WASHINGTON — Maybe there's hope for the next generation after all.
Half of all 10- to 17-year-olds rank science at or near the top of their list of favorite subjects, according to a new survey. Science is "cool," they said, both for the subject matter and for the opportunities to experiment and see theories come alive.
"Science is no longer the spinach of academic life," says pollster Peter Hart, who conducted a recent opinion survey of student attitudes toward science. "If taught in an involving way, [science] has unlimited potential for bringing students to new awareness and new horizons of learning."
The Bayer Facts of Science survey, released last week, offers a rare students-eye view of what works in America's classrooms.
The survey asked more than 1,000 elementary, middle, and high-schoolers to rate the kind of science education they are receiving, how they would improve it, and how they learn best. They also were asked to grade their teachers and parents when it comes to science.
While 7 out of 10 students gave their teachers an 'A' or 'B' for their enthusiasm and ability to explain things clearly, only half said their teacher challenged them to discuss ideas and come up with their own explanations for things. Some 47 percent said their teacher "does most of the talking" or "calls on us to see who knows the right answer."
When asked what could be done to improve science classes, the students overwhelmingly endorsed the hands-on approach: 88 percent suggested more laboratory experiments; 88 percent wanted on-line contact with scientists or other students; 85 percent wanted to use science to solve problems in their neighborhoods; and 69 percent wanted more experiments at home with their parents.
Even those students who say that science is their least favorite subject say that more hands-on experiments and less emphasis on rote memorization would make them more "psyched" to study science.
The countries that do well in science, including Japan and Singapore, encourage students to test their own theories in the laboratory, says Mae Jemison, a former astronaut and now an advocate for science education. "In America, we have access to this same elegant method of learning. But until parents and teachers put money into what they talk about, we won't see any real change" in science achievement.