Why did you leave academia to write science books for kids?
I grew up in a small town in New Mexico called Silver City. It’s a few 100 miles north of Texas and close to the Arizona border. I attended solid schools with good teachers and took all the advanced math and science classes available.
My dream was to become an oceanographer. Well, I learned I get very seasick, so I ended up becoming a biophysical chemist instead. I did very well in school. I got straight A’s and graduated third in my high school class. And then I went to college.
In college, I flunked my first chemistry test. I got a 38% on that first test my freshman year. And if it hadn’t been for a friend from Los Alamos who tutored me, I might have dropped out of pursuing the science career altogether. I didn’t think much of this until later on, but it did shatter my confidence. And I felt behind my peers for most of my undergraduate, and even some of my graduate career.
What did you find when you were searching for science textbooks for your children?
When I was searching for Science textbooks for my kids, I realized more about why I flunked my first college chemistry test. Looking at typical elementary and middle school science textbooks, I noticed that most of what kids learn are science topics, but very few science terms and very few science concepts.
They learn about plants and animals and weather, but nothing about chemistry or physics with atoms and molecules and chemical reactions, or force, energy, or work. They might learn that a plant needs sunlight to grow, but nothing about why that’s true, and the chemistry and physics behind why it’s true.
Why did you decide to write science textbooks?
I was experiencing frustration as a parent seeking a science source from which my kids could truly learn and explore. This was the driving force behind writing a Science textbook series with actual chemistry and physics as foundational topics for young students.
Real Science for Kids is a series that I developed and has been in use for over 20 years. Yet, as time went on, I felt something was still missing. I had created a solid textbook series, but I still couldn’t figure out how to bottle the lessons from my graduate school experience and inspire kids to get excited about doing Science.
What realization led you to create RATATAZ?
When I was in graduate school, science came alive for me. Graduate school is all about experimenting, playing and learning through questions, trial and error. And for the first time in many years, I had the freedom to play in the lab. I knew it had to do with questions, but whose questions?
Then I took a professional education course through the Harvard Graduate School of Education. And the pieces of what I had been trying to formulate for years began coming together. It was all about getting kids to ask and answer their own questions. This is what engaged me as a graduate student, asking my own questions and exploring my own answers to those questions. And it’s why I stuck with science. For the first time, I had the freedom to ask and answer my own questions and pursue my own scientific interests.
How did you test your idea for RATATAZ?
The question that I was asking after Real Science for Kids is how can I bring this graduate experience to other kids. Through our established Real Science for Kids community, I spent time researching expanded questions, answers and exploration. Then we offered science activities in an online platform for families during the pandemic shutdown with incredible results.
I recall one student in particular, she only participated a little bit. She didn’t want to do any videos, but she was following everything that her brothers were doing, and at the end, produced a video where she presented what she had learned. I was astonished when she finished by saying, “I had the most fun I’ve ever had in a summer. And now I can ask questions like the boys.” She was dazzling, proud, beaming and confident.
What does RATATAZ mean?
So Ratataz means “read, ask, test, answer, and tazzle.”
When kids present in a manner that is fun for them, it helps them retain what they’ve learned. This is sometimes referred to as “retrieval practice” in educational circles.
Tazzle is a fun word I created, meaning “top talent dazzle.” It encourages kids to get creative, share their discoveries, and believe in their own science abilities. The students who RATATAZ with us online during the pandemic shared what they learned in their own top talent dazzle manner, learning more about their specific Science subjects than we could have ever taught them. It was fun, engaging, and rewarding.
RATATAZ utilizes a modification of the question-focused activity that I learned from the Harvard course. In addition to student-directed competency-based activities, and retrieval practice to get kids interested, engaged and able to transfer that knowledge to new situations. In a nutshell, it works.
How do we learn more about RATATAZ?
I invite you and your students to RATATAZ with us. Click to learn more about our RATATAZ Curriculum Kits.
science, learn, kids, students, pandemic, questions, graduate school, answer, chemistry, retrieval practice, flunked, science textbooks, fun, engaged, dazzle, activities, class, physics, graduate, harvard graduate school