This TED talk by Stuart Firestein (who has an awesome last name by the way) touches on a ton of topics that I find interesting: from the fuzzy nature of science, to how the brain works, and more.
What really gave me a brain-spark was this paraphrased quote (in reference to why kids don’t go into STEM fields):
“Almost all 2nd Graders love science, but by 12th grade, they don’t.”
I totally agree, and wish he had gone into more detail, but it was just one thought in a 17-minute talk. So we are left to ask ourselves, why is that the case. I’d propose a pretty simple answer:
2nd Grade science is fun! 12th grade science isn’t.
It’s a bit of an exaggeration, so let’s go into a bit more detail. Think about it – 2nd grade science is full of exploration, of building stuff, and taking things apart. By 12th grade it’s all about writing lab reports for boring chemical reactions and doing lots of math. That is, 2nd grade science is actually about science and exploration, but 12th grade science is about learning the tools necessary to DO the science.
Now, I like math and 12th grade science more than many people, but I think it’s fun only because of what it allows me to do. If you were to give me the ability to do (real, good) engineering while bypassing the math, I’d take it in a heartbeat. For most scientists, math is just a necessary tool to get to the actual fun stuff – making things that do things, or figuring out why things do what they do. I’m fully aware that there are people who love math for it’s own sake, and I’ve always been a bit jealous.
So how do we close the distance between ‘real’ science and 2nd grade science? I think that on the mental front, we need to explicitly make that be a goal. On the technical front 3-D printers and things like Elon Musk’s innovative CAD are a start but we still need a more intuitive system for turning human thought into ‘things’.