Throughout October we’ve been talking about how we can foster a love, respect, and curiosity of the natural world in our children, and today we’re going to take it one step further.
I’m joined by Sarah Rouche of Red Cat Science to hear how we, as parents and educators, can best ignite a love of science in children.
What has this got to do with sustainability you ask?
Well as environmental issues of the world become more and more complex, we’ll need more smart and savvy scientists to solve them and to come up with the solutions. Our kids might be within this next generation of scientists and engineers!!!
But it’s not just in sustainability, current studies have shown that at least 75% of future jobs will require science, technology, engineering, and maths skills, yet only 17% of university students are studying these subjects.
It’s time to close the gap and Sarah has some great tips to help us get started in this area so we can best nurture the budding scientist within our kids….
What ignited your love of science?
That’s really close to my heart because my father ignited a love of science within me. We would chat for ages about science, not so much about the environment, but my parents were both really into the environment. I grew up in South Africa in the eighties and we used to go on safari every school holidays. We were very much aware of the environment and the importance of looking after the environment.
My father was a pharmacist so every spare moment we would chat about science. I would ask questions and he knew all the answers! Of course I adored him and it fostered my interest in how and why things work, and that stayed with me throughout school.
In high school I remember being teased because I enjoyed science. In South Africa girls were encouraged to study Biology but not Chemistry and Physics, and Typing instead of Maths. I was one of the very few girls to take both Science and Maths in high school and I still loved it despite the teasing.
In South Africa at the time, we didn’t do any experiments because we just didn’t have the resources. In fact, the first experiments I did in the classroom was as a teacher. Very early on in my career I worked in London and we did experiments almost every lesson. That’s where I saw the power of experiments to ignite a love of science within kids. I always had a sort of awe about how things worked anyway, but when you throw experiments into the mix and you see kids faces light up, that’s what got me really excited about sharing my passion for science. It’s a great tool.
Why do you believe it’s important we foster a love and capability of STEM in our kids?
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) is a real buzzword at the moment but a lot of people don’t know what it’s actually about.
I also like the acronym STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Maths) because a lot of the projects that we do with the kids at Red Cat Science or who buy our boxes, have an art portion. This is something they are familiar with so when you combine it with the science, it grows their confidence in the science area too. When the kids can put their touches on an experiment, its ownership and we find it’s a winner every time.
STEM is always classed as a challenge to get kids to think on their own about a solution to a problem. That’s a really important skill moving forward into the future. Approximately 75% of future jobs are going to require STEM skills.
This means we need to equip our children with the skills to move forward and be able to solve problems in the future world. There are going to be predominantly these types of jobs in the future. If we equip our children with problem solving skills; that curiosity to ask why, that confidence to have a go and experiment, and to try new things, then we are equipping them with the skills that they need for the future.
As a teacher, one of the most disheartening things is when children do not want to have a go for fear of failure. In our workshops we have children that don’t want to try unless that have been told exactly what to do, in case that it’s wrong. We want to encourage kids to do something regardless of whether it’s right or wrong. Ninety-nine percent of scientists came up with inventions through mistakes!
I’m science-trained so that’s where I concentrate and share my passion, but computers and technology are also the direction future jobs are going. We team up with a couple of people here on the Gold Coast to provide technology information sessions and workshops as well.
But as important as information technology is for the future, it doesn’t mean necessarily that loads of screen time is a good thing. It’s also important for children to play, experiment, and have fun without the screen. Although there are benefits to screen time, especially educational apps, I don’t think we should forget how important it is to play on your own and use your imagination.
Getting out in nature is one of the biggest things we can encourage in our children. It gave me an appreciation for the environment when I was growing up, and that really does lead on to a curiosity about the world around you.
What are some of the methods you use to engage kids in maths and sciences?
My primary aim, motto, and mission, is to ignite a love of science within our kids.
I run Red Cat Science during the school holidays. I do weekend workshops and science parties as well.
I’m also passionate about the science kits that we sell. I put together experiments that we have done in our workshops that I know the kids have loved, and I send them out in a box on a monthly basis. This gives people who can’t come to the workshops, access to the experiments that we do. That’s something that I’m really excited about because I feel I can reach more people and have received some great feedback. It’s a great alternative to screen time on a rainy day. I’ve made them convenient for mum and dad too – there is no need to go to the shops or dig in the pantry- everything you need is included.
