The Independent Summer School: Day 3 - Science: With Work like This, Who Needs Play? ; Children Are Natural Scientists. in Fact, Says Sanjida O'Connell, It Requires Scarcely Any `Teaching' to Put Their Native Curiosity to Good Educational Use
Sanjida O'Connell, The Independent (London, England)
Science has never been as important to our lives as it is now. Today's world is dominated by mobile phones, laptops, palmtops and devices that let your fridge tell the supermarket you're low on marge. We can fax, wap, text, e-mail, and cyber-chat.
Even if we're reluctant to join the global village, we might want to decide whether we should have clones or pollution-free transport, or whether we should grow replacement hearts, live on Mars or live longer. "In order to engage in the debate about what's happening in society, we need to be scientifically literate," says Professor Susan Greenfield, a neurologist at Oxford University.
According to Dr David Moore, the chief executive of the Association for Science Education, all children are born scientists. Science is an articulation of their natural curiosity and, he says, we need to encourage that curiosity.
Children begin to learn about science at school when they are five. At that stage, science isn't split up into its core subjects of chemistry, biology and physics. Research shows that children are enthusiastic about science at this point of their schooling but that, from GCSEs to university level, they lose interest.
"We haven't been good enough at showing them that science is a good career move," says Dr Moore. "To many children, a career in science is not as obvious as being a TV presenter."
So what is the best way of retaining and building on children's natural curiosity? When Adam Hart-Davis's son was small, he used to point to the family cat and ask, "Why is it a cat?" and "What would happen if it wasn't a cat?" Children can drive parents dotty with questions, says Dr Hart- Davis, who trained in chemistry before becoming an inventor and television presenter. "But eventually children will start asking sensible questions and the primary reason why some people are good at science is because they ask the right questions."
This summer, it's highly likely that many children will have been driving their parents dotty. The experiments and projects on these pages are designed to be a fun and refreshing take on science, and all can be done easily at home.
According to the experts, the best way to inspire children is to try to answer their questions. "The important thing is to get youngsters talking to parents," says Dr Moore. "It doesn't matter if you don't know all the answers. After all, science doesn't know all the answers; science is a voyage of discovery. …