This is quite possibly one of the greatest titles for a study ever: Eyeballs in the Fridge: Sources of Early Interest in Science. The link is for the news release about the study, rather than to the study itself, which examined 76 interviews with scientists and grad students to see what got them interested in science, and when.
One of the more interesting things is the indication that focusing on middle school rather than elementary education may mean some kids miss out on having their interest sparked:
“We’re concerned that policy right now is so focused on secondary students and usually centers on just making them take more science and math,” Maltese said. “Our results indicate that current policy initiatives likely miss a lot of students who may be interested early on and lose that interest by high school, or could be interested early on and aren’t engaged. Targeting secondary level may be too late for that.”
I really can’t say when I became interested in science. I know I thought it was really cool when we got to dissect sheep eyeballs in elementary school. I also remember really enjoying it when my mom read the complete Sherlock Holmes out loud to my brother and I (hey, Holmes liked him some science), going to the NEIC and meeting Dr. Waverly Person1, and seeing the chalk cliffs in Kansas on a family vacation. But I never really experienced some sort of bolt from the blue “Eureka!” moment, which kind of shows up in my squirming every time someone asks me what I want to do for a career. Still, I know that at the very least, I’ve been interested in science since grade school.
I’d really like to think that kids today still get the opportunity to be grossed-out yet fascinated by sheep eyeballs, or the other things I got to do as a kid. It’s something I worry about, particularly considering the giant emphasis that’s put on reading and math (sometimes to the exclusion of other things in more desperate schools) thanks to NCLB.
I also thought that this was interesting:
The results also confirm an indication of science instruction trends that may favor male students, Tai said. He related his own experience as a former high school physics teacher, in which many of his experiments involved throwing objects like arrows, darts and even artillery.
“A lot of those types of examples are not related to the experience of most females,” Tai said. “So in a way, we’re kind of working against including females in the science pipeline. The study highlights the importance of gender equity in school science.”
I know that in my one snooze-fest of a semester of high school physics, I avoided being involved in the demonstrations specifically because I (literally) threw2 like a girl. There was also a significant number of sports-related metaphors that I found incredibly off-putting, though that’s more because I was an out of shape geek than anything else, I think.
1 – Who told us, and I still remember to this day, that we should learn our math and science no matter what we wanted to be when we grew up.
2 – And still do, actually. I have an absolute bounty of embarrassing stories that involve me trying to throw things and the results never being good. Also, ask me some time why I don’t bowl any more.