Science can be fun but keep it practical!

It seems the longer I take science courses, the less fun they become.  I remember being a kid and excited about science class and new things I would learn about the world.  Now as I am taking my graduate studies in optometry, I dread going, have trouble paying attention, and just try to memorize information for the next test.  Part of it is the huge amount of material and the other part is the explicit detail of the material that can put an average PhD to sleep.  So, what happened and how can we prevent the decline of zest for learning.


Younger students are generally more excitable than their older classmates.  The simple things as outlined in my last post (blog 4) are good solutions to keep learning fun for the younger ages.  As the child gets older, museums may actually begin to make more sense and be a better tool for learning than the simple trip to the zoo or nature walk.  As the young scientists begin approaching high school or graduating high school, I think this is a more critical time to keep science fun.  If the students don’t like science during high school, then college and their career won’t be focused towards science.  I believe more attention should spent keeping these students fascinated with science.  We do a great job early on but as mentioned in my previous post (blog 3) I don’t feel we maintain that fervor towards math and science.


Science and math have a huge function in today’s worldwide economy.  The jobs of the future will continue to be geared towards technology which incorporates a lot of math and science.  Keeping learning fun may be beneficial for the high school student but perhaps an understanding of how he/she will have to provide for themselves in the future may provide better motivation.  Older students tend not to give into gimmicks and stunts that work well with younger kids but showing them how they can apply the lessons of math and science to improve their own lives will not fall on a deaf ear.


Field trips to working plants, factories, and research labs will show the older students the opportunities that can be theirs if they continue to develop as scientists.  Bringing medical professionals to speak in class or visits to local hospitals can show the students how science and math will benefit them as they begin to ponder their career paths.  Keeping it fun is great for the younger grades but keeping practical may show more results as the young scientist ages.


Excerpt from “The Great Geese Migration”

The first page of the story introduces children to four geese and a grizzly bear who have just emerged from a winter hibernation cave.

The first day of spring was a beautiful day in the forest. All the animals were happy, and the sun was shining. Five best friends were by their favorite spot in the forest, Big Lake, enjoying the nice weather. The friends were a mixed group made up of the wise old bear named Ol’ Griz, the two twin geese whose names were Bill and Will, the only lady goose named Amelia, and a silly goose named Randy.


“I am so glad to have warm weather again. I think I almost froze in Ol’ Griz’s cave over the past winter,” said Amelia, breaking the silence.


“I thought it was a fine nap,” explained Ol’ Griz. “It is unfortunate my cave was the only place you geese could find to stay during the winter, but I still don’t know why you can’t just hibernate like me.”


“I tried,” said Randy, “but I kept waking up every day.”


“Randy, you silly goose!” exclaimed Bill. “That’s just sleeping. Hibernating is being asleep for an extended time until winter is over. We geese must not be designed to do that. We should try something different next winter.

And so they did. They tried flying east one winter, west the next, and north the winter after that. They didn’t get far north before they found it was colder than home, so they switched directions and finally found that flying south was the answer to their winter problem.

Read the entire book to find examples of bravery, cunning, teamwork, and problem-solving for your children.


Get out of the classroom to REALLY learn

The Great Geese Migration, while being only one story, can provide several lessons for the young scientist. In my previous blog (What does it all mean?), I went over some of the finer learning points offered by the story; in this edition, we will incorporate some activities that will also facilitate learning.

Field trips are always great activities that are accompanied with great expectations from the students. Before a visit to a local zoo or museum, different learning objectives can be emphasized to make the visit more stimulating.

A field trip to a zoo would be enhanced by going over different migration/hibernation patterns of various animals of the zoo. Geography lessons showing where the different animals are from or what their migration patterns are can be useful.

A field trip to a museum would be a good time to incorporate the concepts of evolution and introduce other examples of adaption that the museum’s exhibits will emphasize.

A field trip or outing to a park is even a simple and easy way to tie everything together.  Pick a season or visit the park once during every season to show the way plants change, the ways animal life changes, temperature differences, weather patterns for your area, and the change in the length of daylight.

