Inspiring our Children

Being at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival on opening day was a hoot.  I got to talk to a whole bunch of folks.  In terms of mass media it was probably not that many, but this was two way conversation and I certainly talked to as many as I could in the 5 or so hours the festival went on. 

The most fun is talking to the school children.  Many families are here for vacations and some of these kids seem to be suffering from museum-itis.  Too much to see, too many things to do.  But almost all of them had questions about living and working in space.  I think you can guess the most popular question . . .

My question back to many of them is “Do you want to go to space?”  Some of the shy little ones wouldn’t answer, a few of the more cautious ones said no, but the vast majority got wide eyed and nodded with enthusiasm.  If they said they wanted to go, I passed them a NASA bookmark and told them to read . . . because that is the key.  The parents invariably said ‘My child loves to read’.  or something like that.

Wow, what a response.  Of course, what we really need to do is to reach those kiddos who don’t like to read, or whose parents don’t drag them off to educational trips.  Talking with the education folks at NASA HQ and other centers, the space agency does a tremendous job on a shoe string budget at all levels of the educational world to provide educational opportunities, lessons, teacher resources, and unique experiences for students from pre-school to graduate school.  Over 60,000 students each year get to directly interact with NASA educational opportunities. 

Educating our children starts with capturing their interest and getting them excited.  We have a good track record of inspiring young people to study harder and get the education they need to be productive in science and engineering fields.  That inspiration is worth its weight in gold!

Gotta go — more fun on the mall this afternoon.  If you can get to the Folk Life Festival in Washington in the next two weeks, be sure to stop by the NASA exhibit.




16 thoughts on “Inspiring our Children”

  1. Your blog is right on target!

    As an educator, I’ve found that nothing gets kids more motivated about learning science and improving their studies than space adventure. I’ve also learned that if we want to have more support among the public for space programs, it’s important to get them excited as kids and help them develop a positive attitude towards the role space exploration plays in our lives. They may be kids now, but they will become voters!

    NASA has done a tremendous effort in supporting science education. Thanks to support from former astronauts, NASA supporters and the interest the public generated following the Challenger disaster, we were able to build the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center here in Utah in 1990, where I currently serve as Assistant Director. You can see how enthusiastic kids are about space in the Photo Gallery, here:

    I haven’t been there for a while, but I have very fond memories of visiting the Air & Space Museum. Wish I could be there today!

  2. When I worked at JSC, outreach was one of my favorite things to do. I loved the satisfaction I got from answering the students’ endless questions, and teaching them tidbits about space and NASA that they’d never even thought about. Not only did it excite them, but it always managed to re-inspire me, as well. If there is one thing we can’t stop doing, it’s that — tapping into the curiosity and intelligence of our nation’s (and the world’s) children. Here’s to the Next Generation of Explorers.

  3. Wayne, isn’t it a little bit deceptive to let these kids think they have a chance to get into space via NASA? NASA already has more astronauts than it needs, many of whom will never get the chance to go into space at all. Those kids have better odds of winning the lottery and buying their own ticket from a commercial spaceflight provider ten or twenty years down the road.

  4. Wayne and Ray from Houston: Although inspiring youngsters to pursue scientific and engineering careers is a necessary prerequisite to further progress, and must be supported vigorously, I’m equally concerned with how to reduce the level of scientific illiteracy among the general public. For example, an alterego of mine, “whabbear”, often blogs on scientific issues to a couple of online communities, composed primarily of a random sample of middle-aged females, none scientists or engineers. Last week, I drew their attention to the interesting approach being taken by the SETI folks, to focus preliminary searches for signals on regions of the sky in line with the ecliptic. Most of you probably read about this; the reasoning was that if ET’s exist in those particular regions, they could have detected the presence of Earth through the transit method, and perhaps aimed a message our way.

    That was pretty nifty, I thought, and well worth blogging about. But much to my disappointed astonishment, the most common response to the blog was: Fear. Obviously influenced by a steady diet of “Independence Day”, “Signs”, and like, and with no true understanding of speed of light limitations and interstellar distances, they worried that these SETI efforts amounted to playing with fire.

    Talk about our demon-haunted world! Their responses scared me!

  5. Preaching to the choir…

    Kids tend to be interested in the same things their same-gender parents are interested in…fathers go fishing and hunting with their sons, while daughters learn domestic arts from their mothers.

    If the kids see Dad and Mom watching every Shuttle launch, keeping track of the missions, and watching every landing, the kids will learn that it’s important because Mom and Dad think that it’s important.

    Wayne, you mentioned in a prior thread that you grew up reading books about frontier life…I grew up reading Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and every book about science I could get my hands on. I do not recall ever not knowing how to read, as my sister taught me when I was four or so. I would read my science books cover-to-cover during the first week of school!

