an article for Slate.) BioNerd ‘s remedy: Create more careers with long-term stability through new policies, such as ending short-term adjunct professorships.

Advertisement

We have public art—why not create more public science projects? User Kim Kowal Arcand praises endeavors like From Earth to the Universe that take science from the lab to world at large. “We can't rely on non-science-attentive people to shell out money to go to science museums and pick up science magazines or books,” the proposal notes, so bring the “wow” science to the “non-experts.”

Those who might want to enter science later in life are often deterred by the prospect of returning to undergraduate education. That’s why Brad Bedingfield wants a “law school equivalent” for science—a three-year master’s program that could allow those without science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) backgrounds make the transition.

Better Student Loan Interest Rates for Science Majors
Incentivize science education by targeting students where it counts: their wallets. This proposal advocates lower interest rates on student loans for science majors, offsetting this cost by raising student rates in other disciplines.

Because the gender gap in STEM industries is related to complex social influences that begin at an early age, user “phoebe” advocates expanding the National Science Foundation’s ADVANCE Program. Among other things, ADVANCE supports programs in colleges to encourage women to enter science majors.

Lighting the Bunsen Burner
Foster creative thinking, and a general interest in engineering and technology, with a three-week workshop. Participants would play with “littleBits,” an open-source kit consisting of pre-engineered electronic modules assembled easy easily by magnets. Designed by engineer and TED Fellow Ayah Bdeir, these educational toys allow someone with minimal engineering know-how to design complex circuits and prototypes of lights and sound.

For better or for worse, we are influenced by entertainment, especially at a young age. Doctors and lawyers already have legions of fictional ambassadors, with shows like House, Grey’s Anatomy, and Law and Order: SVU dominating the airwaves. Why not a hard-hitting weekly drama for scientists and engineers?  

Hard science and liberal arts don’t necessarily need to be mutually exclusive. Reader Jillian Foley advocates for more interdisciplinary opportunities for university freshmen, with easier access to specialized courses and less strict requirements in declaring majors. This would allow students to develop their creativity while getting a strong background in science and math.

Readers loved this one, which describes an already-existent YouTube channel called Science of SIN that tries to get youth interested in science by pairing it with the edge of the taboo. It mixes sex, humor, and flatulence with lessons in biology, chemistry, and physical science.

User DanYHKim proposes a hands-on approach to learning engineering concepts by creating a class in which young students dissect, analyze, and repair broken technology, like obsolete computers and old DVD players.

Here are Slate readers’ top five picks, according to the votes.

This YouTube science channel easily took home the most votes, receiving double the votes of the runner-up proposal.

User “Max_Power” calls for better treatment of engineers, using his own past experience as example. He points out that the problem lies not with recruiting creative individuals to the field, but retaining them. Incompetent upper management decisions, unreasonable workloads, and a general lack of respect for engineers were among his reasons for fleeing the field.

Science becomes a chore for young students if it is simply a hunt for the correct answer and “tedious, cookbook-style work.” The recent high-school graduate who submitted this proposal believes in exposing young minds to actual scientific research and fieldwork, rather than boring classroom sessions. For instance: A bee study conducted by 8-year-olds was published in 2010 by the Royal Society journal.

Also in Slate’s special issue on science education: Fred Kaplan explains why another “Sputnik moment” would be impossible; Deborah Blum argues that we should split K-12 science education into two tracks; Philip Plait explains why he became the “Bad Astronomer”; Paul Plotz describes how almost blowing up his parents’ basement made him a scientist; Tom Kalil says that the Obama administration is using the Make movement to encourage science education; Daniel Sarewitz debunks our ideas about “scientific literacy”; and Dana Goldstein explains why you should make your daughter play video games. Also, share your ideas for fixing science education in the Hive. This article arises from Future Tense, a joint partnership of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University.

 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.