Science Education and Public Outreach – A super hot topic right now!

I had the privilege of being part of a discussion, via Twitter, with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye when they were in the White House for a science fair last month.  They were answering questions that people were tweeting at them, live.  The cool thing about that was that I could see what people were asking them because they used a hashtag (#WHchat, in this case).

Of course, my “being part of” this discussion was really just me butting my nose in with my two cents, but whatever.

Anyway, one of the questions asked of the two venerable science communicators eventually got me thinking.

How can we give science and technology a bigger public platform as to encourage more support for what they contribute to society?
Though I answered this question right away, I later stepped back to think about it for a while longer.

I have said for some time that if you get kids excited about science, they’ll get interested, thus we’ll increase the population of scientists.  Pretty much common sense, really.  I’ve also said lately that I want whatever career I wind up with to have some sort of current or potential outreach component, because I really like getting people excited about science.

Lo and behold, I get a Facebook event notification from the UC Davis Astronomy Club for a meeting about holding an astronomy summer camp.  Upon reading this, I found myself not excited at all, but filled with dread.  And then I was quite confused – didn’t I want to get people excited about science?  Don’t I love talking about astronomy?  Can’t I handle kids pretty well?

Yes, yes, and yes.  So what’s the problem, Desiree’??

Here it is:  outreach to kids does not involve the stuff I find coolest about astronomy because it’s just too complicated for a child’s mind to wrap itself around.  I love being very descriptive, oftentimes using rather large words (not jargon, just your average, honest $0.50-word), and that it is just not conducive to most kid outreach.  Maybe you can make an argument that it is, in fact, but I’ve made up my mind, so don’t confuse me with the facts.

(Plus, dealing with kids en masse is extraordinarily difficult, to put it mildly.  I’ve paid my dues with teaching Sunday School, doing tons of babysitting, being a teacher’s aide in a 5th grade class, and volunteering in toddler care at a day camp, in another life.)

So this is what made me revisit the Twitter conversation, and also made me start thinking a little harder about how I want to try to steer my career.  Up to this point, I hadn’t really separated kid-outreach from adult-outreach in my head.  Upon doing so, however, I realized my science communication and writing class (the major impetus behind two things: 1) Rekindling my love for writing as well as science outreach, and 2) Starting this blog.) has not focused at all on writing for, or communicating science to, children.

To accomplish my goals of communicating science and increasing the number of scientists, I’ve decided that I want to get my generation excited about science, so they can get their kids interested.  Too often, those in educatingish roles tend to forget that parents are there to *gasp* parent.  My parents had a huge impact on my interests today – my love of space came from seeing the space shuttle launch when I was about 3 or 4; I was completely hooked from then on out, resolving to be an astronaut.  I had subscriptions to Omni magazine, 3-2-1 Contact, and loved the movie Space Camp.  They also took me to planetarium shows and science museums, my favorite of which is still The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.

I held on to this dream for a long time, and though I did abandon it, I eventually returned to my first love: space.  These lovely parents of mine are also largely responsible for my writing style:  they are both wonderful writers who would accept nothing less than great writing from me, even though I loudly protested (boy, was I stubborn!).  Between them, they still proofread all of my major papers, cover letters, résumés, and presentations for me.  (<3 you guys!)

One of the assignments for my science communication class (which also has a blog!) was to start a blog, and I tell you, when I found this out I was elated!  I had once briefly considered starting a food blog, but nothing came of it; the idea of a science blog, however, had me really excited!  Writing Ms. Disarray is marrying my loves of musing and talking about astronomy with my knack for writing, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

Thus, my mission, and the mission of this blog, is to get my compadres excited about science so that they can excite their kids about it in turn.  Big-words and kids-en-masse problems solved, plus it’s really fun and relaxing.

So, my dear reader, what would you like me to blog about?  Is there anything astronomical or cosmological about which you’ve been super curious?  Drop me a line and let me know!  If you don’t have a WordPress account, feel free to hit me up on my Facebook page, or my Twitter, or if you are social-network-impaired, send me an email. 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Science Education and Public Outreach – A super hot topic right now!

  1. Why do we want more scientists? We already have more than we can support. Really any school not in the top 20 in their field that is graduating PhDs is just using people for labor with no hope of success after they graduate. What we need is a more science literate public and less scientists.

    1. I don’t know if I am qualified to answer the question of why we want more scientists overall, but I can say that there are certain groups that are grossly underrepresented in the sciences, from whom scientific inquiry as a whole could benefit. And I completely agree that we need a more science literate public

    2. Hello Anonymous, I apologize for my delayed response, but I have had final exams this week.

      You make a good point about needing a more science-literate public, for sure. And Diadasia also made a good point about diversifying scientists. Most STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields are populated largely by white or perhaps Asian men.

      It is a well-known fact that science teachers are in high demand at the secondary education level. So, the more people become interested in science, the more people become scientists, thus the more science teachers we get (purely a matter of statistics), yielding a better science education for our children (since, for example, physics teachers could actually have been trained as physicists, instead of some other science), and finally a more science-literate public.

      Also, becoming a scientist does not necessarily mean getting a Ph.D. It’s certainly not for everyone! I do plan to muse about the current system of churning out scientists in the future, so stay tuned. 😉

      1. My objection to saying we need more scientists is what do we need them for. Shouldn’t we first justify the need for more scientists? We can have more science teachers but those don’t need to be scientists. Teaching science at the pre college level does not even require a college degree in that field. Would it be nice if all science teachers had bachelors degrees sure but its not required.

        I feel that science EPO should be geared towards getting the public interested in science but not as a career choice.

        Also on the diversification of scientists I don’t see how that’s an important issue. Shouldn’t we want people who are interested, trying to sell a certain field to an underrepresented population who may on average be less interested seems like a bad idea. Also studies have consistently failed to show a bias against women/minorities exists. Diversifying science for the sake of diversification is also not a good thing.

  2. I have been browsing through your posts, and I just want to say that I really appreciate both your integrity and your easy-to-read, conversational writing style. Astronomy has always been one of those sciences that I find both extremely fascinating and intimidating, like that too-cool kid in middle school that you desperately want to be friends with. Please keep up the good work; I hope to be reading more soon.

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