Lessons from the book can be incorporated in subjects throughout the school day.  Arts and crafts during the fall always incorporate the changing leaves in a project or two. So, while the young scientist is gathering the leaves for the art project, just remind him/her of the reason the leaves are changing and what other changes the local plants and animals are going through. The same can be done with snowflakes and icicles in the winter as well as the new flowers and budding plants of the spring. Groundhog Day is a good time for incorporating the principles of hibernation.

If you are really searching for something to do, make a little production. You can use the story from The Great Geese Migration or write one of your own. Making the sets of the different seasons and performing the changes the animals will undertake are also good ways to drive home the points of the story.

Learning from a book can be hit or miss for anybody. Especially the younger scientists, who might need the extra reinforcement of a field trip, art project, or theatrical production to cement the learning concepts. I am sure most of the educators reading this already incorporate different approaches to teaching the same thing in order to help all their students understand such large concepts.


Why can’t I get this?

Earlier this year, USC put together a study comparing education spending versus scholastic performance in 13 countries. Of course, the US spends the most per capita but performance-wise was less than to be desired. In math, we finished 10th place out of 13 and in science we were 9th.

This infographic comes from the USC study of spending versus scholastic performance. Find it at

We have seen statistics like this before (PISA 2003, 2006, and 2009), and we are beginning to accept our position. It is not as if we as a nation aren’t trying. We do spend the most and are constantly revamping the educational system. While we have been slowly moving up the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), we are still far behind the leading countries.

The problem may or may not be the government’s to fix. Our society as a whole may be the one that needs repair. We need to encourage scholastic achievement from an early age and continue to follow through as the young student progresses through high school. I am sure the educational facilities themselves are doing the best they can, and that is all we can ask. A lot of students are receptive and can be reached, but it is the other sect of students that need to be reached.

Turn on the TV and what messages are being sent to the youth of America? Reality shows that focus on good students who study hard and do the right thing would be canceled because nobody would watch. We prefer to see deadbeats who accept handouts and become famous at the same time. What kind of message does that send? I don’t need school. All I have to do is remain popular and learn to party well.

There doesn’t seem to be any push from external sources for the young students to stay competitive in math and science. It seems that if a student is having trouble, instead of taking the time for comprehension and understanding, we just push the student forward in the hopes they retained enough. The student has his/her part in this too, but if they keep getting pushed forward then there are no real consequences on their part. Early on, the effect may not be severe, but if it continues throughout the child’s education, an attitude of apathy and a lack of diligence will be the result.

This is even more fatal for the future, because in today’s time a bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma. We have to be more competitive than ever but our student population may not be ready for the new horizon. We must constantly push our students to achieve more beginning very early in their education careers and, most importantly, continuing that push throughout the scholastic years. It may start in the classroom but needs to be supported at home, on TV, and among their peers.


What does it all mean?

In last week’s blog, I mentioned that the young scientist will learn the concepts of the evolutionary process through reading “The Great Geese Migration”. The young scientist can also learn many other scientific principles and life skills along the way with the help of an educator or parent:

  • The seasons
  • Direction
  • Geography
  • Aerodynamics
  • Hibernation
  • Team work
  • Resiliency
  • Respecting elders

You may say your classroom or child already knows that birds fly south for the winter and how can this book possibly provide any educational benefit? This book is not intended to provide the child with facts for memorization. Instead of focusing on the what, it focuses on the how and why. 

As I wrote in Beginning to write children’s books, I am trying to catch young scientists before they receive their formal science education so as to encourage them to explore the mechanisms of action. They may already know birds fly south; however, the book makes it clear why the geese can’t stay up north for the winter. The book shows how geese figured out to fly south. The sequence of events that lead up to the successful adaptation technique of flying south for the winter bring a more thorough understanding than just knowing birds fly south for the winter.

