5 Ways to Raise Scientifically Literate Kids {and 5 Reasons Why You Should}

There are a million ways to parent, all of them valid in their own way. But the most important obligation of today’s parents is to raise scientifically literate kids. Let’s explore what I mean.

About STEM and Scientific Literacy

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It’s an integrated approach to learning, that views these subjects as interconnected, rather than separate disciplines for separate times and uses. The truth is that in the real world, these four subjects overlap in big ways. It only makes sense that they’re taught that way too.

Scientific literacy, simplified, is the ability to apply science to your daily life. But more eloquently, “Scientific literacy is the capacity to use scientific knowledge, to identify questions and to draw evidence-based conclusions in order to understand and help make decisions about the natural world and the changes made to it through human activity. (OECD 2003:132–33)”.

It’s not “literacy” in the traditional sense of the word, but rather a mindset. The ability to think critically, evaluate data, and apply information.

“[Science] is more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world…” – President Obama

Why Parents Should Focus on Scientific Literacy at Home

 

Many schools struggle to provide an adequate STEM education.

As parents, it’s easy to brush off science and say, “They learn that stuff in school”. The truth is that they may not be. Our public school systems are struggling to provide adequate STEM coursework. Only 73% of fourth graders have teachers who report having the resources they need to adequately teach mathematics. 61% of eighth graders have teachers who report having what they need to adequately teach science. Most elementary classroom science education is happening in less than three hours per week. Only 20% of U.S. high school seniors are grade-level proficient in science.

They’re also struggling to provide educators who hold STEM degrees or even have received professional development in science. Science isn’t part of school performance ratings, so it makes sense that they’d skimp here. Anecdotally, I was shocked by how many of my elementary school colleagues didn’t view science as “important” and would openly admit to frequently skipping it for weeks or even entire semesters.

It’s also easy to discount the importance of technology and computer science education, because Millenials and subsequent generations were virtually born with smart devices in their hands. However, U.S. Millenials ranked last in computer skills against 19 other countries. They know how to use social media, but they may not know how to build a website or troubleshoot problems.

STEM careers are the future.

STEM careers are growing almost three times faster than any other field. 80% of the fastest growing careers require a STEM background.

Yet, there’s a shortage of STEM degree holding professionals. There’s an estimated 3 million STEM jobs unfilled because of a lack of qualified applicants, while only 16% of American high school seniors are interested in pursuing STEM degrees. 60% of this century’s jobs require skills that are only held by 20% of the current workforce.

47% of STEM-related Bachelor degree holders earn more than non-STEM PhD counterparts. STEM degree holders are also less likely to face joblessness, even with lower degrees than their non-STEM counterparts. Most STEM careers don’t require a 4-year degree and yet pay 10% higher than non-STEM careers with similar degree requirements.

STEM needs more diversity.

Only 17% of recent female college graduates had earned a STEM degree and the amount of women working in STEM-related fields has plateaued. Less than 25% of computer science degrees are held by women.

This divergence starts in early elementary school and carries on through high school, with more male high school graduates reporting that math was a favorite subject, despite girls taking tougher STEM related coursework.

More than 80% of the STEM workforce is white or Asian and male. This doesn’t come as a surprise when you look at other races’ access to science and mathematics education. 42% of Native American and 32% of black students don’t have calculus in their high schools. 34% of Native American and 23% of black students don’t have physics in their high schools.

These numbers become even more staggering when you look at the overall poverty rates of schools. Only 26% of the highest poverty schools have computer science courses. Only 43% have physics classes. When you recall that STEM jobs require lesser (or no) degrees for more money than their non-STEM counterparts, it seems like common sense that we should especially encouraging these students to get engaged in STEM.

Scientific literacy skills extend beyond science.

Many STEM skills are actually just good “life skills”. Things like critical thinking, problem solving, evaluating evidence, and good citizenship are all useful outside of a classroom or laboratory. And despite what I muttered under my breath in high school algebra, I actually do find myself using equations and solving for x in every day life.

STEM-focused learning encourages a deeper understanding of subjects. Let’s use a culinary example. If you watch a cooking show, you might pick up some useful tidbits, but you probably couldn’t recreate the recipe from memory. If you were hands-on in the kitchen with the chef, you would probably have a much stronger chance or recreating the recipe again, but also of understanding the cooking methods.