What we provide is an opportunity to engage with science on an informal level so that they’re not scared off by it.
In our Chemistry Starter Kit, we provide kids with a test tube rack and test tubes. So they have their very own equipment. Then I provide the chemicals for them to do a simple acid-based indicator reaction. This is something you would only get to do in high school. The kids get so excited about making it change colour and fizz etc., and these are the sorts of things that are attractive to children. They are really engaged with the science too. I always provide an information card so they can see what they’ve done and learn a little bit about an acid and a base, but it’s not in-your-face high level science. It’s to introduce kids into science through fun and play.
Another one that we made was a Winter Kit which they children loved! They were able to make a snow globe using static electricity and a fizzing snowman, which melted when vinegar was poured on him. I’ve had such great feedback, I know the kids that are receiving the kits are looking forward to getting them and enjoying doing them.
In terms of STEM, I also try to include in each kit a STEM challenge. For example, in the Magnetics Kit they aren’t provided with instructions, they are challenged to create a structure themselves, there is no right or wrong answer. However, if they are totally lost, they can look at something I’ve put together.
What are the barriers to getting kids to continue learning, and choosing subjects in this area?
Although as I previously stated, 75% of jobs in the future will require STEM skills, currently the take-up of a STEM subject at University is 17%.
We run our programs for kids up to the age of 11 and they absolutely love science. They are really engaged and excited to be doing it. Somewhere in-between, possibly in the school system, the love they have for science dissipates.
I don’t want to knock education, but I think that the people who teach science need to be passionate about the subject. Because there is such a shortage of people going into a STEM field, it means there are people teaching science that would rather not or it’s not their preferred subject.
The second point is perhaps they haven’t been trained to do the experiments. Therefore, they lack the confidence to show the fun and exciting side. One of the things I am looking to do is to start working with teachers who feel they lack confidence with science and show them how to do some experiments.
The other barrier is that I feel there are a lot of assessments. Obviously this is different between states, but the teacher’s job primarily is to get through the content and this leaves little room for exploration, experimentation, enquiry; all of which are key for science. There is a lot of pressure in the education system and teachers are very hard-working, but there are a lot of barriers preventing the engagement of children.
I think we need to let children experiment more on their own and have a say in what they would like to investigate. This is where the lack of time becomes a barrier.
As far as barriers for girls in these subjects, gender stereotyping plays a role. On a subconscious level, because of our society and the way we have been brought up, we already have set pigeon-holes where we put boys and girls. Without even thinking about it, often we will say things that will support that.
What has to change for more girls to get into science, is that they have to see more role models such as women engineers and scientists. I want girls to have that in their subconscious. The message is getting out there slowly and as long as we keep reinforcing those positive messages about gender equality in terms of which vocation you will follow, that’s where we will see the change.
Can you share some tips that readers can do at home with their young children?
Allow them to experiment. Go outside and give them the baking soda and vinegar, slime pots or whatever, and let them make a mess. Let them enjoy themselves because that’s how they’re going to learn. Creating is a free and flexible environment that allows learning to accelerate. They’re only young once, they won’t make a mess forever, and we can always clean up.
Secondly, when they ask a question, get them to think about it. Turn the question back onto them. Try and draw similarities and get them to notice patterns. Encourage them to create a hypothesis themselves. So instead of them asking a question and being given an answer, it really encourages them and they start to realise that they have the answers.
Where can we find you online?
We have a website; Red Cat Science and are currently located on the Gold Coast. I’m very passionate about spreading the love of science across Australia so one day I’d really love to have a lab in each major city where kids can come and do fun experiments.
If you’re not on the Gold Coast and can’t join us for one of our workshops then we also have the Science Kits that we ship across Australia.
You have the option of purchasing a single kit or a monthly subscription. The kits come with video instructions and 4-6 experiments. We have different themed kits, and a lot of people find that a yearly subscription is a great birthday or Christmas present for a budding scientist. The experiments that go in the kits have been tested in our workshops.
There you have it! A topic that I’m really passionate about and I’m thrilled that Sarah could join me today.
How are you encouraging the kids in your life to embrace their inner budding scientist?
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