As part of the big picture, “The Great Geese Migration” incorporates many scientific principles into the story. With the backdrop of the seasons, the geese love to spend time up north during the warmer months of spring, summer, and most of fall.  The illustrations vividly show the seasons change and geese begin to take flight to avoid the imminent doom of winter. The geese demonstrate a sense of direction as they use the position of the sun to determine which direction they are going.

The story provides an excellent opportunity to discuss geography. The geese are based out of the northeastern seaboard of North America, and all of the directions they fly have corresponding geographical cues. Pulling out a map to orient the young scientist to the geese’s world and show how it might be different from his/her own is a great teaching tool.

Teamwork is an important concept that will stay with the child no matter where he/she goes in life. The geese work together using drafting techniques to fly farther and longer.  They also stick together when they don’t succeed at their first migration attempt. The geese do not give up, but rather maintain a positive attitude to work through their challenges. Their mentor Ol’ Griz provides encouragement and support throughout the journey. The geese rely on him for guidance and show respect to the elder bear. The geese show that it is important to take the advice and instruction of those entrusted over you.

This book can be a great learning tool in the classroom or at home. A young scientist on his/her own might not grab every bit of information from this story. It is important for an educator or parent to go through the different learning points above to encourage and ensure understanding.


Beginning to write children’s books

As a kid, I was always interested in how things worked and why. To me the universe, itself, was the ultimate puzzle.

We know so much about it in one sense but so little about it in another. We can map the human genome but we can’t figure out, for certain, where we come from. Your guess is as good as mine. That fact left an impression on me.

I began to dream up my own stories of how the universe came about, why dinosaurs became extinct, why birds fly south, etc. As you take more science classes, these little daydreams take a back seat to facts, theories, and laws of science. The imagination is replaced with the scientific method. Pretty soon, my little stories were put away in the distant memory of childhood.

I remember a class period where the professor began talking about evolution. He started at the very beginning, billions of years ago. We started to continually move up the timeline, millions of years at a time. At first, you can handle this onslaught of big numbers and weird names, but eventually the eras and periods totally run away with you. I started to doze off at the early Cretaceous period, slept through the middle, and woke in the late Cretaceous period only to be more confused than ever. Saved by the bell, the class was over. It was too big and broad to even begin to understand. I memorized what I had to for the test and went on trying to understand other branches of the scientific community (so did the rest of my friends who were also science majors).

I was watching a national news channel on TV during a study break one afternoon, and Michael Moore was brought in to give his view on the topic of the day. Somehow, the conversation turned and he started to rant about conservative Christians (shocking, I know). He mentioned that he didn’t appreciate them teaching young children creationism and that “Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs.” He brushed them off as having silly little stories.

It occurred to me that there were no “silly” stories for kids about evolution. Then, I was brought back to my youth and the fanciful ideas I had back then about such topics. Suddenly, I realized I had an audience for my stories. I began to look at children’s literature on evolution and everything was pretty much just a textbook. Flashy and colorful but still a textbook full of facts, figures, and things that put you to sleep.

The goal wasn’t to just write another book but to provide a piece of literature that could help the young scientist along his or her academic career. I want to catch the young scientist before he or she receives the formal science education. I want to get them when science is still a vibrant, exciting mystery and hasn’t been defined as a set of facts and equations. This wasn’t going to be a random story about evolution but a specific example of how the evolutionary process works and why there is a need for adaptation.

As the student progresses and receives the formal education, he or she will have a better understanding of the mechanism for evolving and will not be stuck relying on memorization for vocabulary words and timelines. I want to provide a basic understanding of the concepts of evolution; so, when the textbooks eventually come, the young scientist will have an easier time putting it all together.


The Great Geese Migration: The Science of Evolution Series for Kids

The United States used to lead the world in science and technology. It is why we won WWII. In today’s world, it isn’t the case anymore.  We need to encourage children to pursue these career paths and why not start at an earlier age. Not just my book, but the education system in general. If we can make it fun and easier to learn, maybe those in the system now can develop into the leaders of tomorrow.