Hands-on STEM is just like that. It unlocks new skill sets, instead of just memorized information. Those skills are now theirs to use and apply to any subject or situation they want.

Kids want to learn.

More importantly than any of this, kids want to learn – and they want to learn about science! 81% of teenagers think science is interesting, but only 37% like their science coursework. Personally, I think there’s probably a pretty strong correlation between the lack of hands-on learning opportunities and enjoyment of the coursework. Kids crave new information, but they want it delivered in a meaningful way.

Even with the uphill struggle in the classroom, 50% of male and 43% of female high school seniors report that math is their favorite subject. 48% of male and 34% of female high school seniors report that science is their favorite subject. While those numbers aren’t as staggering as I’d like, that’s still a lot of kids with a passion for STEM education!

Science-Minded Parenting

Are you convinced about the importance of scientific literacy? I hope so. Here are my suggestions for bringing STEM to life at home.

Read. Read. Read. (And Watch. Watch. Watch.)

There are limitless benefits of reading and literacy in general. We’ve all heard the cliche about reading opening doors to new worlds, but more importantly, reading opens doors to understanding our own world. Science opens doors to understanding our own world.

Encourage your kids to read to themselves. Read to your kids. Not because you have to, but because it’s exciting. Instill the wonder and amazement of reading in them from a young age. Don’t wait until it’s a big cloud of required reading and test stress and vocabulary words. Teach them to love not only the experience of reading a book, but to also love the power that reading can unlock. What other skill can unlock unlimited knowledge?

Read nonfiction. Read about space, dinosaurs, animals, history, human beings, volcanoes, weather, read it all. Read about famous scientists, explorers, astronauts, archaeologists, chemists, doctors. But also read fiction and not just science fiction. Engage their imaginations in worlds outside of their own. Books foster creativity and creativity gives way to exploration and experimentation and then it all comes back to… science.

Turn on shows and movies that engage their brains in those same concepts too. Watch them together and talk about them. Ask them questions and answer their questions. Expose them to documentaries and famous scientists on television.

Create an environment of science.

21032590_10155863005514610_89048780117438341_nScience is literally everywhere. Point it out. Make it a habit to look for the science in the daily minutiae. When it starts to rain, explain the water cycle. When they’re picking up rocks, talk about geology. When they’re playing with dinosaurs, tell them their names and explain that the plastic could actually be made of dinosaurs. When they’re dancing, explain the kinetic energy that’s propelling them.

Gift them a microscope, telescope, binoculars, chemistry set, or even building blocks for the next holiday or birthday.  Hang a model solar system in their room, or even a map of the world or the stars. Even passive exposure like robot bedsheets or animal play sets can unlock their curiosity.

Consider building a scientist’s kit, full of common household materials, so they’re ready to experiment at a moment’s notice. Or buy pre-made science kits, like robot sets, circuits, or even candy making. Include them in your gardening and yard work, car or house maintenance, and computer work.

Use real words with them. Expand their vocabularies. Help them with their homework, science and otherwise. Less than 50% of parents sit down to help their kids with homework 3 or more times per week. Use this time to connect with them and figure out what they’re learning, so you can reinforce it at home.

Talk to them about the big stuff too. Don’t assume that a concept is too heavy or too abstract for them to grasp. My children’s comprehension levels take my breath away on a daily basis. Make sure yours are too.

Encourage questions (and research).

All the toddler moms are currently saying to themselves, “I’ve got this covered”. But seriously, questioning is the core of science. Every great scientific discovery and innovation started with a question. And not even necessarily a “good” question. A lot of science is built on what seemed to be preposterous ideas.

Model questions for them. Ask them leading questions, open ended questions, silly questions, easy questions. Just ask and let them construct responses with their own brain power. Ask them to describe or compare objects. Ask them to summarize something. Ask them anything.

And let them ask questions too. Model the Scientific Method for them. Teach them how to find answers to their questions, outside of a Google search. If they’re curious why something works a certain way, don’t just tell them. Help them construct a hypothesis and look for data to confirm or disprove it. Pull out videos or books or set up an experiment to turn their question’s answer into meaningful knowledge and learning.

Expand the horizon.

17155212_10155264798154610_2548876235770520097_nThere’s this gigantic world, expansive universe, and limitless knowledge out there. Engage them in that. Show them that they’re citizens not only of their house or town or country, but citizens of the world, of the universe.

