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In the Quest to Tell the Story for Science

Skills learned in science have a carryover effect into other areas of life, and ultimately have an impact in their chosen profession – influencing their thought process and how they carry out decisions. Whether kids choose science as a major in university and continue with it through to the job market, even at the earliest levels of schooling, science engages students to become leaders. Why? Because they are inquiring to learn about the environment around them, to find out what makes it tick, and to correct or enhance any “ticks” that may be out of place. This applies to the corporate world, the non-profit world; it just applies to the world. As amino acids are the building blocks of life; science is the building block of a sound society. We must continue to explore because there is still 2,000 lbs (a ton) we don’t know. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could pinpoint the amount of information we don’t know? No chance.

So how do we do this? Are we going to solve the problem right here and now? No, but we’re going to talk about it; we’re going to try.

Let’s start with the idea of exploration. The images of seafaring captains, expeditions to the frozen land of Antarctica and astronauts in space come to mind. You may have thought space was the final frontier, but sorry my friend, even that’s just the gateway. All those frontiers we discovered and pondered here on Earth; each one contains a “micro-frontier”. What is a micro-frontier? It’s a frontier that continues to require research, to determine the intricacies involved in complex problems we still hope to solve…Medicine, Energy, Food Production…ahem, Education. Science is not a “been there, done that” mentality. The ocean, the ice and space…we still have much more to learn.

How do we get kids interested in exploration? Storytelling has been bandied about the news media lately as a way to keep students engaged with science in the classroom. Seems like a novel idea. What is a story? It tells an account, explains an event. Science is an experiment, an event, something that must be explored – it must be recorded, documented and proclaimed to the masses. The two are inextricably linked.

Let’s teleport to a high school classroom and sit in on a biology class, shall we? Let’s say the teacher begins class with a current events session, to find topics that are relevant for kids, something that hits home. One student voices her grandma requires a lung transplant in order to survive. What does that entail? What does the organ donor process involve? What does the surgery involve? The whole class can research the topic of lung cancer – causes, treatments, and prognosis. There may be some budding doctors or drug researchers here as they study the proliferation rates of cancer cells. Not only is the whole class talking about this one issue of discovery, but perhaps the class becomes a support system for the afflicted student. These experiences could carry over to English Lit class as students translate the experience from the science lab to a composition. Maybe these students are the future communicators of science – the ones with a desire to know how things work, but with the passion to inform others. Or maybe there are health care policy practitioners amongst these minds; those that are concerned about the staffing needs of hospital facilities, or insurance, or end of life rights. Do you see how science builds the communal society? So the micro-frontier of medicine and diseases is a place students can start their journey of crafting a story.

Maybe an even better example would be to start with something most kids have and can’t get enough of…Energy.

What powers all the gadgets and gizmos used by kids today that would blow ol’ Tom Edison’s mind?! I gave you the answer right there, didn’t I? But do kids understand the concepts of AC/DC (and I’m not talking about the great Aussie band here!)? Do they understand the connection that allows there to be light in the house, so they can spend hours searching the Internet, live streaming music, and playing video games with their comrades in arms from around the globe? Do they understand the basics of a combustible engine that allows their mom’s car to transport them to the mall to hang out with friends and back? Now I’m not saying that every kid needs to understand how a carburetor works. But a classroom session on the types of fuel available for energy is a worthy discussion. It would allow them to discuss and debate pros and cons of an energy policy involving biofuels, nuclear, fracking, deep ocean drilling. It would encourage a dialogue to explore the pressing need to decrease CO2 production in our environment. It could lead to a discussion on the minute particles we inhale every day as a result of air pollution and how this affects our lung function. It could lead to an understanding of the connections, the consequences of environmental actions, or inactions.

Science connects us all, in everything that we do. We would not be where we are today without science. And we will not get to where we are going without science. Education may be the most important micro-frontier we conquer. Perhaps, education is the alpha and the omega of frontiers. So let’s tell more stories about science. Storytelling connects us to our past, helps to inform our future, while livening up our present.

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Kelly Burnes

AUTHOR: Kelly Burnes

Kelly Burnes is a policy analyst in New York City whose current research focuses on the early childhood care and education workforce sector. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Master’s degree in Public Policy Administration, both from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She previously worked for municipal government in Atlanta, GA, addressing environmental issues, land use and transportation planning. Her personal research interests include the broad area of climate change – sustainable development and renewable energy – and examining ways to tie social media to these issues to elevate public awareness and education. In her spare time she enjoys outdoor activities, such as running, biking, hiking, kayaking and rock climbing.
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