President Obama… Please Let Me Help You Make Science Cool

President Barack Obama held a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters on Wednesday… and his comment about making science cool caught my attention.

“I’m frustrated by stories about how we can’t find enough engineers and computer programmers. That means our education system is not working. That’s why we are emphasizing math and science,” Obama said, noting efforts to “make science cool” for minorities and women. [Source: Wired.com]

Here’s my open letter to President Obama…

Spangler Science Teacher TrainingMr. President, the comment you made at yesterday’s town hall meeting about “making science cool” kept me awake last night because I realized that I actually have something to offer you in the way of a solution to achieve your goal. I was reminded of Don Herbert (the original Mr. Wizard) who made science come alive for millions of kids during the 1950s and 60s. That was exactly what our country needed during the time that followed Sputnik – inspirational people like Don Herbert who made science fun for kids.

Today, we’re faced with a different set of problems that require creative solutions targeted not at the student but the teacher. It seems counter-intuitive, but it’s true… we don’t have to try to convince students that science is cool or fun. The secret is to focus our time and efforts on training teachers how to make science more exciting and meaningful for their students. It all starts with teaching teachers how to create more opportunities for young learners to wonder, explore, experiment, ask questions and develop their critical thinking skills. A teacher’s enthusiasm for any subject is contagious, and we need to create hands-on learning opportunities for teachers to make science more exciting and meaningful in their classrooms.

As you know, this is a huge effort that needs as much fire power as we can create. That’s why I turned to Ellen DeGeneres to help me show her viewers fun and entertaining ways to make science cool. Take a look…

Mr. President, I would love to share what we’ve learned over the past 15 years of training nearly 30,000 teachers in ways to turn ordinary lessons into unforgettable learning experiences. I know that you’re serious about making science cool and I think that we can help. Honestly, I’ll share anything and everything we’ve learned about training an army of highly motivated teachers who are truly inspiring their students to look at STEM careers – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Since you’re the President, I’ll assume that you can find a way to contact me, right? I really think that our team has something great to offer… please just tell us how.

Sincerely,

Steve Spangler

Here’s a quick look at what happens when some of the best science teachers in the country share their most creative strategies and practices for making science cool. The experience is called Science in the Rockies.

Houston area teachers gather to find new ways to integrate more science into their daily routine.

Thousands of students and teachers gather at a world record-setting event with the Colorado Rockies with the goal shinning the spotlight on careers in science.

A quick look at Science in the Rockies 2010 – Real Science… Real Fun!

49 replies
  1. Maxine
    Maxine says:

    I truly believe there are thousands of inspired math and science teachers already in our schools. There are just as many I believe who do not belong there. We truly need to have a way to measure what you are suggesting Steve. That is, before they enter the classroom. The best scientist and mathematicians do not necessarily belong in the classroom. Generally the best, do not know how to share their knowledge let alone their enthusiasm. I believe far too many teachers choose to teach for the stability and benefit packages guaranteed by Unions.
    I love the Unions and believe they are necessary. However short of a sex scam, it is hard to get rid of teachers whose vocation should not be teaching.

    Reply
  2. neil schulman
    neil schulman says:

    Steve Splangler-Yes you are good.Yes your demos are good.However you are not the person to solve the lack of good science in elementary and middle schools.I do not mention high schools because there are enough good teachers who can teach the higher level courses.Steve i am sure you did not lose any sleep over President Obamas comments.Please leave the drama out of this.The best way you could have helped was for you to stay in the classroom which you did not.

    Reply
    • Steve Spangler
      Steve Spangler says:

      Neil – Thanks for your candid comments, but you missed the point. According to the NSF Indicators report, elementary schools suffer the most when it comes to professional development in the area of science. It’s no wonder that the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMS) reported that the majority of elementary teachers surveyed felt under qualified when it came to teaching science.

      I had the privilege to share your comments with 125 teachers (K-12) in Collier County (Naples, Florida) while conducting a full-day training on Saturday. I thought that you might find it interesting to know that the unanimous consensus among the teachers was that the need for quality science training for teachers at the elementary level was on the top of the list.

      Nice try with the slam on me, Neil, but I’d encourage you to refocus your efforts on solving the problem and less time on trying to nail me. I’ve spent the last 20 years studying the habits of great teachers and trying to wrap my mind around innovative ways to get students engaged in critical thinking. I think that I might be able to offer a unique perspective to the President if he’s serious about solving the problem.

      … and Neil… I wanted to let you know that I didn’t lose any sleep over your comments.

      Reply
      • neil schulman
        neil schulman says:

        No Steve you missed the real point.Teachers in elementary schools in many -to many states are teaching kids to pass tests.This will make the principal and others in the school administration look good.Science teaching in elementary schools is no better now Steve then it was 25 years ago.It is the high school teacher
        in math and science that does what it takes.It is usually a high school chemistry teacher that hangs in there teaching,taking advanced courses.learning methods from good teachers.Oh they do their demos and most have that personality.You see Steve i taught Chemistry in High School for 25 years.I taught honors,CP,and AP chemistry.No i do not deserve a medal.However if you Steve stayed in teaching i feel you would have more of an effect then you do.Have you received a call from Arnie Duncan or the President.If you do then please tell them that maybe more science would be in elementary school if they did away with these tests.

        Reply
        • neil schulman
          neil schulman says:

          Editor’s Note: This comment has not been edited for grammar. This is exactly how we received his reply…

          I deal with teachersin many states.They hate teaching for kids to pass state tests.So you missed that point.They have to because their administration tells them to.Remember “No student left behind”.That is where all that came from.Your pont of some high school kids are animals.That came from left field.Their are programs where bright college students can get their loan paid off by teaching three years in urban schools.After three years most of them never go into a classroom again.Have you ever taught at all?You never mentioned that.You went from birthdays to high school to testing etc.Yes you missed the point and unless you have taught you have no clue of what i am saying

          Reply
        • Pam
          Pam says:

          I am an elementary school teacher and I love teaching science! Not the science test but science. I have been a campus based science instructional coach and the main issue with elementary teachers is that they think they need to know everything there is to know about science before they teach it. As for what Steve has to offer, I would dare say it is more than you could possibly know. If you are at all interested in getting your students’ attention and involved in the lesson, Steve’s activities are the best. I will be back in the classroom next year to teach 5th grade science and math and you can be sure I will use all of the activities I have learned from Steve.

