Parents who use science have children who use science.

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According to a press release issued by Intel, a survey they conducted found that parents are more prepared to talk to their children about drugs than science and math.

Parents clearly want to be part of the solution. Ninety-one (91) percent of parents believe parental involvement is crucial to their children’s academic success, with nearly 9 in 10 (89 percent) saying that talking to their children about the importance of math and science in the real world would help improve their children’s performance and interest. Among the findings:

  1. Despite recognizing the importance of math and science, parents say they are uncomfortable addressing these subjects with their children. More than 50 percent (53 percent) of parents of teenagers admit that they have trouble helping their children with math and science homework. Parents of high school students are also more likely than parents of younger kids to express disappointment in their own ability to help their child with these subjects.
  2. Nearly a quarter of parents (23 percent) who admit to being less involved in their child’s math and science education than they would like say their own lack of knowledge in these subjects is a key barrier
  3. Another 26 percent of parents who are less involved than they would like wish there was a one-stop shop with materials to refresh their existing, but unused math and science knowledge so they can better help their kids.

And for those of you wondering about the title, here is the most memorable PSA from my childhood:

37 Comments

Leaving aside the nature vs. nurture aspect, there’s something oddly comforting about ability to understand, say, inheritance, itself being heritable.

That voice could only be Lloyd Bridges.

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.”

There’s one for Alanis. :-)

“Another 26 percent of parents who are less involved than they would like wish there was a one-stop shop with materials to refresh their existing, but unused math and science knowledge so they can better help their kids.”

There is. It’s called a “Library”. It has books. You read them, you learn. The problem is, many parents do not read either, and the so called “existing but unused math and science knowledge” is so far outdated, they would have to re educate themselves first. By the time they got around to that, their kids are grown, and the cycle starts all over again.

Our math and science ignorance in this country is a national disgrace. And I tell you, I’ve been arguing with some people at a certain “Buzz” site about scientific subjects and actually had one guy tell me he didn’t even know there “Were other planets in our solar system.”

Scarey. And sad.

Farcall said: …actually had one guy tell me he didn’t even know there “Were other planets in our solar system.

Does the sun go around those other planets while it’s also going around the earth? Or do the other planets also go around the earth like the sun and the moon do? {/snark}

I, for one, would be interested in helping with a project like this. I was a teacher and a pretty good one, but so much non-teaching crap got in the way.

The parents (and principles of schools for that matter) are woefully unprepared to discuss or understand science and math. I had to tell my principle what was even in the science standards in my state.

“Family Math” is a good resource for many non-mathematical parents who want to help their children. For those who have access to them, museums of natural science, aquariums or zoos are not only great in and of themselves but also generally have gift shops with well selected books.

Public libraries are more complex, in that it takes quite a bit of knowledge to extract the most relevant materials. Book selection may depend on the abilities, mindset, and budget contraints of the librarians in a given community. I have also noted that big box bookstores seem to slant their offerings to their presumed audience demographics. Some science sections are huge, others nearly non-existant. Thus, a family in a non scientifically oriented community might have a much harder time finding appropriate materials.

Parents who are interested in science generally can provide their own children with opportunities to be exposed to science. There may also be a cultural issue, in that some parents are more likely to value inquiry, and others obedience.

I don’t think we should write off the disparities as being due to inheritance and thus seemingly unchangeable.

Those of us who are interested in promoting a scientifically oriented society certainly need to do more to ensure that all children receive the necessary educational opportunities.

Wikipedia is known for being very accurate in its science content. A paper in Nature a few years ago compared Wikipedia to the Encyclopedia Britannica and found them similar in the number of errors for any given topic.

Here’s some fun if you want to check your own knowledge of school subjects (including science and math) > http://nces.ed.gov/nceskids/eyk/

OT, but Science has an interesting article about fighting creationism in Hong Kong (sub. required, however):

http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/conte[…]6/5952/510-b

If I could pick one topic of many in math and science that parents, indeed everyone, must mention more is when events in geologic time occurred. Anti-evolution activists are given a tremendous advantage when people dismiss events like the origin of earth, first life on earth, Cambrian “explosion,” Ardi, etc. as “a long time ago.” Unfortunately, most people do just that, and even if they do know the age (e.g K-T boundary 65 MY ago), rarely let it sink in the scale of that time.

