Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Science, Making NASA real, part 1

Science, Making NASA real, part 1
When I was a child, and yes, I’m showing my age, the big news in science was the race to the moon. For children of that era, the Moon was the unattainable, and yet it was the dream of an entire country. Our president at the time, John F. Kennedy had laid a challenge before the American people, “…I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” He gave the speech on September 12, 1962.

For those of us who were children then, the race to the moon became a focal point. Our parents ensured that every portion of the manned space flight program that was televised was a family event, we all stopped whatever we were doing and gathered around the television set. We were allowed to stay up late the night in July of 1969 when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon at the Sea of Tranquility. It was eight years, one month and twenty six days after Kennedy spoke to Congress, and presented the Congress and the American people with achieving one of the most monumental scientific milestones in the history of mankind.

For us, space, exploration, and NASA were all very real.

Even in the last 30 years of the 20th century space technology was real in the form of space shuttle missions, and the singular tragedy of the explosion of The Challenger in January of 1986. February 2003 brought the space program into focus again with the disintegration of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

Our children in fifth grade were young in 2003, certainly before the age of an ability to follow what was going on with the space program. For our children, there is no seminal mission regarding the space program. Indeed, it even looks like there will be no mission at all. The journey to revisit the Moon has been cancelled, the journey to Mars is still out of reach. For our children, the space program appears old, tired, and approaching extinction. It is important to remember that even if we are not “exploring strange new worlds” the space program still produces scientific break throughs that are important in our every day lives. And because of that, if no other reason, it is important to make NASA and space important and real to our children. Generating interest in science with our fifth graders now means we may be planting the seed that will lead to a harvest of research and innovation as our children become adults.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Safety, part 2

Safety, part 2

Remember that one of the benchmarks for fifth graders is increased independence. And we have been fostering that independence. One of the problems we face at this age is that the children are out of arm’s reach. We don’t want them to hang on our arms or hold our hands, yet we do not want them out of our sight either. The child, on the other hand, is spreading his or her wings. Sometimes children become over confident in their ability to handle situations with strangers. The children often believe they are too big to be abducted, or too strong to be abused. Without making them afraid they must be reminded that they are never too big, or too strong.

Sometimes it is possible to strike a balance between allowing the child some autonomy and providing for his or her safety by reminding them that that it is always alright to say, “NO”!

For years we have been drilling into our children to be polite, and to respect adults. But it is not alright for an adult to be inappropriate or even to make the child uncomfortable. Encourage your child to listen to their inner voice, the one that tells them something is not right. Children are perceptive, and because they are often still seeing the world in black and white, you can use this to your advantage in this learning situation. Encourage your child to report to you if they encounter a situation that doesn’t feel right. Accept that they may think or feel that something is not right, even if in the end the situation was not a dangerous one.

One other place that your need to make sure your “tween” is safe is on the internet. As your fifth grader gains reading and spelling abilities, they are more capable of accessing the internet; which make internet safety for kids that much more important. Often, online games feature chat, and though the game may be intended for children, tweens, or teens, not everyone who plays those games fit into one of those categories. It is important to remind your child that giving out personal information, including name, address, phone number, and email address is not acceptable. Remembering the “black and white” way that this age child often sees the world, it is important to remind them that not everyone they encounter on the internet is who or what they pretend to be.

In the end, if you have instructed your child regarding safety with strangers and on the internet you have armed them with the tools they need to keep themselves safer. If you tell your child what you need them to know, and then ask them what they understood, make sure that what you said and what they heard match up. Reassure them and in the process ease your own concern. Remind them that you just want them to be safe and that you love them.