Sunday, April 27, 2008

Scientifically Literate Teens


Learning the mathematics that are part of advanced science classes is like learning a foreign language: while everyone can get some working phrases down, it often takes total immersion to learn to speak it perfectly. Even then, some people aren't wired for that kind of thing and will have a harder time with the number crunching than others.

Limiting the wonders of science to those who can grasp the math has had the effect of making most adults just past scientifically illiterate. This is evident in the way people fall for scams and pseudo-news stories that involve science. It seems that many people see science through the lens of the National Enquirer tabloid, the paper where Bigfoot lands in a UFO in the middle of the FIFA Cup to pass out irradiated Hershey bars.

If your teen is up to the challenge of learning the math, great! There are books, tutors and online resources to help, and early college courses are an excellent option. But what if she isn't quite to that point, or if that isn't an option for her at all?

Happily, there are wonderful science courses available for the less mathematically inclined. They are so intriguing that they will awaken or encourage the sense of wonder, and they may even encourage a student to wade through the math in further study.

The point of all this is to make sure that your young person understands the basics of science, and to interpret news articles and follow what's going on in the continuing discovery of our world. Even with only a rudimentary knowledge of higher math, it's still a fascinating journey.

This is also a good option for a science-oriented kid who isn't satisfied with the late-childhood books available, but who isn't ready for the more difficult things. It will introduce the child to the concepts and reasoning without being too demanding.

In some families, a teen could be assigned to read the books: in others, it may be enough to just leave the books around. Kids have a way of finding what they need when they're ready for it.

A friend once said that learning the science without knowing the math is useless. I disagree. It's a bit like reading a book in a translation: it does have a deeper meaning if you learn the language it's written in, but you can still enjoy the story if the translation is good. And just maybe you'll be inspired to learn the original language!

Conceptual Physics

The Extraordinary Chemistry of Ordinary Things

Teen Reading for Homeschooling Science

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