Books as a Pipeline to Get More Kids Involved In Science Fairs

This Post Was Originally Published on the Tumblehome Learning Website, Written by Pendred Noyce:

Education in many countries across the globe, including the U.S., has been steadily moving in the direction of increased prioritization on assessment and accountability.  While fair and adaptive standardized testing and increasing/maintaining teacher quality are certainly critical to improving education, the balance of time spent on science & engineering labs and assigned inquiry-type homework projects has been generally decreasing in most areas.   Economic downturns have meant a severe lack of funding for many school systems, which has further compounded these issues, as schools struggle to maintain minimum quality computing and scientific lab equipment, especially in high needs areas.  Formal after school extended learning, enrichment, and school system supported (although often extracurricular) programs such as science fairs and robotics competitions have begun to play a more important role in supplementing the hands on learning needs of young children .  Whereas even without inquiry based learning, students may in some cases show improvements in science, math and engineering subject related test scores, the lack of involvement in the first hand experience of witnessing an amazing chemistry experiment (and by that we mean more than just putting a few mentos in a Diet Coke bottle, although that is quite cool), programming a robot, building a model airplane, or doing a science fair project, can lead to a lack of interest in these subjects.  In fact, it is expected that based on current declining student interest rates in STEM fields within the U.S., and in many other areas across the globe, there will be a shortage of scientists and engineers, not to mention teachers in these subject areas, compared to the predicted demand in the not-too-distant future.

That means fewer biochemists and medical specialists to create drugs and devices to combat health problems, fewer civil and architectural engineers to design and build safe roads, buildings, and other infrastructure needs, fewer agricultural scientists to help create and maintain efficient crops and healthy livestock, as the need for more food increases across the globe, fewer materials and electronics engineers to help find new sources of alternative energy and use that energy efficiently, etc..  As parents, teachers and mentors, we all just want to provide the best opportunities for the young people around us in our lives – and a career in science or engineering can certainly be one rewarding path.  However, society as a whole needs scientists and engineers to help make the world go around, and to improve people’s health and general quality of life.  When learning becomes bland, and fun is replaced by testing, and true critical thinking skills are replaced by rote memorization and test-taking formulas, young students become less inspired to WANT TO LEARN and less inspired to ENTER THE WORLD of science & engineering.   At THL, we want to change that way of thinking.   We want kids not only to realize the potential opportunities that are out there, but to feel them with their own hands.  We want society as a whole to have a good reason to get excited about STEM learning, and understand why it’s important for all of us.  We are studying education methods and learning materials throughout the world, to develop and share best practices

In recent surveys by a statewide science fair organization, it was discovered that roughly half of all program alumni respondents were influenced in their career and college choices because of their involvement in a school, regional or statewide science fair.  There is considerable peer reviewed published data to suggest that students do not necessarily choose their career paths in college when they choose their majors, as one might think, but rather in earlier years — as early as elementary school.  In fact, it has been suggested that if a student is not positively influenced to enter a STEM career by middle school, with reinforced interest throughout high school, then it becomes unlikely that student will enter a STEM career in the future.  The name of the game is influencing young minds as early as possible, by tapping their curiosity, and allowing them to learn at their own pace, in a way that they can truly enjoy.

A good story is a great way to engage the mind.  We’ve all heard of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Indiana Jones, Sherlock Holmes and other such fictional heroes, who solve mysteries, and face adventures – at times with a multitude of enemies and overwhelming odds stacked against them – to save the day.  At THL, we utilize a variety of exciting storylines with relatable characters as a vehicle for delivering cutting edge science & engineering knowledge, as well as concepts which follow modern engineering design methodologies and the scientific process.  We cover a wide variety of subjects, and introduce characters of diverse backgrounds throughout the books.  In our elementary Galactic Academy of Science(G.A.S.) series, the books  are centered around a group of students from different backgrounds entering a science fair project, as team members, and as they begin to search for ideas about what to work on for their projects, are suddenly drawn into a detective mystery, filled with heart-pounding adventures involving various well known  or historically significant real-world scientists and engineers throughout space and time.   Throughout the story, students are introduced to concepts and content which help them along their pathway to solving the mystery, winning the science fair, and just maybe being inducted into the Galactic Academy of Science.

While THL’s core products are centered around science mystery and adventure books as well as related online or physically published written content, we encourage children and parents to supplement reading with hands-on activities.  THL’s core products are packaged with “kit” materials which align with the various lessons in each of our books.  Standalone THL books are also available, and supplemental resources are made available through tablet/phone/device software or online, through virtual learning games and puzzles, optional physical learning kits, and even activities that can be done with materials floating around the house [NOTE: some materials are still in development and will be available during 2012].  Our materials additionally encourage students to enter real world science fairs, robotics competitions  and other activities, and resources are made freely available through our printed materials and website.

Hands on learning is at the heart of THL’s mission.  So, get your hands on some THL books and kits and begin inspiring young minds today!  Available by pre-order, shipping in April — or come see us at the USSEF in Washington D.C. at the end of April — details in our News section.