25 February 2005

From the Mouths of Babes

Each year about this time, students begin signing up for next year's courses. And each year, I shake my head---remembering that grades from 1st semester were only reported two weeks ago. Parents and kids are supposed to project where students will be for next year?

Our department tries to promote different courses with sophomores. Washington requires only 2 credits of science for graduation. Most sophomores will end the year with 1.5 credits. We're interested in both job security and helping kids extend their science education, so we send students from our upper division classes to talk to the sophomores.

Most of my sophs are college bound. It is easy to sell them on taking chemistry or perhaps even AP Bio next year. Some even get all warm and fuzzy for physics. I try to talk to them about making the most of these last two years of "free" education before they head out into the wide world. I remind them that an ambitious schedule is admirable---but that they are still teens and should be sure to leave time in their day to be a human being. It's good for them to see juniors and seniors who are taking a strong academic load and are also involved with other pursuits. By the end of the presentations, my kids are starting to get excited about the possibilities. And I am excited about sending them on new adventures.

I returned home today to another sort of kid. Long-time readers may remember that I have two housemates. One is a retired teacher with family in the area, including two grand-daughters. They are ages 5 and (nearly) 8. The 5-year old spent the night last night and both are having a "sleepover" tonight.

The girls are a little alien to me. They're very "girly:" they want to play dress-up, have tea parties, do ballet moves, and take their dolls everywhere. And even though I am a grandma-by-proxy in this whole situation, I never feel like I should correct their behaviour---even when they are jumping off furniture or thundering through the house. My house (in part). They know that I like science, but they're not quite sure what that means. I'm trying to teach them little by little. We have a Bonsai Potato doing its thing in the kitchen. The girls want to know how the sprouts get on the potato...but they're reluctant to share their own theories. I gave them each a glowstick when last they were here. They were going to walk down to the country store with their grandmother for some candy. What makes the sticks work? How come putting them in the freezer makes them last longer so that they can use them again? But there were no questions...no ideas.

I almost feel sorry for them. They have so few inquiries concerning the world around them---and so much is handed to them. When they are sitting in my classroom a few short years from now, will any of that have changed? Will they be as excited as my current students about investigating other information? Will they think for themselves? Is this why boys seem to be more successful in the sciences as adults than girls?

There isn't a lot I can do for these kiddos. I only see them once in awhile, but I try to be a good role model. Their grandmother has a great deal of intellectual curiosity and has been busy learning all kinds of things to share with them. I am hoping that we can find a way to spark them here or there. I'd like to hear about their exploits in chemistry and physics when they reach high school.

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