Q&BA: Getting kids into science

By Phil Plait | January 30, 2012 2:24 pm

A few years ago, I started doing a weekly video question-and-answer session I called "Q & BA". It was a series of short videos that were a lot of fun to make. Unfortunately, the overhead got to be too high — it took all day to edit them! — and I had to stop.

But now, Google+ has changed that: Hangouts On Air is a feature that allows me to go on camera and broadcast a live video chat session to an unlimited audience. I take questions via Twitter and G+, and it’s a lot of fun. It lasts about an hour, and I put the whole session on YouTube. But some of the answers stand alone, and it’s easy to extract them out, package ’em up, and post ’em by themselves.

So I’m very pleased to announce I’m starting the series again! The first Q&BA is a great question: "What’s the best way to get kids into science and skepticism?" — what better way to get the series going again? Enjoy.

I’ll be posting more of these, maybe even one per day as time allows. If you like them, please give them a thumbs-up on YouTube, and drop by the Q&BA Hangout when I do them live! I announce them on Twitter and G+, so follow me there and stay up-to-date. Also, I have an archive with links to all the videos. Thanks!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Piece of mind, Q & BA, Science, Skepticism

Comments (16)

  1. Yay! Thanks again for answering my question, and hope to join in on more Q&BA’s in the future.

  2. GP

    Thumbs up for this Phil! :)
    (from a “skeptical” parent of 4 and 6.5 yr old)

  3. Sol

    Even better, I think, than “I don’t know yet” followed by experimentation is to begin by asking the child what they think and helping them come up with hypotheses – that way they learn that questioning their preconceived notions is a good thing. You need to make sure, though, that they don’t feel dumb if they’re hypothesis is wrong, and a good way to do that is to brainstorm along with them.

  4. GuruStu

    Thanks Phil! I am going to be teaching an astronomy class for grade 3 students and this gives me some great tips. I will prepare some questions for them to answer before we do some experiments. We are going to start with the Sun and work our way out to Pluto.

  5. Cindy

    When my daughter was 6 she wanted a science experiment party because she wanted to show off her cool parents (we’re both Ph.D. scientists – Astronomy and Molecular Biology). We just went to her school’s “Science and Discovery” night and I was asking the demonstrators how to do the “elephant toothpaste” at home.

    So we constantly encourage the questions and try to do the experiments when possible.

  6. VinceRN

    I would say that the phrase “science and skepticism” is redundant.

    I think one of the most important things we can do as parents is be able to say “I don’t know, let’s find out”. Encourage them to be curious and join them in finding out.

    Also, never be satisfied with one experiment or source. Find wrong sources and look into why they are wrong.

  7. Cathy

    I was super super super lucky to have the Preview Discovery Center on Fort Gordon, followed up later on by the National Discovery Center in Augusta, GA. The exhibits were almost entirely hands on with demonstrations from volunteers, but we also had a sort of Bill Nye live demonstration area where the audience could participate in a little more hands on stuff. I spent three or four years as a junior volunteer, and actually planned on going into physics as a major (before I had some very bad advice my freshman year and discovered I really don’t like math.)

  8. Maybe not serving scientists as stereotypical, asocial geeks would be a good start? How about presenting them with real people, with real peoples lives (or even better than the typical Joe)?

  9. I was hugely interested in science when I was a kid, but I grew up in a remote small town and it was long before the internet. Our town’s library had exactly one book about astronomy, and the new, controversial discovery mentioned in it was the pulsar. I gave up on the idea of pursuing science. It makes me so happy to see that other kids are being helped to chase their dream.

  10. How much additional overhead would it be to create an MP3 with just the audio from each Q&BA? I love listening to this sort of thing in my car, but I don’t generally have much time to watch videos.

  11. Caleb

    My father encouraged my ciritical thinking by always honestly answering my questions. This often led to discussions about physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, etc. He had no problem answering, “I don’t know.” or “Nobody knows.” But he would always follow those up with, “Here’s how to find out.” or “Here’s my opinion.”. He also drew the distinction between critical thinking and cynical thinking. Critical thinking should lead you to hope or to an idea of what positive action you can take. It is an enabling process. Cynical thinking removes hope or leads to negativity. Cynical thinking is a disabling process. Often people confuse the two since they start off similar. But they lead you in opposite directions.

    I’ve tried to do the same with my kids. My wife and I bought them a microscope for Christmas and have encouraged them to find random things (leafs, grass, dirt, rocks, salt, sugar, crumbs, legos, paper, etc.) and look at them under the microscope. It’s awesome to see their eyes light up as they discover an entirely new world they never knew about.

    We’ve also found that our kids are naturally interested in different things. My son likes astronomy (probably my doing) so I’ve shown him the “Ask an Astronomer” series and other space-related videos/series. My daughter is interested in how things were made so, unsurprisingly, we show her the TV series “How it’s Made”. She loves it.

    I think the key is to recognize what your/a kid is interested in and give them the tools to more fully explore their interests. While at the same time making sure they learn how to have a strong positive perspective on life. Those are life skills that are invaluable.

  12. SkyGazer

    Some kids manage pretty fine with science&tech…
    The even got a Lego-man (almost) into space!
    More info on that:

  13. US national monies devoted to Gifted children are less than 0.1% of those devoted to cripples, genetic misadventures, teratology, behavioral disasters, the overall Officially Sad, and the outright stupid. Diversity! Rather than foster brilliance, we massively allocate for its suppression. What BS/STEM is not university surcharged? Suckers.

    May you receive the future you purchase, plus shipping charges.

    One would need be daft to have descendents study boat rowing rather than captaining it, or sending it to war, or confiscating alms for mourning (and reimbursed process expenses). It is a choice between incompetent fascists, corporatists, and double-digit IQ christ-besotted jackasses against puerile bleeding heart Liberals, welfare pimps, Enviro-whiners, feminazis, Queer Nation, and -0.25% interest $trillion Bernanke Bucks. Vote “no” not “more.”

  14. Peter Davey

    The Japanese/American scientist, Michio Kaku, in his recent book, “Physics of the Future”, mentiions the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Dr Lee Kwan Yew, who, at a conference Professor Kaku was attending, referred to a policy he – Lee Kwan Yew – had inaugarated during his time in office, calling on teachers to point out gifted children for special tuition.

    I wonder how well that would go down in the “anti-elitist” West?


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