Student Retention High When Math & Science 'Fun'

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A recent study ranked American 15-year-olds 21st in science and 25th in math compared to peers worldwide.

It's a situation President Obama has called "unacceptable" which is why he is challenging scientists and business leaders to find new ways to engage young people.

Educators at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. are trying to meet the president's challenge this summer.

Science and math educators say getting kids engaged is not just about feel-good activities -- it's about making sure that this next generation is globally competitive.

So what's the best way to teach kids science and math and get them excited about it? It can be as simple as teaching them to make ice cream.

"It's a great way to show kids physical change -- and then they get to eat it at the end of it, which kids love," explained Dr. Jenny Sue Flanagan of the Martison Center for Science and Math at Regent University.

The instructors at the university's new math and science camp make no apologies for letting the kids have fun. It's what they want.

In fact, these educators and many others around the country believe that having kids actually do something is a great way to introduce content -- and make that content stick until it's time for standardized tests.

"The payback is if we want students to do well on the tests at the end of the year, we have to make sure they're getting it throughout the year," Flanagan said.

To achieve that payback, Regent instructors had students conduct a mitten experiment to learn about body heat, design a marshmallow launcher to learn about engineering, and create an explosion with Mentos candy and soda to understand air pressure.

The third, fourth and fifth graders weren't so sure about the camp when they started out, but by the end of the week the results were clear.

"Some kids thought it was going to be really boring and we would wear lab coats and it would be really boring like school. But it's actually a lot of fun," said Claire Morrison, a fifth grader who participated in the class.

Besides all the fun, instructors also tried to teach the art of asking questions -- a must for any good scientist.

They also worked to instill a sense of confidence, a stumbling block for many students who consider themselves incompetent in both math and science.

The end goal is helping students like fourth grader Marzere Richardson to think about their future.

"If I don't make it in football, I'm going to be an engineer. I'm going to try out for an engineer," he said smiling.

For these kids, right now it's about fun and games. But down the road, educators believe that will translate into motivated students and eventually a competitive work force.

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Heather Sells

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