          Reply
      • Sharon DeMers
        Sharon DeMers says:

        I am a 7th grade Life Science Teacher who has taught my students about cells, evolution, classification, dissection of squid and frogs, plants , nutrition and soon body systems and sex education. I know that some of the lower grades don’t have the time I have to teach Science but I have students who tell me even in 4th and 5th grades they remember dissection of cows eyes and frogs. We are pushed to teach to the test because of the States expectations but we have tried to do both if we can, because our students need it.

        Reply
    • Jina in Oklahoma
      Jina in Oklahoma says:

      To the high school chemistry teacher. With all due respect it sounds as though you have been insulated in the chemistry and AP world far too long. You come off as a very pompous, looking down your nose kind of guy. I hope this is incorrect. Kids either learn to love learning or learn to hate it at the elementary level. Then at the middle school level, we have an opportunity to foster that love or continue to stomp it out. For you, from your high school perspective, to look down on your vertical teachers with the disdain you’ve put forth is a disgrace to our profession. Note the word, profession, leads to professional, etc. Obviously you are quite out of touch with the average student. While I agree, the amount of testing is tremendously ridiculous, that’s where our consensus ends. Who better to answer the call than a person who obviously loves all the kids, not just your chemistry and a/p brainiacs? Having attended one of Steve’s conferences in Oklahoma as a middle school science teacher(who is, by the way, certified to teach through secondary chemistry, biology, botany, zoology, physical science, etc. etc. etc.), I can attest to his (Steve’s)approach to the observation, inquiry, experimentation, data collection and analysis cycle of science. You sound as though you are speaking from the perspective of one who thinks only the elite smart ones deserve to be educated to your high standard. I think tons of kids are turned off by teachers that don’t love science. I love it and my passion is contagious. If not to all kids, then most. Steve is much the same. His passion for teaching kids is contagious and his knowledge of how to reach them is both wide and deep. So, to coin a phrase from my middle school kids, step off! I can only hope someone with a love of teaching science to ALL kids gets the ear of this President. Unfortunately too many kids are turned off and have to be turned back on to our great field.

      Put your energy into the greater good. If you don’t like the way the teachers are teaching the younger kids, then step up to the plate and get involved in your vertical partnerships. Give input, not just criticism. Teachers are, in general, a reasonable group of folks. I would love for my high school biology or chemistry teachers to let me know how I can better prepare my kids for their classes. I’m sure teachers at the elementary level are just as receptive. However, you can’t expect them to carry the load of reading, writing, math, language, science and social studies alone. The elementary schools should be fun, hands’ on science. The middle schools should be much the same, and, dude, if you think chemistry is the only “fun” science class, you need to get out more.

      Join Steve for one of his many events and grab hold of the idea that we can have fun and teach at the same time!

      Reply
    • Dolly Morrow
      Dolly Morrow says:

      Neil, I am a recently retired teacher who has taught everything from preschool to exceptional children to college prep classes, so I feel I have some validity when I make my comments. When I was chosen to teach first grade, I knew that I didn’t have the knowledge base to successfully teach science, even at this level. Therefore, I used the professional development fund at our school to attend several science inservices, which was difficult because we live in such a remote rural area. I also applied for and was chosen to be a participant in the NASA Educators Workshop, a fantastic opportunity to be in contact with high level NASA personnel. I came home energized and ready for more–and more was what I got when I discovered Steve Spangler and his very teacher friendly (literally) classes! I took all that I could, except for the Cruise, and returned each time to my school district so energized and ready to “spread the Word” that I am still known as the Science Lady. I later expanded my student contact to include Preschool and the 4 primary grades. Students were exposed to many basic science concepts and became so involved that we had students from preschool on up participating in our local science fair, many of whom eventually went on to the state level. Never at any time were the science standards or CSAP testing discussed…
      I believe that what people such as Steve and (if I may show some hubris) myself can offer to students now is an awakening of the wonder of science. That can be done on the individual classroom level, as you and I have done, but it at time needs a guide or inspiration. And that, to me, is found in Steve Spangler…

      Reply
    • Patrick
      Patrick says:

      Ok Neil….. Steve is great !!!!! You need to leave the drama out of this… Steve’s idea is great!!!!! Steve I think your idea is AMAZING! Im a 6th grader…. so i just came out of Elementary about 1 year ago…. like 65% I learn each year in science I have learned the year before! And I have learned SO MUCH from Steve! Steve if I could I would make you the U.S.A top science teacher! Steve PLEASE continue your AMAZING work! Steve thank you for making science more fun for me and a lot of kids! I’m sorry if this sounds mean or dramatic, im giving my opinion.

      Reply
  3. Todd
    Todd says:

    Steve,

    What you do is amazing, and the fact that you share it with science teachers around the world via your website and live events makes it even better. You are doing an event for Collier County Florida science teachers tomorrow that I will be attending along with two other teachers from my school. We look forward to meeting you and the knowledge you bring to the table! I am very interested in seeing if President Obama responds to the extremely vaild points in your open letter to him!

    Keep up the awesome work!

    Mr. H.
    Science Resource Teacher
    Highlands Elementary School
    Immokalee, Florida

    Reply
  4. duanyp
    duanyp says:

    You are a wonderful teacher. This is a helpful answer to the president’s question. Wish your adivice be accepted and spread.

