Science and math (especially math) are often considered the hardest and dullest subjects in almost any grade. Students complain about memorization, difficult concepts and boring problems. But Rafaela Schwan, Director of Programs at the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, says that shouldn't be the case.
Schwan is part of a group that created SciTech 2020, a summer camp about science, technology, engineering and math for high schoolers. If you think it's a breeze to get in, think again. Not only are a huge number of students willing to ditch the pool this summer for a chance at problem solving, but they want to go so badly that they're willing to write an essay just to apply. Schwan says that the secret for make students want to go to an educational camp is to make learning fun and relevant. When the campers study math they learn about mathematic careers, but they also have fun with activities such as solving Sudoku puzzles to discover the locations of hidden materials to build a glider.
Schwan suggests how you can incorporate some of their ideas at home:
Let children take apart (some) toys. Parents should encourage children to experiment with technology. “The best way to get kids interested is letting them see how things work,” says Schwan. You can let your grade schooler tear apart an old radio, or get your teenager the parts to build one herself. Although it's important to let them explore and satisfy their curiosity, it's key to set some guidelines before your son gets out the screwdriver. For example, you can give him a disposable camera to take apart, but tell him the digital camera's off limits.
Use games. Sure games are fun, but they're also a great learning opportunity. Puzzles (both 2-D and 3-D) can help with problem-solving and are fun for any age. For younger kids take it a step further and have your child design her own puzzle. By cutting a picture in puzzle pieces, your child can learn how easy it is to create a puzzle and how challenging it can be to put together. Although traditional puzzles may not appeal to teens, try increasing the difficulty by having "puzzle wars" where two people compete trying to solve their own puzzle without seeing the complete image. Short on cash? Schwan suggests making your own crossword puzzles. You can use numbers and letters and have your child answer educational questions (with a few funny ones thrown in to keep the tone light). By stretching your imagination and not your wallet, you and your child will enjoy the activity.
Think like a teacher. You don't have to be a teacher to use teaching strategies. Use any opportunity to sneak in a conversation about science and math. When your children are bored suggest an educational activity such as a science project. NASA.gov has great experiments using household products, as well as a math problem every week for various ages. You should also grab your youngster and go to any planetarium or museum, and translate everything into terms they understand. You could say, "The average distance between the Earth and Moon is 238,857 miles. "Since grandma's house is 100 miles away from our house, going there 2388 times is about the same distance as going to the moon." If your child's too old to be "tricked" into an education trip, you can still talk about science. Try renting a science fiction movie, and make it a game to count all the impossible "science" you see, such as a light sabers, warp speed, and aliens who ask for our leader. Could these science fiction fantasies become fact one day? Ask your child why or why not.
By emphasizing the fun side of science and math, rather than just tests or homework, you'll transform some of their most dreaded subjects into some of their favorites. If students are struggling to stay focused doing math problems on paper, math games can be a great alternative. A comprehensive collection of math resources can be found on our website as well.