Vicki Cobb is on vacation. As part of our summer repeat series, please enjoy her post on turning kids on to science originally posted last April.
One of the high points of my school visit assembly programs is when I challenge kids to a bet they can’t do. I hold up a ten dollar bill and say, “I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. Who’s my first victim?” A forest of hands shoots up with a pressing forward of small eager bodies. Everyone, it seems, wants the opportunity to fail!
Apparently, a dare is irresistible. I have also noticed, it my travels, that if you tell kids something is easy, they tune out. If you tell them it’s difficult or impossible, they pay attention. After one kid fails to pick up the ten dollar bill from the floor and another, who’s squatting around a broomstick can’t pick up a handkerchief with his teeth, I say, “I don’t give the fun away for nothing. You have to learn the scientific reason why these things can’t be done.
I’m not going to kid you, science is very hard. You have to get ideas in a sequence. If you can’t answer my first question, then my second, and then the third, you’re going to be lost at the payoff. You really have to pay attention” Then I disingenuously say, “ Do you think you can do this?” A chorus of yeses is the response.
The challenge to learn something difficult is also apparently irresistible. I then proceed to a quick, interactive lesson on gravity and the stability of objects. Kathy Darling and I stumbled on this format of presenting challenges and dares to kids in our first book together, Bet You Can’t! Science Impossibilities to Fool You. We assembled a collection of “bar” bets, and quick scientific tricks and presented them as stunts that sounded easy to do but were truly impossible for scientific reasons. A lot of the activities were nothing new, they had been published in many collections of science activities for kids. What was new was our presentation. Much to our surprise, the book was named Best Science Book of the Year by the New York Academy of Sciences. It went on to become a best-seller and a classic.
We wrote four more collections and they are all being published in spring of 2008, revised and updated and augmented in a huge single volume We Dare You! Hundreds of Fun Science Bets, Challenges, and Experiments You Can Do at Home (Skyhorse Publishing).
I have long thought that it would be fun to make a video tape of kids doing these tricks. Over the years I have tried to get various producers interested. Science is a hard sell! But, at long last, technology has made it possible. Why not invite my readers to use the book as a script and have their parents or their schools videotape them having fun with science? I could post them on my website. To get the ball rolling, I began videotaping my own grandchildren. The results are up there for all to see. Take a look: http://www.vickicobb.com/vickisvideos.html
The published results can be used by teachers to motivate students, to introduce topics, to reach the reluctant readers. This is a unique educational opportunity—combining a book with an invitation to participate in a mammoth video project—a "You Tube" with a mission. Everyone wants to be in show business and now, here’s a natural forum to combine being on stage with learning science. I’m betting that if this project takes off, it will turn a lot of kids on to the marvelous intellectual challenge that is behind what makes scientists love science.