What I Want From Science Magazines

Middle school is an age where interest in math and science drops, severely.  It’s terrible timing, because students are just getting to the point where they can understand (or be frustrated by) serious scientific study.  Fortunately, middle school is also a big opportunity: becoming excited when you’re young can carry you through many years of potentially tedious science in school.

I’ve been thinking about how to help students from SPMPS become excited and energized about math and science.  At their age, I was reading things like Discover Magazine, which made me yearn for understanding stars and galaxies and black holes, higher dimensions, particle physics, and science in general.  I had a model of the ideal scientist in my head, and that was who I wanted to be.  It was the driving force of my learning in school and beyond.

Discover, it turns out, is not what it once was—as I found out when I bought myself a copy while waiting for a tow truck.  It’s not a bad magazine at all, but it is very much about “hey look this discovery happened!” and very little about the science being done.  (For all I know, it was like that when I was a kid, too, but I’ve forgotten.)  It also has an inconsistent level of language throughout, so that many articles might be above the reading level of the SPMPSers.

I’ve also tried out Science News and Scientific American.  I didn’t know Science News when I was younger, and it is a nice magazine that also focuses on what happened and not understanding the underlying mechanisms.  Scientific American, which I remember being too advanced for me when I was younger, has become much simpler, and does talk about the underlying mechanisms of science.  It’s probably the best of the magazines I’ve looked at, although it doesn’t convey what doing science is like—it just talks about the results, the discoveries, and why they’re true.

Searching for a way to interest young students in science has made me realize how much is lacking.  Why is there no magazine that explains how the experiments (which are often quite lovely!) were set up, that asks students to think about what conclusions they might draw from whatever facts are available?  It could be a mix of long-established science (“why is the sky blue?”) and new discoveries to get people excited.  As far as I know, there’s nothing like that—nothing that aims to develop scientific thinking with professional writing, great production values, and good content.

Another gap in the field is communities for like-minded students to discuss.  At SPMPS, I was showing one of the students Art of Problem Solving.  His question: was there any discussion areas like this for science?  Not that I know of, unfortunately.

Classrooms often try little tricks to get students excited.  They play games, or watch videos, or do overly-structured lab experiments.  That was never where my interest came from, however.  Part of my interest came from the joy of figuring out how different pieces of the scientific puzzle fit together, and most of my drive from admiring the science being done now and my desire to be doing it.  There should be more avenues to encourage this kind of passion.