Frank J said: If I could pick one topic of many in math and science that parents, indeed everyone, must mention more is when events in geologic time occurred.

I discovered astronomy at an early age and had no problem with deep time when I later “discovered” geology. Evolution made complete sense to me before I was ten years old - it seemed intuitively obvious.

I discovered astronomy at an early age and had no problem with deep time when I later “discovered” geology. Evolution made complete sense to me before I was ten years old - it seemed intuitively obvious.

It was the same with me! I like to say my first love was astronomy, which I discovered at 8 years of age, even though I loved looking at the stars before then. After that, when I moved into questions about the origin of life, what I’d learned about “Billions of years” and “Look back time” made me use to dealing with the concept of *big* numbers and things changing across time. I had no problem with evolution and *really big* numbers. But other members of my very religious family did. I was fighting the “Cultural Wars” before they became front page news.

Makes me think, though. Maybe the place to start re-educating parents is astronomy? That does seem to grab a lot of peoples attention.

“Deep time”

I think that deep time is the crux of a lot of people’s misunderstandings about evolutionary time too

Going the other way, the late Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, the great computer programming pioneer, would illustrate lectures by handing out “nanoseconds”(billionths of a second) of wire - the distance light travels, or about a foot of bell wire. She would also shake out a bunch of ground pepper - (one thousand billionths of second)

What’s needed is a scale the other way.

On Hopper’s scale, if a year is represented by a grain of pepper, which is 0.3 mm long. A billion of them are 305km long, or 190 miles. The age of the earth is 854 miles worth of grains of pepper, more or less the distance from Portland Or. to Los Angeles.…in grains of pepper.

Paul Burnett Wrote:

I discovered astronomy at an early age and had no problem with deep time when I later “discovered” geology. Evolution made complete sense to me before I was ten years old - it seemed intuitively obvious.

I find that I can talk about deep time to children, even if they can’t yet grasp the numbers, and they at least somewhat pay attention. But if I bring the subject up to adults I can see the pained look in their faces, and their desperate attempts to change the subject. And most of these people are not creationists.

Astronomy certainly was one of the subjects that caught me fairly early. The skies were very clear way out in the country where I grew up.

But even earlier it was the invisible forces of magnets and static electricity. I had a room full of magnets, coils of wire, batteries, bicycle generators, and other electrical and mechanical gadgets I had made or had dissected to see how they worked.

But the invisible forces really captured my imagination even earlier than the stars did.

Farcall said:

Makes me think, though. Maybe the place to start re-educating parents is astronomy? That does seem to grab a lot of peoples attention.

So do dinosaurs, and they also require Deep Time. Unfortunately, Creationists have perverted that to a great extent (the Kentucky AiG museum being only the most recent and slick example; I remember reading a book about dinosaurs in first grade, and only later recognized it as a Creationist tract because of the fire-breathing in the book). At least the anti-evolutionists don’t seem to be having so much success perverting astronomy.

One possible approach with big numbers is to just do the arithmetic, and not bother with trying to “grasp” them.

Henry

Wheels said:

So do dinosaurs, and they also require Deep Time. Unfortunately, Creationists have perverted that to a great extent (the Kentucky AiG museum being only the most recent and slick example; I remember reading a book about dinosaurs in first grade, and only later recognized it as a Creationist tract because of the fire-breathing in the book). At least the anti-evolutionists don’t seem to be having so much success perverting astronomy.

That is certainly true about dinosaurs and today’s kids.

But your comment just jogged my awareness of a curious gap in my childhood exposure to science; dinosaurs were never mentioned. I didn’t become aware of any such creatures until I was well along in high school.

