I’ll start by admitting I am a total space geek—I have to be, I am an astronomer! So even though I don’t really play Angry Birds, I knew yesterday was the day Angry Birds Space would be released. NASA has teamed up with Angry Birds for this edition—there have been lots of teasers for the past few weeks. And just last week, an astronaut on the space station demonstrated how slingshots would work in zero gravity and what to think about when flinging those birds at the little piggies.
So it’s finally out and it’s pretty cool. I have to say that in addition to the pure fun that Angry Birds can be, they get the physics right a lot of the time. I am not sure how many kids are thinking about the physics of it all when lining up their shots, but I hope some are. The space version even has wormholes in it that pullyou into an alternate reality. We don’t really know if there are alternate universes, but it is definitely fun to think of the possibilities.
But it got me thinking—we try so hard to get kids excited about space and STEM fields in general. Most of our attention is focused on getting kids interested and excited. But a lot of kids already are fascinated and interested—what we need to do is not kill that interest and ensure they stay fascinated.
I studied science because I found it to be so much fun—to solve the Universe’s mysteries, to figure things out, to see the beauty in math and use it as a tool to do the physics. We don’t often talk about how creative an endeavor science really is—you have to be very imaginative and creative to think of ways to design experiments and solve problems, to build the tools you will need and so on. We also don’t talk nearly enough about just how much fun this is to do. We talk in terms of economic imperatives, of how we can use it to serve society, of beating back the international competition, etc. We need to talk more about how much fun STEM careers can be and how personally rewarding they are.
This is something that fits really well with afterschool programs—they have to be fun otherwise the kids won’t come back. The youth development context of afterschool programs is vital for children to develop a STEM learner identity and deepen their engagement in STEM learning. Everyone, including children, wants to do something that is personally rewarding as well as meaningful to the larger world. Afterschool offers a perfect strategy to show the value of STEM fields to kids on many different levels.