Connecting the Classroom to Scientists

Middle school is tough. I’d be hard-pressed to find an adult now who looks back on their 6-8th grade years and feels much differently. Never mind the social dynamics and drama you’re thrown into, but suddenly school becomes hard. Especially science. For so many of my own colleagues and friends, they distinctly remember this being the age where they met a fork in the road with science. Either they were good at it, or they weren’t.

At this age, science simply stops being fun for many students and becomes work. The chance to explore and create and discover seem to be overshadowed by note taking, memorization, and math, along with a feeling for some that it’s just too difficult.

So how do we change that? How do we re-energize students to see science as more than just facts and problem sets, but as a way to continue to explore and discover? Well, that’s the million dollar question.

Getting middle school students to see the possibility and opportunity in science isn’t any easier than middle school itself, but it’s part of what the Ocean 180 Video Challenge is trying to do. We’re aiming to expose classrooms to real-life research and connect them to the scientists behind it.

During the month of January, our student judges had the chance to explore the careers and research shared by scientists in the top 10 video abstract submissions.  In April, we invited the scientists behind the top 4 video abstracts (as selected by the student judging team) to participate in a virtual assembly with student judges from around the world. Participating students had the chance to interact with ocean scientists, to ask questions, and get some first-hand advice about being a scientist.

The hour-long assembly (which you can watch here) was filled with amazing moments between the scientists and students sharing stories and insight. As the afternoon went on, the scientists reflected on what inspired them to pursue a career in the field, including their experiences as much younger students and the difficulties they faced in subjects like math and science.

Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, 3rd place winner in the 2014 Challenge, explained to students that he was never especially good at math in school and even had teachers dissuade him from becoming a scientist. Like many students today, he was faced with the notion that he wouldn’t be good enough to pursue his passion. Dr. Hammerschlag refused to accept it.

“There’s nothing you can’t do if you work hard enough and spend enough time to get there” he told students. “If you’re interested in science, work really hard. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not really good at math or science in school. You’ll get there.”

Programs like Ocean 180 might not be the answer to the million dollar question, but we hope they’re offering students a glimpse into what opportunities science can open for them, proving the fork in the road doesn’t only have two options. Science might be hard, but that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed in it. And it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t still be fun.

Just ask a scientist.

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