So I composed some of my thoughts today for an article my college is writing about David Philipp and me. (We're both Lafayette College alum and are now the Chief Scientist (and SP'10 parent) and Research Coordinator for the CEI/IS programs, respectively.) I was rolling through the questions when I hit an interesting one near the end. It seemed like good fodder to share with y'all, too. 8. Why do you believe it's important to expose high school students to this type of scientific research?
Oh boy, this is a big question that I will try to answer succinctly.
High school is a really interesting time in an American student’s life. In a strictly biological sense, they are fully developed adults. They are physically capable of creating life and their brains have essentially developed to its potential. But emotionally and intellectually, our society demands much more than they are typically ready to handle. So they are not social adults, nor do they possess the requisite technical skills and body of knowledge to enter the workforce. In most high school settings, however, there is very little attention paid to nurturing these skills that will be directly applicable to the lives they are preparing for. Instead, the focus of most high school programs centers on the acquisition of knowledge—content—with a marked absence of opportunities to learn the skills—critical thinking, judgment, communication, and creativity—they will need to apply that knowledge in real-world contexts.
So exposing students to authentic research endeavors, replete with the difficulties of making decisions that will yield unknown consequences, the challenges of group collaboration, and the dissonance created by unexpected results, is one way of creating opportunities for students to learn these skills through first-hand experience. A suitable parallel is an apprenticeship. The ultimate goal is not to produce the next generation of research scientists, but to equip young adults with an array of skills that will serve them well regardless of the direction their lifecourses take.