    Reply
  5. Julie Gintzler
    Julie Gintzler says:

    Neil you have negated your own point. If elementary school teachers were not teaching science, then there would be no need for an AP/honors chemistry teacher. The students would simply not be prepared for such a course. And as for Steve staying in the classroom, you missed the boat on that one, too. If Steve restricted himself to being an elementary school teacher he would have inspired 25 students a year to love science. By traveling the country and speaking to teachers, he is instilling an enthusiasm for science in thousands of teachers which will be passed on to millions of students in the hope of changing the TIMS statistics. I have to agree with you on one point, though… the tests have to go!

    Reply
    • colleen Willard
      colleen Willard says:

      Julie, I was shattered when I read that it is the science taught during the junior years that prepares students for senior science courses. Sorry I strongly disagree. I spend more time reteaching mistaught concepts and struggle to reengage students who have been turned off science because of the way it was taught in the junior area. I have taught in a school where science is not taught in the junior school and when they explored science in the high school they were inspired . A high percentage have gone on to study science at a university level. My standing is that junior science has become a form of entertainment with limited science concepts taught.

      Reply
      • Alicia
        Alicia says:

        I want to start off by saying that I am an elementary teacher. The problem that I see at this level is that there are many teachers who teach to the test but at the same time there are just as many who manage to teach the concepts as well. Elementary teachers are desperate for a change in the curriculum and time constraints that keep many from teaching science in an innovative and engaging way. I often use Steve Spangler’s resources in my classroom. They are great in showing the young students that science is discovery and interesting. Not reading out of a text book. I always tell my students that science is a verb, and I thank Steve Spangler for allowing me to prove this!

        Reply
      • Hanna
        Hanna says:

        Colleen, it is interesting to see the different views everyone has on this topic. When first reading Neil’s post I was confused by that fact that he believed there was truly no reason to teach science to younger levels. Reading your post I am shocked to find out that you don’t believe in teaching science at the junior level because of the way it is being taught. Don’t you think that is the real problem? Take science out of the equation and pick another subject. ANY subject being taught incorrectly his the real problem. Your comment has nothing to do with science but a bigger problem in education today. “Lets just sit back and allow for poor education to happen”. Maybe we should just skip every subject all together at the junior levels and just let the high school teachers ride in on a white horse to save the day. Not the best idea…

        Reply
      • Lynn
        Lynn says:

        @ Colleen, I am bothered by the comment “My standing is that junior science has become a form of entertainment with limited science concepts taught.”
        First of all, that may be true in some schools, but not in all. The same can also be said for any other subject. That said, I know some kids put their own twist on what they remember or ‘cough up’ when tested, or when in discussions. Our job at the elementary level is the introduction of science and their concepts, not to teach high school level skills. We can nuture a curiosity and desire to learn and basic science inquiry skills. That’s where Steve comes in. In the past 4 years I have taught plenty of concepts in science in preschool and 2nd/3rd grade using hands on methods and ideas harvested from Steve Spangler, Lisa Murphy, FOSS Science and more. But we have been ‘told’ with NCLB that reading and math come first, so extra time is given to them and sadly science or social studies lessons are condensed to the test because we MUST show improvement in reading and math. Sad. Quality science equipment and supplies are often the first to be put on the chopping block. I personally spent over $30 this year for a life science unit I was expected to teach, but the school had no money to fund. Yes, we need to get rid of the tests. But, until that happens and even after, we need people like Steve to make teachers feel equipped and prepared to teach science at the lower grade levels.

        @Steve -Thanks so much for making it interesting and making me get excited over and over again. You are one of the reasons my current preschoolers and 2nd/3rd graders are excited about science and actually share with their parents what they learned.

        Reply
  6. Terry Harvey-Chadwick
    Terry Harvey-Chadwick says:

    Hi Steve,

    We have a similar problem here in the UK – teachers teaching to the test. However, I think you have it just right – primary school teachers, in the main, don’t feel well enough qualified to teach proper science. You have inspired me to follow your example – bringing fun science to kids in schools all over the North of England, and give their teachers the tools to teach better science.

    I think what you are doing is brilliant, and you are an inspiration to people all over the world. Keep up the good work.

    Professor Boffin.

    Reply
  7. Sherry
    Sherry says:

    I think that it important to understand what science is. It is not just equations, facts and experiments it is a process that involves critical thinking skills. This logic and reasoning is developed pre-high school, and like Julie stated, prepares learners for an upper level of science content. Without this foundation, students would easily become frustrated and shut down the learning process, which we are fighting because teachers are uncomfortable or ill prepared to not only teach these necessary process skills, but ignite scientific passion in young learners that translates into eager “thinkers” for upper level reasoning. Not to mention the connections to the real world that are made in elementary and upper elementary levels, so when they are exposed to the deeper levels of science content, they make better connections of understanding and relevancy. So remember, science is way more than content only, it is also a process of logic and reasoning that must be nurtured and developed.

    Reply
  8. Jennifer Seguinot
    Jennifer Seguinot says:

    I am an elementary teacher my self and I believe that with all your respect, Neil doesn’t know what he’s saying. I consider my self an excellent teacher that makes sure my 4th and 5th grade students learn many stuff not only through textbooks and tests, but also through inquiry, observation and the part they love the most, experimenting and testing what they’ve learned. I really don’t like people that think that just because we are in elementary level we only do basic stuff and just guide our selves by the “official” textbook. I always go beyond the expectations and I make sure my students have the best experience they can ever have while learning about what surround them. My 5th grade students have taken physical science and they even know about Newton’s laws, they can give you examples of each one and even look around and tell you if there’s something around that’s illustrating one of the laws. So I don’t want anybody saying that elementary teacher don’t really teach science because we do!

    Reply
  9. Cheri Thomas
    Cheri Thomas says:

    To Neil and All,
    I am not a teacher in a school setting, but I have lead our church’s vacation bible school program for the last six years (getting ready for year seven this summer!). For the last several years, we have included a science rotation, and incorporated scientific demonstrations into our closings. I can tell you without a doubt that not only are those some of the most popular parts of the program, but that the excitement shared by the leaders is contagious. The kids LOVE it, and watching their faces light up with wonder and discovery re-energizes us all even more.

