Teaching science through art, literature, or music is the new approach to making the subject fun for kids, says science educator Arthur Eisenkraft

The nemesis of most kids in school is the dreaded subject of science. Just when you begin to start liking the subjects, they decide to stop liking you and hit you over the head with a range of incomprehensible theories and chemical periodicals, species, trigonometry and taxonomy. So how does one make science interesting? According to Arthur Eisenkraft, one of America’s leading science educators, any subject can be made fascinating by engaging the students with whatever they love to do, and using that to teach science to them.

This was the crux of the lecture “Engaging Students in Science with Art, Physics, and Literature” Arthur delivered recently at the Azim Premji University as part of the Public Lecture Series. The director of the Centre of Science and Math in Context (COSMIC) in the University of Massachusetts, Boston, the award-winning teacher, apart from being a part of many science education projects, has been engaging students with various arts, to teach sciences.

Science is philosophy

“Science is nothing but a philosophy. It’s all about asking the question why. It’s relatively easier to connect to a student with arts than science. So I project how one can use literature, art, sports, music, theatre, and technology, among others, to teach science to students,” says Arthur.

The professor, who was in the city last year as well to help out with the University’s work, says, “The science education system needs to rework its approach to students. It is easy to teach science without any interest. But if the student needs to learn, it is through their own interests that a real connection can take place and a passion ignited for science in them.”

Arthur sums up his talk in a nutshell: “My focus is to get students to enjoy every subject they study by pulling out all the stops. If teachers can get them to be interested, engaged and excited any way possible, they will do better. If it’s through art, I’ll give them some art. If it’s literature, I’ll give them some. Not all the time. But just enough so they will be engaged and find something that has meaning for them.”

He further explains that this will help them learn things which at first might not interest them. “This applies not just to science. Our job as teachers is to motivate and encourage students. Once we do that, it’s easy to learn.”

On asking how he would teach science to a musician, Arthur reveals that there is a lot of science involved in music. “For my physics students, one of their month-long projects is a light and sound show with instruments they build. Now for this, they have to understand how string and tube instruments work. They need to figure out why the shortest string or the shortest tube make the highest notes which helps them learn the physics principles on waves. There are some students who just want to make the light and sound show and don’t care about the physics part, but they still have to learn it since it’s a requirement. On the other hand, I don’t really care a lot about their show. I want them to learn physics. But if I can teach them using the show, then I will let them do it,” he reveals.

“It’s a win-win bargain, says Arthur. “They can have a good time making their music and I’ll let them do that as long as they learn physics. So we’re both happy.”

The 63-year-old professor also talked about ‘Quantoons’, a form of quantum cartoons he uses to illustrate science through comic formats. The cartoons depict scientific principles and theories in simple cartoon graphics. “It started with a column for students to get interested in science, which my colleague was willing to illustrate. So over the years we had over 50 of them done and decided to put them in a book. A lot of people enjoy cartoons, so it’s easy to reach science to them through cartoons,” he grins.

His advice to teachers is that they first enjoy the opportunity to be with students. “Let the students know how much you respect their thinking and enjoy the subject matter.” Arthur’s plans says: “I will continue to try and change one teacher at a time and one school at a time.”