Take them to museums and science centers. Go to the zoo or aquarium. Make road trip stops at educational destinations. Sign them up for activities that will foster curiosity. Expose them to as much as you can. My family lives in Louisiana, a state that’s at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to education, opportunity, and pretty much everything else. Even still, we’ve found two children’s museums, two science centers, state parks, nature centers, NASA, LIGO, planetariums, a marine biology center, zoo, aquarium, insectarium, science camps and clubs, and more, all within a couple of hours of home. Don’t be fooled into thinking your city or state doesn’t have science to offer. Go look!

More than that, let them experience all kinds of new things. Again, science is everywhere, whether you’re looking for it or not. Art, history, cooking, sports, roller coasters, race cars. Expose them to the world and the science hiding in every corner.

Let them experiment.

Experiments don’t have to happen in a lab. They can happen in the kitchen, backyard, or at the dining room table. Take a step back and let them explore things. Build a tower, mix a solution, take something apart, or even bake cookies. Like Dr. Tyson said in the video above, any life experience can be an experiment and opportunity to learn.

Play in the backyard. Go explore your neighborhood pond or community green space. Look up at the stars. Dig through your pantry. They all hold unlimited potential for scientific inquiry. And most importantly, let them use their imaginations. Imagining is experimenting.

How do you encourage scientific literacy in your home? Leave a comment below!

 

121 Ways to Teach Yourself About Science

If you’re like me, you might have hated science in school. Or just didn’t understand the value. Or didn’t retain a single thing. Maybe all of the above.

My freshman honors biology class was like torture, sitting in a lab that we never touched. My college anatomy class was hours of note taking that never got applied to anything but test taking. Conversely, my physical science class was so basic that I hardly ever went.

When I look back at my science education, the word boring comes to mind in big neon lights. But now, STEM is evolving. It’s engaging and humorous and really, really exciting. The truth is that STEM has always been this way, but we were just more disconnected from it. Now, we have more information at our fingertips. I mean, Elon Musk just launched a Tesla Roadster into space and we get to see pictures!

If you find yourself wishing that you’d paid more attention in science class, especially as your kids learn, there are tons of resources out there. Here’s my ultimate list of resources to teach yourself about science!

Some of the links included in my posts are affiliate links. That means that if you follow the link and purchase something, I earn a small commission for my recommendation. This support helps keep my site free and is much appreciated!

Books

Biology

Chemistry

Mathematics

Physics and the Cosmos

Religion & the Afterlife

Technology & Engineering

Women in Science

Miscellaneous Reads


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Streaming Series and Documentaries

I have limited time and brainpower these days (see: two toddlers), so I do a lot of science consumption by video. Here are some of my favorites on popular streaming services!

Netflix

Bill Nye Saves the World – Bill Nye the Science Guy for grownups
Brain Games – entertaining series exploring the tricks our brains can play on us
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – an incredible series about our universe
Dinotasia –
CGI storytelling of prehistoric creatures
Edge of the Universe – latest cosmic discoveries
Einstein’s Biggest Blunder – scientists explore Einstein’s theory of relativity
The Farthest Voyager in Space –
all about NASA’s 1977 launch of space probes
Great Human Odyssey –
scientists map humans’ journey from Africa
Horizon: Secrets of the Solar System – 
advances in astronomy
The Inexplicable Universe with Neil deGrasse Tyson – Neil talks technology and wonders of the Universe
Into the Inferno – amazing footage of volcanoes
Life – explore the variety of life on Earth
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World – the history of the internet
The Mars Generation – teenagers at Space Camp
Mega Builders – engineering of awe-inspiring structures
Nature’s Greatest Events – how seasonal changes affect wildlife
Orbit: Earth’s Extraordinary Journey –
this series gets bonus points for female hosts
Planet Earth –
 travel the Earth from your couch (Note: all of the BBC Earth documentaries are worth a watch, like The Blue Planet, Planet Earth II, Frozen Planet, etc)
Race of Life – how wild animals continue to survive
The Secret Rules of Modern Living: Algorithms –
how they work and where we can find them
The Story of Maths – the history of math, from ancient Egypt to today
Tesla: Master of Lightning – awesome biodoc about Nikola Tesla
White Rabbit Project – from the producers of “MythBusters”, history’s greatest hits