    Perhaps there is too much focus on the testing in elementary and middle schools, but that’s true for all areas, not just science. And it is also true in all areas, in all settings, and yes, even in high school and college, that the individual teacher ultimately makes the difference between a roomful of students who get through the class and a roomful that truly learns. A program to help train teachers to share the excitement of scientific discovery helps everyone. And yes, Steve Spangler is absolutely the right person. Who better to get other people excited than someone who is bursting with that excitement himself?

    On a more personal note, Neil, your comment that there are “enough good teachers who can teach the higher level courses,” concerns me. I’m sure you will agree that good and bad teachers exist at all grades and levels. Elementary school teachers don’t have the luxury of specializing in one subject, instead being required to teach all subjects to their students. Surely you understand the difference in expertise that you were allowed by teaching at the high school level simply isn’t an option for an elementary teacher. On the other hand, without the foundation that those teachers provided and the middle school teachers nurtured, your work would have been that much more difficult. It seems unfair to set high school teachers apart in that manner. Not to mention that I, as a former student myself, can tell you that my personal experience is that I had a middle school science teacher who shared his joy and love of the subject. It was one of my favorite classes because of that teacher, and his eagerness made me eager, too. On the other hand, one of my high school science teachers had been a teacher for a very long time. He was a good teacher, but there was no excitement for the learning, no sharing of how our topics related to our world beyond the classroom. He taught us straight from the textbook. I was bored bored bored. So yes, he was a good teacher, but a good teacher and a teacher who inspires are not the same thing. Steve Spangler can show them how to add inspiration and excitement. Everyone can be better. And when it comes to our kids, don’t we all agree that “good” just isn’t really good enough?

    Cheri

    Reply
  10. Josh Hamby
    Josh Hamby says:

    Steve, you are very similar to my third grade teacher – he made learning fun and exciting. Have you ever met a third grader who WANTED to come to school, even when sick? That’s the value of a great teacher versus a good teacher – he created an atmosphere that fostered a passion for learning. In my insignificant, twenty-something opinion, your methods of teaching are EXACTLY what our education system needs more of. Even in college, the professors who made the largest impact on me were the ones who were not only passionate, but creative in their teaching. My two cents is not to focus on the Neils of this world because they will always be there. Stay your course. And whether or not Obama contacts you or not is irrelevant, you’re changing lives. Heck, I just received my degree in Inter-Cultural Studies and I can’t keep myself from watching your videos. In my honest opinion, don’t rally people to help fight your enemies. Rally people to join your quest for better science.

    Reply
  11. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Neil-Yes, there are elementary teachers teaching to the test, but for that matter, there are middle and high school teachers teaching to the test as well. The greater point here is that too many elementary school teachers are under qualified when it come to teaching science so they rely on the material their districts give them which are ultimately designed to succeed on high stakes testing. I believe Steve’s greater point is that we, as a country, need to start investing in science teacher education at the elementary level. If we have well qualified teachers teaching students at the elementary level when the window of wonder is open, how lucky those middle and high school teachers are. Now they have students who are excited about science and are interested in exploring more, asking harder questions, wanting to design better experiments. In my course of searching, there is only one masters degree program that focuses on better educating elementary school teachers in science (University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Science Education Online) while it seems every university has a masters degree program in reading for elementary school teachers. I am not sure why you are against better education in the area of science for elementary school teachers.

    As for your comment about science education being the same as it was 25 years ago, sadly that is true in many school districts, but not all. Having taught first and second grade in a school district with a vibrant hands on science program, it was a joy to see my students become excited about science. (Truthfully, I wasn’t excited about science until I started teaching in that school district, now I am completely passionate about it!) Not only did my students complete the pre-designed experiments (by the way, exactly what I did in my high school and college classes), they also began working with experimental design by coming up with their own hypotheses to try out, something I was never allowed to do during my education in high school and college.

    Reply
  12. Dennis Vander Houwen
    Dennis Vander Houwen says:

    Steve you do such great work and are one of my local heroes here in town. I agree with Julie 100%. In addition to this I think one of the biggest obstacles recently thrown into the mix is the science deniers who would undermine the scientific process.

    Do elementary schools really teach a clear understanding of critical thinking or the scientific process anymore? I sure hope so. I want my son (who is 2 right now) to have an education system that encourages him to explore and get to understand our world based on facts and answering questions through testing theories. (off my soap box now…)

    I think I partially hear a little of what Neil is saying but I hear it coming from him as a defeated point of view. Someone who has been in the system too long and has given up hope of changing the system to make it better. It is one thing to complain about something and quite another to have suggestions for how to improve or fix a problem. It is deplorable to me that he has the audacity to criticize you for doing something proactive. Keep up your good work!

    Reply
  13. Astronomy
    Astronomy says:

    Steve,

    I teach Elementary Science myself. I do agree that some teachers are intimidated by the thought of teaching science because our generation was taught to believe that you had to fit into a special box to learn it, love it, and choose a scientific field as your profession. I love the passion Steve has for making Science seem almost ordinary for every child no matter what their academic or social status may be. I make it a point in my class to tell them often that Science is supposed to be fun, and that ANYONE can pursue it. I engage them in plenty of hands-on fun activities and frequently have kids come to me the next day and tell me how they took the experiment we did in class and tried to repeat it at home. I LOVE IT! We did a CSI themed week around Halloween that involved my kids solving a crime using forensics evidence. About a third of my class came to me after the holidays to tell me about the CSI kit they asked Santa for and received under their Christmas tree.
    In addition to the hands on labs, I have created digital curriculum for them that supports the material we are learning. We need to teach the kids according to how they are motivated to learn, and in this digital age, it’s all about technology.

    Steve, please never stop inspiring me to become a better Science teacher. My enthusiasm has become contagious, and several teachers have asked me to collaborate with them on the curriculum. I think what you do is crucial for us if we as teachers really want to prepare our students to be able to compete and excel in the world economy.

