Science and Engineering Education: What Happens in the Home Is Just as Important as the Classroom

By Larry Bock
Founder and organizer, USA Science & Engineering Festival

Encouraging and motivating kids early in science and engineering via exciting, hands-on interactions in discovery may be one of the most important steps to boosting their interest and performance in these fields.

But if you think this job falls to teachers alone, you're wrong. Parents can, and should, play an active and frequent role outside the classroom, especially in creative ways that keep children's innate sense of curiosity and exploration alive.

"Kids love the chance to try experiments, visit zoos, or watch science fiction movies," says Pendred Noyce, a physician, education advocate, and children's author. "Parents can keep excitement alive with activities that help kids develop a sense of science mastery, autonomy, and purpose."

Noyce knows well of what she speaks. Besides her aforementioned credentials, she is also a parent, and was herself inspired by her father, Robert Noyce, co-inventor of the integrated circuit (computer chip) and one of the founders of Intel. Today, as president of Tumblehome Learning, Inc., she creates science-related adventure books, biographies and hands-on learning kits for children.

We are proud to have Noyce as a featured author this April at the USA Science & Engineering Festival and Book Fair hosted by Lockheed Martin (the nation's largest celebration of science and engineering). Below, she shares five ways that parents can keep kids interested and motivated in science and engineering discovery:

1. Read great science books together -- fiction and non-fiction. Better yet, start a parent-child science book and activities club. Read about a topic and explore it further through experiments. This is the idea behind Tumblehome Learning -- great science stories coupled with hands-on exploration.

2. Visit as many museums, aquaria, and zoos as possible. Public libraries often provide patrons with free admissions tickets. Look for museum classes and opportunities for kids to become peer "explainers."

3. Create projects together, from birdhouses to burglar alarms. Making real things builds physical intuition, 3D perception, and confidence. A five-year-old girl who knows a flat-head from a Phillips-head screwdriver will dare to imagine a career in engineering.

4. Research summer programs or college outreach days. Better yet, let the kids do the research. The more their autonomy, the deeper their commitment.

5. Become a family of citizen scientists. Explore "Citizen Science" on the Web and join a project on anything from bird migration to protein folding to tracking invasive species. Your kids can experience the authentic excitement of contributing to the march of scientific knowledge.

The USA Science & Engineering Festival, with its exciting hands-on approach to inspiring kids in technology and innovation, will be encapsulating key elements of Noyce's timely advice this spring.

A truly world-class event, the Festival -- known widely for its unforgettable array of technology, innovators, science celebrities, Nobel Laureates, its nationwide satellite events, as well as amazing interactive exhibits and stage shows -- has rapidly evolved into a must-attend gathering for families and others.

The month-long Festival culminates the weekend of April 28-29 with a massive Expo celebration in Washington, DC, replete with over 2,500 interactive exhibits and more than 150 live performances by science celebrities, space explorers, best-selling authors, innovative entrepreneurs and world-renowned experts.

A virtual playground of learning and discovery for kids, the Expo adroitly integrates science and engineering in so many interesting ways that they are sure to inspire parents with "citizen scientists" ideas to explore with their kids at home. What's more, the event is free!

Here are just a few examples of the excitement that awaits families at the Festival Expo:

Meet Science Celebrities: Well-known personalities such as these will be on hand to help science come alive: Bill Nye the Science Guy; real-life neuroscientist Mayim Bialik who stars in the hit TV comedy The Big Bang Theory; Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of the MythBusters; Jeff Lieberman, host of Discovery Channel's Time Warp, and science-of-illusion maestro Apollo Robbins.

Award-Winning Authors: In addition to Pendred Noyce, meet and hear prominent and inspiring science authors such as: Homer Hickam, autobiographer of Rocket Boys (the book that formed the basis of the Hollywood movie October Sky); nationally-acclaimed children's science book writers Seymour Simon and Joy Hakim, and science fiction writer Robin Cook.

Tinkerers and Inventors: From demonstrations by MakerBot Industries, Fab Lab DC and others at the Expo (and at the partnering Robot Fest and DIY Pavilion), you'll see and experience the amazing technology that is spurring the DIY, or Do It Yourself, movement. This movement is making inventing easier and more cost effective for the average person, and inspiring future engineers!

Space Heroes and Heroines: Be inspired by such role models as: John Mace Grunsfeld, Ph.D., a five-time Space Shuttle astronaut; electrical engineer Anousheh Ansari, who in 2006 became the first female private space explorer, and legendary computer video game innovator Richard Garriott who became the sixth private citizen to journey into Earth's orbit.

Cutting-Edge Scientists and Engineers: Learn from leading scientists and engineers at the Expo's Career Pavilion about the joys and challenges of their work and the preparation needed. The Pavilion will also give students the chance to investigate these careers on their own as well as colleges, scholarships, internships, mentorships and after-school programs available.

Innovative Entrepreneurs: These are just some of the exciting entrepreneurs you'll meet who are changing the course of technology: Elon Musk, creator of rocket manufacturer SpaceX and co-founder of Pay Pal (the world's largest internet payment system), and George Whitesides, CEO and president of Virgin Galactic, the pioneering U.S.-based space tourism company.

Myriad Stage Performances and Exhibits: And from exciting presentations in music, magic and illusion, comedy, Hollywood movies, comic book superheroes, robotics and other frontiers, you'll discover that science is truly all around us.

It's true: Inspiring the next generation of innovators, as well as future "science citizens," depends as much on what happens outside the classroom with parents as it does inside our schools with teachers.

Join us at the Festival for an unforgettable family experience in science and technology! For more information, visit our website here.

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I agree. That's why I created

To get kids doing science, it's essential that you make it easy for parents and show them that science doesn't have to be complicated or expensive.

If you can spark a child's interest in the world around them, you've won half the battle!

I definitely agree. I also think that STEM-based camps such as the National Flight Academy's week long "AIR" program in Pensacola, FL is a great opportunity to inspire our students' passion for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education. The week long program teaches students STEM principles in an immersive environment using state of the art simulators and role play. You can go to for more information on how to enroll. Keep up the good work! 

You too Ashley! Thanks for the comment and best of luck!

By Carly O'Brien (not verified) on 05 Mar 2012 #permalink

Thanks for the comment Liz and your website looks amazing!

By Carly O'Brien (not verified) on 05 Mar 2012 #permalink