Art and recess. These are two of the most important parts of a kid's school day, according to Bill Nye.
Except, of course, for science class.
The beloved host of Bill Nye the Science Guy made these observations Tuesday during Fast Company's Innovation Festival, where he and Grammy-nominated DJ Steve Aoki shared a stage to discuss the intersection of science and creativity. With so many aspects of science reaching critical points--space exploration, artificial intelligence, climate change--it's as important as ever to keep producing new generations of innovative thinkers. And the best time to create new scientists is during childhood.
"Research shows that you develop your lifetime passions by 10 or 12," said Nye. As an example, he asked his Aoki when he first got involved with music. "As a tween," Aoki replied.
"But I'm sure you were interested in it before then--drumming rhythms, banging pots and pans?" Nye asked. He was, indeed.
"We should teach kids science every day, in every grade," said Nye, "including preschool. Preschoolers love science. Who doesn't love bees?"
The Science Guy, known for his unique way of making complex concepts accessible to both kids and adults, touched on a few far-out notions during his session, including the search for extraterrestrial life, man-made microbubbles that can mitigate the effects of global warming by reflecting sunlight back into space, and technological singularity--the invention of a computer that can think like a human. Big ideas like these are impossible without properly encouraging and nurturing future thought leaders.
Here's how Nye suggests we can create the next generation of scientists and thinkers:
1. Let them be hands-on. Nye pointed out that during Science Guy, the screen would flash with the giant words "Try It" to give kids a moment to replicate whatever mini experiment just took place on screen. Being hands-on is critical in STEM subjects. This is why science museums have so many interactive experiences. Let kids touch a fossil or step on a scale that shows them how much they would weigh if they were standing on Jupiter. But no need, he pointed out, to tell them they'd be crushed to death by the planet's massive forces of gravity.
2. Have a goal. While discovery is enough to keep some people ticking, really big scientific innovations usually come about when there's a clearly defined goal at stake. "If we had a goal--'Send people to Mars by 2033'--then the interest in science would just happen," Nye said.
3. Make sure the right people are teaching them. There's far more to educating people than just brains (Imagine handing an educational kids' show to just any engineer or physicist.) "Rocket scientists and Nobel Laureates aren't qualified to teach," said Nye. "As my mom said, 'Common sense isn't so common.' "
4. Allow room for creativity. "Science starts with, 'How did that happen? How did I never notice that before?'" said Nye. "Finding the answers is inherently creative." This is where art and recess come into play--slightly structured activities that let young minds explore and discover on their own. Plus, they serve a secondary purpose. "If you didn't have recess," he said, "there'd be a riot."