    Reply
  14. Sue Martin
    Sue Martin says:

    Hi Steve
    I hope you don’t mind me commenting on this debate from over in England! I’m obviously talking from my own experience, but I started my career over 20 years ago as a secondary school physics teacher (11-18 year olds). For the last 8 years I’ve been teaching in a primary school (3-11 year olds). I can tell you now, without any shadow of a doubt, the children in my classes are better scientists than I was at their age and they are learning and understanding some of the science that I was teaching to my GCSE classes (the national exams that children take in the UK at age 16) when I started out in teaching.
    There are plenty of good primary school science teachers, but also lots that worry they can’t teach the subject because of their own lack of understanding. This needs to be addressed and hopefully this is happening (I can’t say I’ve checked recently, but I think primary children in the UK did quite well in the TIMS study). But there are also good and bad secondary school teachers! When I questioned one of my daughter’s teachers about her physics lessons and lack of exciting practical work, I was told it, “It’s all right for you, you can just have fun in primary school – we have to teach the subject!” Red rag to a bull! This guy didn’t know I had experienced both and, I believe, managed to put ‘fun’ and practical lessons into secondary school classes too!
    When I moved to primary education, I knew I would have to change my expectations of the science I would be able to teach. I set out to find appropriate practical work and ways to deliver ‘real science’ to a younger audience. One of my first big ‘finds’ was the Steve Spangler website – and the guy behind it! I was SO blown away with the enthusiasm and ideas when I came over to ‘Science in the Rockies’. The children I have taught have benefitted enormously! I have absolutely never ‘taught to the test’ – in fact, when I started at my school I tore up the curriculum and did what I wanted (primarily practical science), but the children still took the national tests. In 3 years, the results changed from 95% of the class achieving Level 4 and 5% Level 5 (Level 4 was the expected score and level 5 the highest level achievable by 11 year olds at the time) to 15% Level 4 and 85% Level 5. This change had nothing to do with ‘making the school look good’ but everything to do with working hard to deliver a high quality educational experience and wanting children to be excited by science and inspired to study the subject. Children are natural scientists with enquiring minds. In my experience, some teachers can bring a subject to life, others can kill it!
    The bottom line is that teachers in both primary and secondary schools make a huge difference, either positive or negative. Too many people I have met have had negative experiences of science – and these have mostly been at secondary school! But, unlike Neil’s sweeping judgement of primary school teachers, that doesn’t mean I think all secondary school science teachers are bad!
    Everyone who works towards improving children’s experience and understanding of science, whether at primary or secondary level is doing an important job. Steve, keep doing what you’re doing! Take your exciting, dynamic and inspiring teaching to children and educators across the country by going to the top – it’s what you do best!!

    Reply
  15. Alison
    Alison says:

    I find a contradiction in Neil’s statement that elementary teachers “teach to the test” and his opinion that Steve Spangler should have stayed in the classroom.

    I am not a certified teacher, but I do hold a degree in biological sciences, I teach science classes through a parks & rec department, and I volunteer at several local schools teaching science lessons. I have spoken to many elementary teachers who feel that they aren’t as comfortable teaching science as they are with subjects such as math and reading. This has nothing to do with their ability to teach the subject, and eveything to do with a lack of instruction on how to teach it.

    I have been to one of Steve Spangler’s seminars and I can speak to the fact that he doesn’t just demonstrate tricks to get the students’ attention. He instructs on how to teach science in a scientific manner.

    I remember he used an example of an elementary school teacher who had her students collect fallen tree leaves for a science project. The kids were to make a bulletin board with their collections. Steve pointed out to her that it was more of a craft project than a science lesson. He suggested that the kids first sort and catergorize the leaves based on shape. I have encountered teachers doing similar craft-type projects because they haven’t been shown any other way.

    Steve can introduce and teach methods to make science in the early grades actual science instead of craft projects. Granted, if he had stayed in the classroom the students fortunate enough to have him as a teacher would have reaped great benefits. However, by instructing the teachers who are not well versed in how to teach science he is spreading the benefits of his knowledge to kids who would otherwise have no access to it. He is helping teachers to teach past the tests and allowing them access their abilities to teach the subject by being better prepared. I believe Steve Spangler should be applauded for putting his talents toward the greater good.

    Reply
  16. Awesome Science
    Awesome Science says:

    I currently teach HS science. Over the past 25 years I have taught both elementary and middle school science. One school PTA paid me to run after school Science Camp (free) and I was “sold out” every session. In the last school(pre-K through 8) I taught MS science. I set up and ran a mentoring program so my MS students had science buddies in the elementary school that met once per month. As well as the MS science fair I began an elementary science expo (participation not competition was the focus), that was such an incredible success over the years, that by the time those kids got to MS my job was so much easier. Now my passion is science and it was exhausting but rewarding to do this in addition to my classroom job description.

    Granted, there are elementary teachers that are not necessarily comfortable teaching science, but from personal experience, I would say at least 50% of elementary teachers I have met are awesome in their efforts and are doing amazing jobs introducing science to students.

    I agree with Steve, in that we need to focus on that “other 50%” who need support to enjoy science themselves and confidence to teach it. The students will eat it up, that won’t be the problem.

    Reply
  17. bren
    bren says:

    I think what you’re doing is great. I don’t know that the President will actually do anything about it though, but thanks for trying. When I was in elementary school they didn’t teach much science (just a little & not every year) & in Jr. High I had one semester of Science (not very hands on either) by High school I wasn’t very interested it seemed too complicated & I felt overwhelmed. Regarding the comments from Neil I don’t even know what to say, but waiting till High School to teach Science is a grave mistake & it sounds like it’s not taught to everyone only the advanced students & AP students that’s unfortunate for the majority of average or below average students. I will say that the preschools seem to do an excellent job of age apropriate science & the kids love it. My son’s school just turned an empty classroom in the a Science room & he showed me the first day & was so excited. After playing outside the Science room is his favorite thing. My son is 4.5 yr old and is obsessed with the human body & how it works he wants to do hands on stuff & it’s very difficult to find any class or work shop for him. If I wait until he is in High School or College he might loose intersted & that would be unfortunate. In the meantime I buy him books & models & we look at stuff online, but he wants to touch things. Don’t even get me started on schools teaching to the test. Oy.