Hulu

Destination Wild – travel around the world to see wildlife in their natural habitats
Hello World – a global look at the inventors and scientists of the future
How It’s Made – how everyday objects are engineered and manufactured
Mojo’s The Circuit – latest tech and gadget news
MythBusters – 
the classic show that busts urban legends and myths
NASA 360 – a look at NASA developed technology that’s changed our lives
NASA X – new innovations by NASA scientists
Secrets of Your Mind – an inside look at case studies about the human brain
StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson – all things space with Neil

Amazon Prime

The Amazing World of Gravity – all about the physics of gravity
Bacterial World: Microbes that Rule Our World – all about bacteria
Birth of the Earth – the story of our planet
Clouds Are Not Spheres – a look at fractal geometry
Edison: The Father of Invention – a biodoc about the inventor
Einstein and the Theory of Relativity – learn about the theory and the scientists still conducting experiments about it
Everything and Nothing: the Science of Empty Space – 
a unique look at empty space
The Fabric of the Cosmos – a look at what makes up the Cosmos
The Fantastical World of Hormones – a look at the chemicals that control our bodies
Hawking – a biopic about Stephen Hawking and his incredible contributions
Henry Ford –
a biopic about Henry Ford and his innovations
How the Grand Canyon Was Made – new evidence of how the Grand Canyon was carved
Life on Us: A Microscopic Safari –
 a microscopic look at the creatures that live on our bodies
Mapping the Future: The Wonder of Algorithms – how algorithms can predict our lives
The Mystery of Dark Matter – explore what we know about dark matter
Nikola Tesla: The Genius Who Lit the World – a look a the father of our modern technological age
Order and Disorder: The Forces that Drive the Universe – a look at the laws of the Universe
The Poisoner’s Handbook – a screen adaption in the spirit of the book
Ring of Fire – explore the geological wonders of the Pacific
Sahara: Altering the Course of History – a look at the great Saharan Desert and the life that used to live there
Sight: The Story of Vision – how our eyes and brains help us see
Sonic Magic: The Wonder of Science and Sound – how sound has shaped our history
Virus Empire: From Sars to Ebola – how viruses have evolved and affect our world

Other Ways to Learn

There is a ton of information out there on the internet. Not all of it is good information, but there are piles of awesome YouTube videos, blogs (like mine, right?), and websites just waiting to answer your most burning science questions. If you’re ever wondering about something, look it up! Add terms like “101” or “introduction” to the subject matter and see what you can find.

One of my favorite ways to learn is to visit local museums and science centers. Some communities have more resources than others, but most of us find ourselves within driving distance of something! Also, check out your local museums, community centers, libraries’ adult programming departments, and universities for opportunities. You never know who might be coming to speak!

And as always, you can send me a message with a topic you’d like to see covered!

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Did I miss any awesome resources? Leave a comment or send me a message to update the list!

The Science Mom’s New Obsession {Project Mc2}

IMG_0430I spent the morning doing my favorite thing – aimlessly wandering the aisles at Target. That’s where I stumbled upon my new obsession and that obsession is Project Mc2. I had NO idea that this show or toy collection existed! Cool STEAM girls? This was made for my family.

And before you ask, NO. This is NOT a sponsored post in any way. Project Mc2 doesn’t even know the Science Mom Blog exists, as far as I know!

We are streaming our first episode on Netflix, as I type. The first season is airing now, with the second set to debut in August. The show follows teenage spy McKeyla and her brainiac friends as they use their STEAM skills to save the day. They’re stylish, witty, and super smart, which are all qualities that I want for my girls as they grow up! While other girls are cooing over a space traveling prince coming to town and wanting to be his “space princess”, the Project Mc2 girls are wanting to “pick his brain about his spacecraft’s orbital velocity”.

IMG_0431As for the toys, well, my daughter was just excited to see a Barbie-esque doll with a dinosaur shirt on. In fact, I’m not sure that she’s ever seen another little girl with a dinosaur shirt on, in real life or toy life. The Project Mc2 dolls are sold separately or with exciting experiments. You can also check out their separate branded kits (sans dolls) to make soda can robots, rock sugar jewelry, lip balm labs, and more! You can check them all out on their website here.

Once you’re browsing their website, you can play games, take fun quizzes, ask the girls questions, and find videos on cool experiments, ideas, and Q&As.

Anyway, the Science Family is officially obsessed! Let us know if you are too!

 

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