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Real World, Real Science

I’m writing from the National Science Teachers Association meeting in Los Angeles. A few minutes ago I saw Bill Nye signing his new book, which was a funny coincidence, since I’d just read a great interview of him during my plane trip from Monterey to LA. He was asked how we get more Americans invested in science, and here was his reply:

Everybody who works in the space program, everybody who works as a geneticist at DuPont or Monsanto, got excited about science before they were 10 years old. Everybody who’s a scientist today was a scientist as a kid. And it’s 12—it ain’t 17 or 19! As we say in the National Science Teachers Association, we want science every day in every grade, including preschool. If you’re a teacher and you want to get kids excited, do some science demonstrations in class and you’ll have everybody with you.

I love his passion about engaging kids in science. I think that, done right, bringing data into classrooms is bringing science into classrooms; and the earlier we can do that in a student’s career, the better.

At ODI, we’ve been working intensively on our NASA-funded Real World, Real Science (RWRS) project. The RWRS project will use NASA data with 5th and 6th grade students in Maine, as well as visitors to our science center partners, to explore weather and climate, and its effects on society. These programs will launch in fall of 2018. ODI’s role in this is to help shape the ways these kids will interact with data as part of their learning experience, as well as to develop classroom materials and activities, and to carry out research on all of it to learn as much as we can about what works and what doesn’t.

In the Real World, Real Science program, we will focus on decades of science documenting the Earth’s increasing carbon dioxide and rising temperatures. We will also help the students to explore the observable changes that are happening in their own surroundings – in the Gulf of Maine as well as in their own cities, towns and neighborhoods. We will invite them to think about how these changes affect their lives, now and in the future.

In a recent study, the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that, although a majority of US citizens (70%) believe that global warming is happening, and a smaller majority (53%) understand that it is caused mostly by human activities; only 40% believe that global warming will affect them personally. By focusing students on exploring the changes that are happening in their personal surroundings, we not only enable them to understand these changes in a concrete and tangible way, but also to empower them to think about the real-world consequences they face in their own lives, and the actions they can take address those consequences. This might not only make them better scientists, but also better citizens.


Randy Kochevar, Director
The EDC Oceans of Data Institute

Portrait of Randy Kochevar
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