Eytan Stibbe

It’s Time to Make Science Cool

Eytan Stibbe with school kids from Migdal Ha'emek (image by Doron Zalman)
Eytan Stibbe with school kids from Migdal Ha'emek (image by Doron Zalman)

Making Science Cool: Channeling the Curiosity of Children in to How the World Works

Science is one of most hands-on subjects in school but making it accessible isn’t always easy. Children love to experiment and enjoy the practical side to science lessons, but as teachers begin to plan for the new school year, they will no doubt be thinking about how to keep students engaged with scientific theory.

Science has become one of those subjects that students either love or hate and it often ends up with them sitting at a desk reading textbooks, and perhaps watching one or two videos to answer some questions.

There’s a lot of evidence that shows a child’s perception of science is shaped before they leave elementary school, so we need to channel the curiosity that naturally exists in children and translate it into an interest in how the world around us works.

The Future is All About Science

Governments are encouraging students to choose STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields for their career paths, with STEM education being future-oriented, since the future of this generation’s children will most likely involve some form of science.

There is an increasing demand for jobs with technical skills, yet recruiters for these industries are struggling to find people to fill the roles since science has a dubious reputation, often portrayed as “nerdy” in books and movies. But in reality, science impacts every area of our life, from the way we cook our food, to the stunt scenes we see in movies.

There’s Even Science Behind Magic

Teachers can play a vital role by using interesting examples and stories to show students how science affects the world around us, even that which seems unexplainable. For example, magic is exciting, yet few people make the connection between magic and science.

Many magicians use the principles of science when performing illusions on stage, to warp perceptions of the spectators. For example, mirrors are used to misdirect and create false visuals (like cutting a body in half), and magnets help create the effect of levitation, both of which are explained by physics.

By showing students some magic-scientific experiments, they can witness the awesomeness of science with their own eyes and help foster an interest.

Make Science Relatable

When children don’t understand what they’re reading or listening to, science can become overwhelming or confusing and can cause students to check-out academically and even behaviorally. Lessons can be modified to prevent them feeling lost and confused and help keep them engaged and interested.

Science can be brought to life by explaining common phenomena to students such as why certain things float while others sink. They can even try it themselves by testing a peeled vs. unpeeled lemon and learning why they produce different results.

Students can also be shown how science is integrated into the things they use most, such as phones, tablets and smartwatches.

Local Experts Can Show Off Their Knowledge

Children love having visitors and guest speakers break them out of their daily classes, providing a great opportunity to speak to experts and hear how they change the world through science. Reaching out to members of the community – be it friends and family, local museums, organizations or even zoos – will allow you to bring in someone to share their knowledge and expertise. You can even try and bring in a magician who is willing to share the secret behind one or two of their tricks.

The Art in Science and the Science in Art

It’s a common misconception among nonscientists that there is no artistic element to the sciences – and this could not be further from the truth. The basis of scientific advancement and development is based on creativity, artistry and ‘out of the box’ thinking. Seeing and understanding the beauty behind the science is what ignites the greatest scientific minds. A factor which I think is truly important to convey to students to spark their imagination.

Personally, I have been actively engaged in accompanying the work and educational activities of Ramon Foundation, and I also hold lectures for students about the Rakia mission and the scientific experiments I performed in space.

One of these experiments was an art installation called “Impossible Object”. Here on Earth, the piece just looks like pipes and rods, but due to the physics of water behavior in space, an ever-changing 3D water shape formed around the installation – art that can only be achieved in microgravity.

‘Impossible Object’ in space (photo taken by Eytan Stibbe in the ISS)

Rakia Educational Resources

There are many online resources from the Ramon Foundation on Rakia website, written by leading science experts, catering to preschool, elementary, junior high and high school students, including educational resources from the space mission in Hebrew – a global first. There are lesson plans in each section, catered to each appropriate age group, enabling preschoolers to be part of the Rakia mission, and allowing older children to get acquainted with the mission in more depth.

There are short space-related stories and games for preschoolers, teaching them about space with fun facts and basic phenomena, and encouraging them to play classic games in a space setting. For elementary, junior high, and high school students, there are short 10-minute lectures about the experiments that were part of the Rakia mission, and in-depth explanations about the experiments, catered to each specific age group.

Science All Around Us

Creating natural curiosity in students’ minds can be achieved by connecting science to their daily lives. We can help them to understand science better with more explorative and creative opportunities through science competitions, encouraging them to bring science into other, unexpecting, areas of life.

Children should be encouraged to watch the many dedicated TV shows and YouTube channels with fascinating scientific content. Nurturing scientific interest from a young age is vital for motivating them to pursue a career in science later in life. With the right approach and environment, they too will realize that science is cool.

About the Author
Impact investor, philanthropist and pilot, Eytan Stibbe was the second Israeli astronaut to ever go to space. As a crew member of the Ax-1 mission, in April 2022, Eytan spent 17 days on the International Space Station. Together with the Ramon foundation and the Israeli Space Agency, a work plan was assembled and called the RAKIA mission. It included experiments in medicine, earth observation, production in space as well as educational programs and art, all under the banner “There is no dream beyond reach”.
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