Hopefully a lot of you have seen this video. Code.org made a video with testimonials from people involved in the tech industry, from Mark Zuckerberg to Black Eyed Pea #1, about why it’s so important for kids to learn to program. Computer science is a really important field that we should be teaching kids. But it seems like no one’s really committed to the idea yet. Go into your average public school “computer” class and you’ll find a year-long class on basic powerpoint and typing. Not only that, but it seems that outside the niche of geeks and entrepreneurs, no one is really excited about the field. Earlier, my teacher found out about a free class on building smartphone apps. She begged every female student she saw to attend the class and in the end, only two showed up. Even in other fields of science, our country is falling behind in innovation.
Who here has grown up in the 80s or 90s? Great, great. I see you’re all wearing your Ninja Turtles hats and Ren and Stimpy T-shirts. Anyway, there’s something very important about popular culture when we were growing up. TV, books and movies were trying their hardest to turn us into scientists. Don’t believe me? Then why did we have The Magic School Bus, Bill Nye the Science Guy and Dexter’s Lab? And what about all these superheroes who are scientists? Bruce Wayne, Barry Allen, Bruce Banner, Mr. Fantastic. Science was this awesome thing that gave you a giant fighting robot and took you on adventures. By time everything was set and done, we had a big “fuck yeah, science!”attitude. Unfortunately, the American educational system frowns upon enthusiasm for learning.
I’m just now remembering how much I loved science as a kid. I showed up at my first science class in elementary school really exited. But then I found the horrible truth about science classes. They’re boring. We just did worksheets and learned about clouds. I know that fundamentals are important. We can’t enroll six year-olds in “Fighting Robots 101”. Learning the scientific method is boring but it has to be taught before you can make an invisibility potion. But if all the students do is the boring stuff then they’ll just end up leaving a lit bag of dog poo on Science’s porch. To quote Brain from Arthur, “Science isn’t boring; it’s all about action”. That’s true, and kids need to know it. Whatever the students are learning needs to be accompanied by a demonstration that shows an interesting way it can be applied. If you’re teaching the states of matter, boil water and freeze popscicles. Teaching thermodynamics? Light a hobo on fire. Get creative!
If you want students to grow up and make new technologies, then you need to start at the bottom. I know that doing all of this will take up class time, but it’s mostly time students don’t need. Come on, three weeks spent teaching the food chain? Really? Any kid who doesn’t understand that after watching Tom and Jerry might just be a lost cause. A 22 minute episode of The Magic Schoolbus taught me more information than two weeks of class. The most important way to improve our science education is to get kids excited for it. “Fuck yeah, science!” shouldn’t end once the kids sit at their desks.