Letters to a pre-scientist, part 1

Macon Lowman teaches 6th grade science in eastern North Carolina (my very own home state). She began working for Teach for America this year, and she has has big plans for teaching her students what science is all about. I’ll let her explain:

I’m working with kids from extremely low-income areas, who consider completing high school a stretch, let alone college. Most of my students have never been out of the state of NC (or even their small town of Windsor). They have no connections to adults/mentors that are working in science fields, and very few people have pushed them to believe that they are capable of some of the huge and amazing goals they have for themselves.

I feel like middle school is such a unique time; they still truly believe they can do anything, and hearing what they want to do to improve the world is inspiring. I want to foster their big goals and encourage them to work hard. I believe having mentors and seeing the great opportunities that are available to them through science is a huge component of strengthening their desire for education.

Are you inspired yet? Part of Macon’s curriculum for this year is to have her students pair up with scientists as pen pals. She has over 50 volunteers across the country to correspond with her students. I have two pen pals, Jason and Dominique. You can read the first letter I wrote to Jason here, and I will post the rest of our letters through out the school year.

One of Macon's classes, showing off the cookies they made with solar-powered ovens.

My plan for these letters is to give the students an idea of what I like and what I do, rather than pushing a blatant “you should study science” agenda. I hope that by the end of the year, a picture will emerge in their minds of a scientists as real, approachable people. Maybe that could lead to picturing themselves as scientists someday (thus the title of this series). Or maybe they will just become voters and tax-payers who support science and value its contribution to society.

I wasn’t thinking of my 6th grade science fair project when I sat down to write the letter. In fact, I probably haven’t thought of it in 10 years. But when I put myself back in their shoes, trying to remember how I looked at the world, those first attempts at creative scientific thinking stand out to me. Thanks to the encouragement from my own mentors, I was primed to see science as a realistic and fruitful pursuit. Now it’s time for me to repay the favor.