But then I grew up in a farming community made up primarily of “Reformed” and fairly “straight-laced” church goers. Fortunately my parents were not among them.

Here’s a site that compares distance scale from astronomical down to subatomic:

http://www.wordwizz.com/pwrsof10.htm

Henry J said:

One possible approach with big numbers is to just do the arithmetic, and not bother with trying to “grasp” them.

Henry

While being able to do the arithmetic is extremely important, grasping the relative magnitudes is also extremely important, and a “whole ‘nother animal.” To use my experience as an example, I could “do the arithmetic” by age 7, but it wasn’t until my 30s that I could really “grasp it.” It’s hard to explain, but that made all the difference. Coincidentally, I just read on another PT thread a Dawkins quote that arguing that the earth is less than 10K years old is like arguing that North America is less than 10 yards wide. While I have many complaints about how Dawkins defends evolution, I greatly appreciate his many gems like that, and wish I had learned of them decades earlier.

Mike Elzinga said:

But your comment just jogged my awareness of a curious gap in my childhood exposure to science; dinosaurs were never mentioned. I didn’t become aware of any such creatures until I was well along in high school.

This is similar to my experience growing up. My parents are OECs but I have very little recollection of any discussions of evolution (pro or con) either at home or at school. Somehow, though, I managed to get most of the way to adulthood thinking that dinosaurs were a hoax. Must have been my child brain’s mechanism for trying to reconcile the dinosaur fossils at the Smithsonian with the lack of discussion of dinosaurs in the Bible.

Unfortunately, that ignorance made me susceptible to YEC propaganda (e.g., dinosaurs are real and the lived at the same time as man) for a considerable period of time, until I could finally get around to educating myself enough to get straightened out.

Frank J said:

Coincidentally, I just read on another PT thread a Dawkins quote that arguing that the earth is less than 10K years old is like arguing that North America is less than 10 yards wide. While I have many complaints about how Dawkins defends evolution, I greatly appreciate his many gems like that, and wish I had learned of them decades earlier.

Some of the early undergraduate exercises in physics are called “Fermi calculations” after the clever techniques Fermi used to make surprising order-of-magnitude calculations with seemingly insufficient information (e.g., estimate how many piano tuners there are in New York City).

The purpose is to get students to learn precisely what you say took you years to appreciate. These exercises not only focus attention on crucial information and to discard irrelevant information, but give students simple but powerful tools to quickly “size up” a problem to gain insights into whether or not an answer makes sense.

You learn very quickly that order-of-magnitude estimates give the big picture very rapidly. Subtle details can follow if necessary.

It also offsets incidents such as the one I had many years ago when an angry student who had just flunked an exam came up to me after class to “prove” to me that his answer to one of exam questions was correct and mine was wrong.

He proceeded to enter numbers into his Texas Instruments calculator. This was one of the early TI calcultors with a maximum of about four pending operations. The answer that fell out was the one he had obtained, but anybody would have noticed the answer made absolutely no sense. I was never able to convince the student; he was convinced I was an idiot and he dropped the class and reported me to the dean.

Our children need smarter parents.

I think I did well introducing my children to the mind stretching nature of, well, nature. But they are grown now and far from my immediate influence.

But now come my grandchildren. Bwahahahahaaah!

*in order to influence them I must still stay up to date with the literature. cue sounds of heavy breathing, a la Dr. Asimov**

*see his essay, “The Sound of Heavy Breathing”

Crudely Wrott said:

Our children need smarter parents.

No, our children need parents who encourage them to be smarter.

It’s hard for kids (or anyone!) to grasp the magnitude of a million; a great way to do it with familiar concepts (I don’t know if the rulers that US kids use in school have a metric side marked in mm)is if you work out a 1km route that’s familiar to the child and get them to imagine walking it in millimeter steps. That can really bring it home, especially if you start them off trying to mark out 1m in mm. When they get bored (usually about 15cm)you can point out it’s 1000 times 1m. Cue one blown little mind!

