I’ve just spent a little time with Nate Adams as we are developing something special for the latter part of the year. A large theme for one of these events harks back to some old time science, which is right up my street. While sitting reflecting over some of our favourite demos we also had time to dig through some old textbooks I lovingly keep hidden away.
Regular readers will understand my penchant for these old texts as I constantly marvel at how science got done when knowledge was scant. The books ranged from late 19th century to the late 1950s. While much of what was advocated in books for children was exciting and educational, hindsight rings a bell of caution. Quite a few of the proposed activities ‘for you to undertake in the home’ could now be viewed as somewhat unsuitable for those without a good grounding in advanced handling of chemicals.
So I journeyed out to a local book shop to see what was there now, hoping to find something like ‘the Ladybird Book of Home Science’. Try to imagine my disappointment when I found that the only topic Ladybird seem to be interested in pursuing is phonics; any story you like as long as it only contains 30 words. How could we have let Ladybird books become so dumbed down? They used to be such a great way for parents to spend time working through fun activities with their children or to enable discovery of topics on their own.
I want the ‘People at Work’ series, I want the ‘How it Works’ series. What about the ‘Things to Make’ books? ‘The Story of Science’, now there was a good book. These were the books I had as a child, which is probably why I still love books of that era now. I certainly don’t remember there being a discrete series that told me how to read simple words. That was all embedded in learning about everything else. I could already read and write before I went to school and I’d spent time learning a lot about the real world, including science and engineering, jobs and careers.
Which leads me to think about all the million things that fed into me wanting to be a scientist when I was little. Actually, I wanted to be an astronaut, but I think that was pretty much every boy born in the seventies. My question is, with so many influences, how can science communicators ever attempt to pin down the causal agents for why some children choose to go into STEM subjects? Oh, and what are your suggestions for filling the practical Ladybird gap?