    Reply
  18. Megan Carroll
    Megan Carroll says:

    I teach 4th grade Science deep in the heart of Texas. We most certainly DO NOT teach to “the test”. I have been teaching for 4 years and have made it my personal mission to make it all about the exploration. We make puppets to remember the parts of plants, build living food chains, and make ghost bubbles with dry ice. My kids are not only ready for 5th grade, but can apply the knowledge to any type of question. Most importantly they can THINK for themselves. If you don’t believe me “Neil”, you’re welcome to visit.

    Reply
  19. Jane
    Jane says:

    Oh, dear, Neil, are you really saying that science exists only within the four walls of a secondary-level classroom?

    I will have to stand up and disagree, and I hope my students would stand with me. EVERYTHING is connected to everything else, science included. I use science in my writing courses!

    Incorporating science into any curriculum can even be done while teaching to the test, although you really don’t want to get me started about those tests. . . . .

    Neil, Neil, step back and think. We use science in the kitchen, science in the garden, science when making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, science on the playground, science in the bathroom. . . . there is science in a spelling list, science in a history lesson, science in a geography lesson. . . if a child picks up a handful of gravel from the driveway, there is science in that, too. Look up at the stars – see the science, mingled with stories and history? We are scientists the very moment we are born. Yes, it starts that soon.

    Don’t confine science. It can’t be caged. It’s part and particle of every aspect of the universe.

    Steve teaches us all to understand that science is so much a part of life, it fairly screams to let us know and use it, get down and dirty with it, share what we learned with everyone we meet.

    My advice to you, Neil, is to come to Science in the Rockies. There, you will learn to appreciate genuine, unbridled, enthusiastic science. Heck, Neil, just watching the very contagious wit, wonder, and joyful sparkling passionate zeal of teachers learning how to ignite these same feelings in their students will be a lesson you won’t learn anywhere else.

    Come to Science in the Rockies and find out. I double dog dare you.

    Reply
  20. Ellen Peterson
    Ellen Peterson says:

    I teach in a state that has “the test” and I’ve seen my fair share of teachers who “teach the test”. There’s an entire industry that has been built up around getting students to pass that test. Unfortunately, as long as there are people who insist that teacher pay be tied to test scores, there will be people who teach to the test.

    Those people who teach because it is what we love to do, who are inspired by that momentary flash of understanding on a child’s face, who long for the moments when teaching is what we get to do know that it is our job to inspire children to love learning, not memorize facts. We are the ones that want children to think for themselves! We are the ones who are always on the lookout for resources that will allow us to produce enthusiastic children who want to take those AP Chemistry classes when they get to high school. Without us in the trenches in preschool and elementary school, those high school classrooms will be empty.

    Sadly, there are good and not-so-good teachers at every level. Steve (and his team) can reach more children if they can reach more teachers… I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Reply
  21. Troy Robertson
    Troy Robertson says:

    Wow I think Neal may have a very big head. Where would he be without the Elementary and Jr High teachers. Steve I do agree there needs to be more money invested in elementary science classroom. Sometimes I feel that I am only limited to the amount of resources I can share with my students. I do think some teachers need training in inquiry based teaching.

    Reply
  22. Rita
    Rita says:

    This is so cliche – but OMG Neil, really!! I teach preschool, ages 4 and 5 year olds, as well as 3-5 graders at an after school program. I teach a lot of science and because of people like Steve I have learned to make it exciting and fun. Have you ever heard a four year old talk about ultraviolet rays, gasses, or domestic animals and wild animals? There is so much science all around us everyday, not just in a high school chemistry textbook! I am so thankful for people like Steve Spangler who provide us with new and exciting tools and ideas to bring to children to make them excited about learning. Thank you, some day I hope to get to one of your Camp in the Rockies!

    Reply
  23. Robin Unger
    Robin Unger says:

    I currently have the rare privilege of being any elementary science teacher. That means that I only teach science. My students are in grades 1-6 and come to me once or twice a week depending on the age. My job is to add hands-on science and lab work to the concepts being taught in the classroom. I know that this is a rare privilege for students and most districts do not have such a position at this age level. I have worked in many different districts and at many different levels over the past few years.
    I think that the main problem with science at the elementary level is that all too often science is to be taught by a core teacher who is uncomfortable with the subject matter. Then the district hands them a text book as support and the teacher doesn’t know what to do but follow the text. I really think that districts need to move away from wasting money on dry text books, find some great hands-on really science programs that are easy for teachers to follow. Then train teachers on how simple some of the hands on stuff can be. Kids are naturally inquisitive but the often hate science because it is present in the same manner as a grammar lesson. I think that real science can and should begin at the elementary level!

