Where is Our Albert Einstein?

Take a look at the world in 2010, it’s aching; job losses continue to climb, consumer confidence is low, and fears of a depression are no longer the stuff of political commentators, but part of lunch room conversation. Do you ever wonder why the price of a DVD player is easily under $100 or why one can acquire a fairly decent computer for under $300? The reason is that we have ceased being innovators and have largely become consumers. Youth and I dare say many adults have adopted a mind-set based solely on acquisition with out effort. Our technology is outdated and only improved by software design and memory modifications. We, like Sir Isaac Newton, are “standing on the shoulders of giants” but unlike Newton, we are about to fall off. 

There is hope and it’s not in any government bailout or restructuring program; it’s in our youth and in the Science Fairs that should be going on in all schools. These are unique vehicles that allow for the purest expression of innovation to occur. I am not suggesting that anyone is going to event the next great product, but you never know? Children are naturally inquisitive and are full of wonder especially in such a dynamic field as Science. Just ask the folks down at the Ontario Science Centre or which top grossing films of all time are Science related. 13 of 30 are. In fact one, Jurassic Park, even contains Science lessons. 

The Ontario Curriculum’s Science and Technology sections 2.1 to 2.7, openly call for “developing investigation and communications skills.” From building models to circuits and the conducting of experiments with proper scientific notation and process; the province’s design for Science and learning is sound. |Boards and their constituent schools should re-examine the restoration of competitive Science Fairs with some adjustments for self-esteem and younger students. Competition is an aspect of learning some educators have shied away from. However, for boys, this could not have been a worse decision. If young men feel nothing is at stake, then their sense of effort and innovation will decline. Junior school students, from SK to Grade 3, should be encouraged to simply present a project and become accustomed to communicating their ideas to others. The intermediate to senior students can be grouped into comparative groups with awards for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and honourable mention as well as an award for creativity and innovation. It is truly remarkable as to what can appear if students believe it matters and it will distinguish them amongst their peers. One need only examine the rise in robotic competitions and kit sales. This is real competition, not the artificial gimmick found in video games. 

Teachers will often tell you that they have seem some truly beautiful, outstanding, and utterly creative projects submitted by students, but done by parents. It is at this point where two of the most contentious issues of the Science Fair can be dealt with: the last minute surprise, which usually begins with, “Mom, guess what Monday is?” And the authorship question. If educators reconstruct the Science Fair into small phases and have the students do the entire project during class time, the fair will truly become equitable, the tension on the home front will diminish considerably, and students will use their own imagination and abilities to create a project, which can truly be assessed for learning. Schools will discover that far more parents will be interested in attending the Science Fair, students will be enthusiastic, and the cliché projects of the volcano, the lemon generator, and the household cleaner comparisons will fade into memory-maybe. Tim O’Reilly president of O’Reilly Media recently commented that persons of our time are asking themselves two significant questions: Where is our Albert Einstein? Why are we not working on the researching the real stuff? Start looking at your local Science Fair.

About the Author: Manfred J. von Vulte is the Director of Development and Vice Principal of Northmount Independent Boys Catholic Elementary School in Toronto. He is the published author of two books (history and children's) and numerous articles in various publications. His interests include writing about education as it pertains to students, family life, and improving their experience with learning. He has been teaching for eleven years and resides in Toronto. He is a graduate of Francis Libermann Catholic High and York University. Visit his website at www.northmount.com.

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