Episode 32 – Neil deGrasse Tyson on Science Literacy


Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson joins Lab Out Loud for our season finale.  Dr. Tyson is an author (most recently The Pluto Files and Death by Black Hole), has been described as the ‘Carl Sagan of the 21st Century’ and named “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive” by PEOPLE magazine, appeared numerous times on The Colbert Report and The Daily Show, stars in the PBS series NOVA Science Now, and is the director of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium.  Dr. Tyson joins us to talk about scientific literacy.

As this is our last episode of the season, we remind you that you can download every episode from the website through the episode page.  And we’ll also be posting items to the blog over the summer, so don’t forget to visit the website, or simply pick up our RSS feed.  As we prepare for our third season (opening mid-September), make sure to give us some feedback.  You can leave any comments, criticisms, suggestions for the show or for future guests by completing the form at www.laboutloud.com/contact/.

Preview from the Show:

The most important feature [of scientific literacy] is an outlook that you bring with you in your daily walk through life. It’s a lens through which you look that affects how you see the world. And the science literacy that can be promoted along those lines shows up in a lot of ways… So science literacy is not the know-it-all who’s fluent in science jargon; science literacy is the person who knows how to question the world around them, and en route to an answer that’s deeper than you would otherwise get.

Research and education has shown that field trips are remembered long into adulthood.  Why?, because you’re experiencing something rather than simply reading it in a book…  To experience something has a far more profound effect on your ability to remember and influence you than if you simply read it in a book.  So why not figure out a way to turn a lesson plan into a living expression of that content.  A living expression, so that sparks can be ignited and flames can be fanned within the students.  And at that point, it doesn’t matter what grade they get on the exam because they are stimulated to want to learn more.  If they didn’t learn all the “A” stuff for that exam, they’re inspired enough to go out and buy a book or spend more time on the documentary that they saw on the Discovery Channel or on PBS.  And there it is.  You’ve cast a learner into the world.  And that’s the most powerful thing you can do as a teacher.

The enthusiastic teacher is fundamental to igniting flames of interest in any student in any subject. So that’s not a special need within the call for science literacy. That’s a need for all teachers in all subjects.

There’s this system that’s in place that promotes the standardized testing, and to get the high score, and the regurgitation of facts, and read these chapters, and these are the key words, and these are the key questions, and you’ll be tested on that. And it’s completely eviscerated the passion that could ignite a flame within student that would then go out and do learning on their own. Because at the end of the day, the student who does not learn on their own is not going to succeed.

If I had a nickel for every parent who said “how do I get my kids interested in science?”, my answer is – get outta their way. They’re born curious. Kids are not superstitious. Kids don’t read their horoscopes. Kids are not doing all the things that adults are doing, who’ve lost their curiosity… So, the adults have to get out of the way. And get out of the way as a minimum. As a maximum, further stimulate curiosity by surrounding kids with things that they can explore on their own. You don’t want to put them in a sterile environment. You want to put them in an environment that attracts their curiosity for how things work.

The flaw in the educational system, as far as I see it, is that you live your life – the teacher and student – in quest of A’s. Yet later in life, the A is irrelevant. So then what is the point of the school system? It’s missing something. It is not identifying to people who actually succeed in life, because they’re not showing up as the straight A’s. So somewhere in there, the educational system needs to reflect on what it takes to succeed in life, and get some of that back into the classroom.

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Direct download: LOL32.mp3