    Reply
  24. Donna
    Donna says:

    Dear Steve- I have been teaching for the last 18 years. My certification is for high school biology and I have taught children from ages 2-22. Currently I own and operate Supernova Science which provides after school science enrichment to schools and I also work with scout troops and camps. My children are in 3rd and 6th grade. From my experience, there is very little hands on science or critical thinking going on in the elementary school. Even elementary school teachers who are certified and have Masters degrees, usually only have one graduate level “teaching science in elem school” class. This class seems to cover a lot of sink/float activities. The high school that my children feed into ( top 200 in USA) often complain that the student show up with few basic lab skills and that much of the first quarter is spent reviewing scientific method.
    My third graders elementary school has a science fair- the only problem is that many teachers do not understand the scientific method themselves. There is very little feedback and oftentimes confusion over variables/ is this an experiment or a demonstration.
    Virginia has been in the forefront of the standardized testing movement (for good or bad) and teaching to the test has been something we have been dealing with for a long time. Virginia is adopting a new framework to test the elementary school kids that is based mostly on critical thinking and experimentation as opposed to regurgitating basic science facts.
    Unfortunately, many children do not think science is fun in elem school because it is taught from a textbook. Teachers don’t always feel confident with the subject matter so it is taught in a quick and painless manner. That tends to mean that science is not fun for the kids.
    I can’t tell you the number of times a child has told me how fun science can be when they take my class. Parents are pleased that their kids start to see value in science and enjoy learning.
    I think counties would be better off hiring “science specialists” to teach every class in the elementary school. Some counties in Virginia have gone to this model and some counties have abandoned textbooks altogether. Unfortunately, our county has done neither. Otherwise, elem school teachers need a more extensive background in science. Next time you talk to an elem school teacher- ask what their major was (it’s almost always English, history or psychology) then ask how many credit hours they were required to have in science for certification and what the class was like. I ask these questions often and get almost the same answers every time. It’s not fair to get upset that an elem teacher can’t or won’t teach critical thinking/lab science when they don’t have a background in the subject. I’m sure you can tell- I couldn’t go teach an English lesson either.
    Thanks for all that you do for science education. I’m trying to follow in your footsteps.

    Reply
  25. Carri
    Carri says:

    Hi. Wow! I haven’t been able to read all the comments, but again, wow! I’m a preschool teacher for Head Start and I teach my class science all the time. We explore everything around us both in and out of the classroom. I have attended Steve’s workshops and have brought back some of the ideas to my class. Along with my co-staff, we participated in a Foundations of Science and Literacy course last year to even better expand our scientific teachings. To say that science could only be fully understood on the upper levels is absurd! My class loves to examine everything they come in contact with. And it is my job to help them better understand what they are doing, to expand on their knowledge and to enhance every experience they have. My class loves learning science as much as I love teaching i tto them!!!!!

    Reply
  26. Barbara Lord
    Barbara Lord says:

    Dear Neil
    If you don’t believe that getting excited about improving science education could keep Steve Spangler awake, then you do not know the man. I, too, am an experienced educator with multiple advanced degrees. I, too, have taught those upper level students in advanced courses. I have also spent some time working with middle school students. In all of this, I would have never denigrated a fellow educator by suggesting my teaching and my subject matter were of more importance or of greater value than a colleagues. To do so is completely rude and pompous.
    I would also like to know in which country you teach that has plenty of chemistry and physics teachers!
    But most of all, the first thing I learned about speaking out in a public forum as an educator was that I needed to be totally accurate in both what I said and what I wrote in order to not appear foolish. This meant a lack of personal attacks, well executed syntax, perfect punctuation, careful proofreading, and a basic understanding of when to use “to” as opposed to “too.” I understood that failing to do so would diminish not only the strength of my argumentprofessionally professional reputation.
    Therefor, your numerous punctuation errors, frequent sentence fragments, fallacious arguments, and lack of understanding when to use “to” as opposed to “too” immediately relegated your thoughts to that of mere diatribe.
    Barbara Lord
    B.S. in Education (certificated in Speeh Theatre, and English)
    M.A. In English
    M.S. in Educational and Counseling Psychology

    Reply
  27. Julie Light-Copper
    Julie Light-Copper says:

    I for one am a Special Education teacher. I teach MH students but during the testing week in my district I take ALL of the IEP students who have special testing situations and we do activities. Now my students do not take the so called “paper pencil” test so I am not teaching to any test so that cannot be a point. During these times I do alot of Steve’s experiments and the kids love it to be able to actually have fun and hands on “stuff”. Now if the group can handle the in depth explanations I give it to them but if they can’t who cares, we still do the experiments and have fun. These students struggle through school, alot of the time become behavior problems because of this struggle or with my own students don’t even talk, experience the joy of putting two things together and just see what happens. Steve Spangler, I have taught special needs children for over 35 years in a rural area of Ohio and I want you to know that my special ed. kids love your stuff and the kids who don’t get to come to my room during testing week are totally jealous. Keep up the GREAT work trying to get science in the preschools and elementary schools in America so that young people no matter what their abilities can have the experience, the knowledge and the fun of science.

    Reply
  28. Maggie Hunt
    Maggie Hunt says:

    Steve, thank you for leaving the classroom and getting out there to help open the eyes of both children and adults to wonderful fun world of science. I try and teach my own children that there is a science question in almost everything we do each day.
    I believe that to make a better science education in our schools, we as parents must get in there and participate. Our schools PTO raises over $100,000 each year to free up the school’s budget to employ a full time science teacher for grades K-6. We sponsor a wonderful Science Fair, a robotics club, a 4th grade rocket day, and all day event called Space Day. Even our garden club has a science twist to it! Every single one of these things is hands on with real science learning opportunities, not teaching to a test.
    I say to Neil, shake off your bitterness and get involved!
    Steve, if we keep working on getting the word out maybe Obama will figure out you have the answer!!!I believe in you!

    Reply
  29. Dale Glass
    Dale Glass says:

    Thank you Steve, for putting this letter out to President Obama and for supporting this discussion thread.
    Children’s natural curiosity, guided by a well-trained teacher, will lead them to discover many amazing and wonderful things in science. Exploring, wondering, thinking, and developing scientific explanations are prompted by interesting observations – and few sights are as interesting as Steve’s demonstrations. They capture an idea and jump start an inquiry process. The science behind the “gee whiz” is deep; Steve’s lessons drill deep down in to the content while keeping the amazing wonder alive. That combination of rigor and excitement is difficult for a teacher to develop, but essential for all ages of students.
    When a young child experences this kind of high-quality science lesson, s/he will be engaged, think critically, and want to do more. Let’s make this experience the norm for all children and keep it going through middle and high school – then we will have a nation of innovative, creative scientists.
    Professional development in science instruction may need to take different forms – elementary homeroom teachers may not have much training in science, but they are expert in pedagogy and child development, while high-school teachers may have excellent understanding of chemistry, biology, or physics but would love to learn more about keeping the fun and excitement of science alive through the formal lab-report process. As teachers, we should all be learners. Growing the scientists and innovators of tomorrow begins with supporting teachers’ skill in teaching inquiry; Steve Spangler certainly a person who can help us.

