Episode 17 – Sir Harold Kroto on Science Education

Sir Harold Kroto

Sir Harold Kroto

To open our second season, we talked with Sir Harold Kroto. Kroto won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996 (along with Curl and Smalley) for the discovery of fullerenes. He talks to us about a loss of hands-on experiences in our world, how to reform science education, and offers a new resource for science (and other) educators.


This episode is sponsored by Frey Scientific

This episode is sponsored by Frey Scientific

Preview from the Show:

Kroto: I think it’s clear that science education is not in great shape. If we look at the way in which the number of kids going in to science has not increased sufficiently, and we have massive technical problems to solve for survival and sustainability, and so we have to use all the tools at our disposal. And the new one, the internet, which has hardly started, and it seems to me that one way of using it effectively, would be to create a global cache of educational materials that teachers anywhere in the world can actually download.

Kroto: Our world is now full of technology which is almost impossible to get your hands on, or if you want to understand it, it’s very difficult for young kids to understand it…. I think people haven’t fully appreciated that my generation, and generations before, learned how the world worked by breaking it up and taking it to pieces and trying to put it back together again.

Dale: What advice do you have for [science teachers] to reform, or jumpstart science education?

Kroto: Well, it’s a massive problem, because it’s not just the teachers, it’s what the kids do themselves. I don’t know how to solve it really, because the world in which I was immersed was the world in which I was immersed, and it was a hands-on one. When the telephone didn’t work, I went inside it – and the bell wasn’t running or something…. But now if the television set doesn’t work – it’s obsolete. That presents a massive problem for the science teacher, and engineering and technology teachers. It needs really development of hands-on skills. And the problem is that modern kids are so subjected to immediate gratification, they don’t have the patience to go through rigmarole that I did.

Kroto: We’re now in a highly technical world, with many people in influential positions – in politics, in law, in journalism – who know nothing whatsoever about science. And yet, they’re making decisions on science, they’re talking about science, they don’t understand science. All they know about science is what is the use of it? They are not interested in the culture itself. They don’t go to a poet and ask “what’s the use of your poetry?” They don’t go to a writer and ask “what’s the use of it?” They can see, because they’re used to that culture, and see the essence of Shakespeare, or whatever the language. In our case, on average, people who are non-scientists just look at the scientific progression as a bunch of people who produce some useful technology. But they don’t think of us as a culture, which is what we are. And in fact, I would say, one of the most important cultures, because we are based on a very important philosophy, which is doubt, and to question everything, and to not accept dogma unjustified by experiment.

Brian: You are actually starting a new tool that is going to try to help teachers get a little bit firmer foundation on what they’re doing, and give them some resources. Could you tell us a little bit about that before you go?

Kroto: The new technology out there allows us to see a person teaching, together with the teaching material. And so what we are doing, in Florida State, is setting up what we call GEOSET – Global Education Outreach for Science, Engineering and Technology. And math as well, and other things… so it’s not just restricted to the sciences. There are two screens, one with the video, so it’s like YouTube, and the second screen is almost like Wikipedia, but it’s downloadable. In fact, PowerPoint is what most presenters use.

Direct download: LOL17.mp3

One comment

  • IMIQ

    Technology is working against itself. Everyone is so focusedon the application or the gadget and how it can be commercialized for profit. Kids a dumbed down with electronics and don’t have the backend parental support to want to learn “why” something works. I find it interesting that the statement in the above article is so true, that you can’t really take anything apart anymore and figure out how it works. Everything is composed of a disposable circuit board that is simply replaced.

    Schools think they have to have computer labs to teach. What happened to books? There is no joy in learning in the classroom. There is far to much emphasis on results and on grades. So if a student doesn’t understand somrthing on a conceptual level it’s okay if they understand it on a rote level to get the grade.

    Finally Traditional Public High Schools have got to change the way they teach. Let Kids opt out in the 10th grade and go to technical school or art school or ? It’s time for a pre college cirriculum that allows students to gain a skill set that promotes real qualitative thinking and not just memorization for grades.