Henry J said:

Here’s a site that compares distance scale from astronomical down to subatomic:

http://www.wordwizz.com/pwrsof10.htm

Thanks! I bookmarked it. It’s like an interactive version of the book “Imagining the Universe” by Edward Packard. I read that ~13 years ago and still look at it from time to time. It was one of several factors in those years that finally made me intensely interested in creationism/evolution. Alas, none of these resources will work well with those who simply lack the interest, but as others have suggested, it will make it harder for them to defend the fallback argument that the numbers are not important.

DaveH, one of my favorites to give kids (and adults) a better understanding of various scales they often see but don’t really grasp is this one:

1 million seconds = 11 days 1 billion seconds = 31 years

That one never fails to astonish.

Stanton said:

No, our children need parents who encourage them to be smarter.

Way back long ago I had a science teacher to told all his who were aspiring to careers in science and engineering…

“We are where we are only because we stand on the shoulders of giants. Always remember that it’s incumbent on us to add our five feet for the next generation.”

stevaroni said:

Way back long ago I had a science teacher to told all his who were aspiring to careers in science and engineering…

“We are where we are only because we stand on the shoulders of giants. Always remember that it’s incumbent on us to add our five feet for the next generation.”

When one begins to appreciate the enormous amount of science taking place “out there”, one begins to feel fairly small no matter what one has done.

It’s like reaching retirement, reflecting and taking some satisfaction, but then recognizing that one has primarily added only a hair’s breadth and then went bald.

Science Avenger said:

DaveH, one of my favorites to give kids (and adults) a better understanding of various scales they often see but don’t really grasp is this one:

1 million seconds = 11 days 1 billion seconds = 31 years

That one never fails to astonish.

I remember figuring that out on my own at age 9. With pencil and paper since calculators were still a decade away. I’m not bragging, because most 9-year-olds then and now have the capacity to figure it out for themselves, with or without calculators. What’s sad and frustrating is that most just do not have the interest to do it on their own.

Children today have a lot of interest in dinosaurs and good books available. A paleontologist visiting a children’s science museum was pestered with detailed questions from 8 year olds (and my grandson, 4). I had to unlearn some of my info – somebody disappeared the brontosaurus when I wasn’t looking!

Children’s science museums, often small and local, are interesting and good fun: http://www.childrensmuseums.org/vis[…]ciprocal.htm

somebody disappeared the brontosaurus when I wasn’t looking!

Yeah, they went and changed its name for some reason. Maybe it dind’t come when called by the old name? :p

Henry

When my sister was working in her PHD in biology (studying migration pressures on crayfish IIRC) she took her five year old daughter along to help wrangle critters. As a consequence of this, my niece thinks science is something you do with mommy that involves mud and crayfish. Not a bad start.

That really reminds me of the scene in Nova’s Darwin’s Darkest Hour where Darwin is doing experiments with his children (Note for anti-evolutionists: not ON his children). Things like studying the foraging habits of bees, modeling how seeds spread to islands, and so on.

Artfulskeptic said:

When my sister was working in her PHD in biology (studying migration pressures on crayfish IIRC) she took her five year old daughter along to help wrangle critters. As a consequence of this, my niece thinks science is something you do with mommy that involves mud and crayfish. Not a bad start.

That’s cute.

It reminds me of when my kids were preschoolers and my wife came with them in the car to pick me up from the lab. I would often be waiting, sitting on a large rock outside the lab.

One morning as she drove me to the lab, the kids in the back seat asked, “Is Daddy going to go sit on the rock now?”

I guess it really is rock science!

Mike Elzinga said:

That’s cute.

It reminds me of when my kids were preschoolers and my wife came with them in the car to pick me up from the lab. I would often be waiting, sitting on a large rock outside the lab.

One morning as she drove me to the lab, the kids in the back seat asked, “Is Daddy going to go sit on the rock now?”

When my daughter was four, she referred to my wife’s job as “sitting in chair, earning money.”

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This page contains a single entry by Reed A. Cartwright published on October 23, 2009 8:29 AM.

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