    Reply
  30. Brooke Cotton
    Brooke Cotton says:

    I am a 5th and 6th grae science teacher in Texas. We do not “test” science until 5th grade. I think the elementary introduces it in 4th, but until then I think it is a “filler” activity, used to teach reading and math. When you are getting 5th graders that think we have night time because the “sun needs to sleep” you really have a problem. I am a “converted” science teacher. I graduated with a reading/English education degree, took a job teaching science to avoid a long commute after we moved and will never go back to English. I am working on my Masters in Science Education now because I need more ideas to get the kids to realize that they are scientists and our entire universe is only possible because of scientific principles. With the cut in education funding, I am really worried that science is going to be one of the first subjects hit. We are considered an “expendable” subject even though everyone keeps talking about STEM.

    Reply
  31. neil schulman
    neil schulman says:

    Wow-I do not know.I about 31 years ago started running elementary age workshops for kids on school breaks as well as summers.I also went to museums and libraries to put on Chemical magic shows.This was not to high school students but elementary age children.So to say i taught only high school students is wrong.All the utube science videos i have done many years ago.I started 31 years ago my own company called Sciensational Workshops For Kids which now is in 23 states.6000 elementary age children attend our programs.I am not you see that inflated high school chem teacher who just taught AP chemistry.We train other teachers in our programs that are elementary school teachers as teachers for our programs.Does this sound familiar.
    However i was in the classroom teaching Chemistry for 25 years.Many teachers if they could leave teaching would.They are tired of being used as scapegoats for low scores,apathy,and disinterest of many students.Again i do not say all.Many people are like my neighbor.He feels that teachers have it made.Lengthy school breaks,pensions,etc.I tell him that he would not last a week as a teacher no matter what grade he taught.Oh well no matter what i say there are people on both sides of the issue.If Obama was really concerned about science for elementary education there would be a science supervisor for every school system in the United States for elementary science.My last thought.Most or all of our politicians kids go to private schools.What does that say about what they feel about public education.Hang in their teachers and maybe things will change slowly.Oh yes-Steve said i have not said good things about him.I said his demos are good,he presents them well,he explaings things.I just said keep the drama out

    Reply
  32. Kim Scott
    Kim Scott says:

    As an elementary science educator and regular classroom teacher I feel I can comment on both sides. I think a lot of this depends on the state you live in. In Michigan they have a 5th grade science test. I use to think that was not necessary until I moved to Connecticut. There is no elementary science test here. The principal actually told parents at the kindergarten open house that they do not focus on science at the k-2 level. I was outraged. I realized it is because they are not accountable for it. Michigan has to make sure they are teaching science. The things the kindergartners did in Michigan compared to Connecticut is amazing. As much as I did not like those tests it forced us not to put science on the side.

    We focused a lot on teacher development and it made a huge difference. Science takes a lot of planning. Lets face it an elementary teacher does not have much planning time. Some just don’t want to clean up the mess. Text book companies sell demo kits and classroom kits that are ready to use. This helps a lot, but we we still need more training. Training is key. Teachers need to be comfortable with the material and know that science can be taught with many at home materials. Steve Spangler helps a great deal with that. He gives teachers a place to go where they can get ideas and supplies if needed. He also goes further and explains the science behind it.

    For two years I went into every classroom in two buildings once a week and did hands on science. The kids loved it. I was very well trained to do it. Along wth my degree I took workshops and learned how to write my own science journals. I also took one of Steves workshops. Because I was in the building I was a reference to other teachers. These teachers want to do science. They saw how much fun the kids were having. Just like students, teachers are sponges. We trained them to do science journals. They started out small doing 4 a year. We had science fairs. When given a resource and great tricks to do science, teachers will do it. Training is key. Even if we start out training one teacher in every elementary school in America it will make a difference. That one teacher can pass it on to the teachers in their school. I have seen it happen.
    Steve Spanglers workshops make a difference. It changed my teaching. I was able to take my science journals to a whole new level. Now I do stuff with my own children. I also use his site with my tutoring kids. I think President Obama needs to hear Steve’s Opinion. He is out their listening to the teachers and knows what is needed.
    I wish him luck in his quest and hope I can continue to help spread the word about science education as well.

    Reply
  33. neil schulman
    neil schulman says:

    Hey Steve a neutron walks into the bar and orders a drink.He then say how much do i owe you
    The bartender says for you no charge

    Reply
  34. neil schulman
    neil schulman says:

    I have been surrounded by the Steve Splangler army and captured.
    I have been brainwashed after reading so far 40 blogs.Okay so as Joe Pesci said in one of his movies”So whats the Story Richie”.There seems to be a variety of opinions.Its similar to educators every year coming out with a new idea and then saying it will solve the problem.What problem,where,and in what year.When i was in elementary school we had civil air drills.We would go under our desks holding our hands over our heads.That was the solution for a atomic attack.Hmmm that made sense.I do like John Denver and i will think of you in Colorado.You see Steve is doing some good,is a good business person,promotes his product.He is in business like i am in business.It does help.Gee Steve did you really thing i do not respect you.So far from the truth

    Reply
  35. muler
    muler says:

    `all comments are very important and interesting though some of them luck full sight of the very essence of the problem.for instance a comment given by Neil lost the root while getting sight on branch of the issue.what I want to say here is that the ground should be laid down neither on the top nor at the middle level rather on the ground that is the beginning which can bear a fruit. Children should be shaped in the lower level of their education.so teachers who are well trained and highly motivated in teaching children to make them to have a love in science is advisable in the elementary level.

    Reply

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