    Everyone who reads this believes that space, and science in general, is important. By our actions, we show our children and grandchildren that it’s important to us, and just like learning to hunt or fish, they’ll learn about space and science from us.

    Don’t be surprised if you overpower their school’s science teachers…I did that, and wound up giving a presentation to my son’s eighth-grade class. The “critic’s review”?

    “Your father is amazing!”

  6. Wayne,

    I couldn’t agree more with you that we need to make a much more concerted effort to inspire todays children to become more interested in science and technology. I recently graduated from a public high school in Texas and I think one of the most upsetting things I encountered was not that kids today “just don’t care” or have become “dumber” thanks to TV, video games, and the popular media.

    Rather, I think that in the minds of todays generation, science has a stigma surrounding it that makes kids think you have to be a genius to be a scientist. I’m too young to remember a time when science was “cool”, but in today’s public education system students that are interested and passionate about math and science become “nerds” and get labeled or ostracized by their schoolmates.

    Having the aspiration or motivation to do incredible things in science (like becoming an astronaut or a scientist) doesn’t earn respect in schools, it pretty effectively alienates you from your peers. Then what the school district does with the kids who want to learn is they create special “magnet/GT” programs at special schools and segregate motivated students from the rest, creating further alienation and, speaking as someone who went to an accelerated magnet school, exacerbates the problem. From what I’ve seen, one of the best ways to become motivated is by coming into contact with people with even bigger dreams than yourself, but if we’re removing those kids from the general population, who are they going to look up to?

    Therefore I thank you and NASA for all of your time and wonderful programs that are reaching out to our younger generations…I’d like to hope that someday, in the not so distant future, kids like me who worked hard in school and dreamt big will be the norm, not the exception.

  7. I have found taking my 10 year old daughter for a walk in the woods to talk forestry science (I am a forester) makes a bigger and more positive impression than she ever gets in the classroom.

  8. This post is exactly right. Start inspiring your kids early and you'll keep them excited about their possibilities for the rest of their lives.

    My oldest son (17) excitedly told me yesterday that he has almost everything he needs for a job he found. He said there was “only one thing” he was missing. He said it was asking for someone who had good knowledge of computer hardware and software, strong problem solving skills, etc (a long list of generic traits). He enthusiastically said that those requirements matched him perfectly.

    He then said that the only thing that he needed was a doctorate in particle physics, and then he'd be able to work on the Large Hadron Collider. =D

    I told him that he just got his Eagle Scout rank, which was a 7-year goal and that he just needs to reach a little further and he can hit this 8-year goal.

    It's pretty cool to see a young man without any preconceived self-limitations.

    Thanks for the inspiration to others!

  9. The Smithsonian Folk Life Festival sounds like something my kids would enjoy. They are in the 3rd and 5th grade. My oldest son loves science and dreams of going into space.

    Thank you for taking an interest in the next generation of space leaders! If you have additional information about the festival could you email it to me?

  10. When I was 10 my parents took me to Washington DC to Smithsonian including the space museum. The space museum was my favorite. I still remember later watching the first space shuttles go into space and plan on taking my son to the space museum when he is about the same age. We watched the space shuttle land the other day and it reminded me of how I am looking forward to returning and bet the museum is even better than ever.

  11. The excitement in an astronaut lies in the adventure and experience, and that simply cannot be replicated by other fields, making space travel an obvious example, but also a massive exception.

  12. Really liked your article. If more parents would show interest in there child's growth we would have a lot more enthusiasm in are children's eyes. Space the final frontier. Thanks NASA for showing shuttle launches that are children can learn and watch from. Education Inspiration that is what are children can learn. Go NASA

  13. I really enjoyed reading you. It reminded me of my boy who always used to say “I want to be an astronaut” when he was 5 years old. I'll do everything to help him achieve his goal.

    David Lee,

  14. It's kind of funny how my children do not speak much about going to space. When there is a shuttle going off they always ask to see it, and when they do they really get a kick out of it. Point I do not think they are getting to learn much about space in the class room. I think the school system should get our children more excited about going to space. They do need to learn it there future. Thank you for your story

  15. I can remember as a child looking up to the sky when I was at primary school and trying to figure out where the lunar module was when the moon landing had taken place lol.

    As a parent now I encourage my daughter to watch the news about nasa events, the hubble maintenance just lately was fantastic.

  16. I have to agree that anytime we, as adults, can make a meaningful connection with youth in regards to any of the STEM disciplines, we are doing both ourselves and them a tremendous service. Having worked with inner-city youth in the FIRST program – it’s clear there is no shortage of bright young minds yearning to learn more. Often, those bright minds just need some direction and encouragement!

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