Tag Archives: education

Teaching Children Science

9 Jul

Catching up on my podcasts this morning, I listened to a really interesting episode of Skeptically Speaking: #169 Play Reality. While the first part of the episode about gaming was interesting, the second part featuring a panel of children at LogiCON 2012 speaking about their interest in science really got me thinking.

I think the core ideas I took away from this interview come from these few excerpts:

Desiree:  ” …has there ever been a time that an adult tried to encourage you to become involved in science in a way that was spectacularly unsuccessful?”

Evin: “…they tell us these things, but they don’t tell us why these things are happening…They told us the information we should know, but not like why we should know the information”

Evin: “…everybody in the class as early as kindergarten and grade one, we all had this common interest for science but we all mostly like to look at sort of space and aerodynamics, but we didn’t actually get those units until grade five. I think it would have catapulted all of us even higher if they had just done that.”

Desiree: “…do you think that the other kids would have thought the same thing or do you think it just would have helped the people that were already sort of going that direction anyway?”

Evin:  “…when I was younger, my teachers all most scared me away from science. They sort of say it’s all complicated and that kind of thing, but once you sort of get a basic level of understanding, it just continues, it excels…”

Here’s what I hear this kid saying:

“We are interested in science now and ready for you to teach us now, not later when we’re older. Don’t assume we can’t understand it and discourage us by saying it’s too complicated. Capture our imagination now, don’t wait until later, it may be too late! And when you do teach us please don’t turn it into dry and boring facts.”

Since these children were attending Logicon, their interest in science may be the exception rather than the rule, but Evin’s statements make me wonder if these kids really have to be the exception. The big question is: what can we as parents, as family, as teachers, as role models, and finally as skeptics do to capture children’s imaginations early and to kindle their interest in science rather than extinguish it?

Education: Ur Doin It Wrong

30 Apr
Author: Benjamen Johnson

by Benjamen Johnson

This week my daughter receives her first communion. I’m not really pleased about her being exposed to the Catholic church, but that’s a rant for a different time. What it did get me thinking about is how Catholics celebrate the sacrament. The 2nd graders prepare for a whole year, learning about the event which eventually culminates in a special mass where the children are the center of attention. They dress in fancy clothes…especially the girls who wear elaborate white dresses purchased specifically for the occasion. Their families and friends attend the special mass then, most of the time, everybody has a big party afterwards with cake and sometimes presents.

Does the description above sound like Catholics hold the first communion as an important achievement? It sure does to me. Now, how about birthdays? Do most people place undue importance on an arbitrary day that fall the same time every year? Party, cake, presents, friends…yep. Now contrast this with something we skeptics hold important: education.

A few weeks from now, my daughter will have her reading hall of fame ceremony at school. The children who have read 400 minutes on their own for at least eight months of the school year get to participate. Now that’s over 53 hours of reading over the course of the school year, a pretty big commitment and a huge accomplishment for a 2nd grader. Considering that how much a child reads is an important indicator on how well they’ll do in school, this is important, right? The school does try their best, they have an evening ceremony in the school gym where they receive medals. Most of the children and parents are dressed in their everyday clothes if they even bothered to attend. I’ve never heard of anyone having a party afterward.

My point is with these celebrations we are showing our children what we value. My wife and I  place a high value on our children’s education, but as parents my wife and I aren’t showing this to our daughter. Imagine what you’d be saying to your kid about how important reading is, not to mention other kids and their parents, by having a very special ceremony and a giant party afterward with all their friends, cake, and presents. Isn’t this worth rewarding? Unfortunately I wonder how many people in my family would show up for such an event.

We’re stuck with the first communion and party this week, so we aren’t going to throw a party for my daughter’s reading hall of fame induction, but I am definitely going to do something special with her that week and make sure she knows why.

Skeptics Guide to Surviving Religious Education

14 Jul

by Benjamen Johnson

I remember suffering through many years of religious education while I was a child. My mother was Catholic and that’s how she was going to raise me and my sister despite the fact I hadn’t believed in God since first grade. So I was sent to religious education every Wednesday night. I used to dread it; I hated learning about things that I knew were fairy tales.  I also felt really uncomfortable in class because I knew I was an outsider.

Of course I had to go and marry a Catholic. So my children starting religious education is non-negotiable. But I can give them some of the benefit of my 3+ decades of living as an atheist and skeptic. So if you’re skeptical of what you are being taught in religious education or religious private school, or even an non-believer who loves a believer and has to go through marriage classes, maybe these tips will help you get through the experience.

Learn, Learn, Learn…

Instead of feeling frustrated, look at the experience as an opportunity to learn, much of our culture and history is based on religion. For example many common phrases like, “a land flowing with milk and honey” and “an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth” are taken from the bible [1].

Furthermore, it always helps to know your opponent. Being a non-believer in a world of believers isn’t easy. Someday you’ll have to defend yourself. If you already know your opponent’s side of the argument, you’ll be able to stand your ground. I’d lay odds they won’t understand a skeptic or an atheist.

Ask Questions

If you don’t understand something, chances are the other students  or even the teacher don’t either.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, just don’t be a jerk about it. Your goal isn’t to badger the teacher about some point of inconsistency, but to actually make the teacher think about what they are teaching instead of blindly following a syllabus. It’s doubtful that you’ll sway the teacher much, but you might wake up some of your bored classmates and get them thinking.

Talk to Your Fellow Students

Don’t just sit through class and leave, get to know your fellow students. Many of them are probably having the same doubts you are. Even if they are dyed-in-the-wool believers that doesn’t mean that you can’t be friends. Regardless of their beliefs, a class taken with friends is a lot more fun then one taken alone.


1.) Dawkins, Richard. (2006). Childhood Abuse and Religion. The GOD Delusion. (pp. 340-344). New York: Houghton Mifflin Company