Reframe: Episode 68

Inspiring the Next Generation of Scientists

Great scientific discoveries don’t always happen at places like NASA. Important breakthroughs are actually happening all around us. This is the message that Chris Anderson wants to share with more people, especially children, through a video series called Science Around Cincy.

Science Around Cincy features the stories of real scientists at places like the Cincinnati Zoo, the Cincinnati Nature Center, local research labs, and more. In this episode, Chris talks about his mission to inspire the next generation of scientists, and why you don’t have to be a super genius to become one.

Read the transcript

Cold Open: Clip

Chris Anderson: Failure is good. We need to set a structure for failure. That's the key, is having an environment where you can fail and that's okay. That's the magic place we want to get to.

James Loy: This is Reframe, the podcast from the College of Education, Health and Society on the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

James Loy: When it comes to science and all the great scientists doing really important science work, there's a couple of myths that some people still seem to believe. The first is that we often think about groundbreaking discoveries and otherworldly innovations only happening at places like CERN or NASA. But great scientific work is actually happening all around us, all the time, probably even in your own backyard.

James Loy: Another thing is that many people often think that science is only somehow reserved for someone who's super intelligent or a genius, and some are, sure. But becoming a great scientist isn't an unattainable goal for the rest of us either. Because what connects most scientists is a deep curiosity, a love of learning, and a determination to solve problems even in the face of failure.

James Loy: And today on the podcast, we hear from someone who's eager to bring this message to more people, especially children, who are often excited to learn that scientists are real people just like they are.

Chris Anderson: So my name is Chris Anderson. I am the host and executive producer of Science Around Cincy and I am a proud Miami alumni and class of 2008.

James Loy: Science Around Cincy is a new web series that shares the stories of people who work in science all across the Cincinnati area. In each episode, Chris takes viewers behind the scenes to learn more about new discoveries and the people who make them. And it's not just about making science cool and exciting, it's also about inspiring the next generation of researchers and engineers. Here's a clip from a recent episode with the Cincinnati Zoo, which is actually doing some amazing work to preserve the Earth's biodiversity.

Clip from Science Around Cincy Episode:

Chris Anderson: Hey, everyone. My name is Chris Anderson. Cincinnati is home to one of the best zoos in the world, but did you know that the Cincinnati Zoo is also part of an international research effort to save plant and animal species from extinction? Well, that's why I'm here to talk to Dr. Terri Roth, who's the director for the Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife. Hey, Terri.

Terri Roth: Hey, Chris. Good to see you.

Chris Anderson: Good to see you too.

Terri Roth: Yeah.

Chris Anderson: So where are we at?

Terri Roth: Welcome to the Endocrine Lab.

Chris Anderson: Endocrine Lab? Well, what do you guys do here?

Terri Roth: This is one of CREW's busiest labs actually. We do a lot of essays and we get a lot of results from hormones, by the work that we do in this lab.

Chris Anderson: Okay, so hormones. So what do those hormones tell you?

End Clip from Science Around Cincy Episode. Interview Resumes

James Loy: Other episodes take viewers to meet a frog cryobiologist, a neurological brain researcher, a local paleontologist, and lots more. Recently, we sat down with Chris to talk about his mission to make science more accessible. And about his goal to show kids that anyone can become a great scientist, as long as they learn to see the world the way a scientist does. We met over coffee in downtown Cincinnati, not far from where many of his episodes are filmed.

Chris Anderson: You know, I'm not in the classroom anymore, but when I was in the classroom as a science teacher, one of the things I wanted to do was get kids as excited about science as I was. Inspire that same sense of curiosity and wonder. And one of the ways I did that, there was this short PBS video series that was kind of attached to NOVA, called The Secret Life of Scientists. And there were short videos, like 30 to maybe 90 seconds, and they would feature scientists and there'd be a couple of them in the series.

Chris Anderson: They'd talk about what their strange hobby was, because scientists have weird hobbies. One was a amateur wrestler, and another was really into parkour. And what was cool about that, is you get to see the personality of the scientists.

Chris Anderson: But then you also got to see in some of the other video clips, is what inspired them to be scientists. And why they are trying to solve the problems that they're doing. So, it really resonated with the kids. They didn't think of scientists as like actual people.

Chris Anderson: They thought of them as these names and books, instead of real life people with hobbies, and interesting quirks, and who are just curious about the world and want to solve the problem. And that was really, really cool to see how engaged the kids got in that. So, that was probably the genesis of this idea. But I wanted to do it locally, I wanted to focus on the local stories that we've got here.

James Loy: Kind of goes back to what you were saying earlier about scientists being regular people, not these, super beings that no one else can aspire to be.

Chris Anderson: That's right.

James Loy: There are people who are interested in answering questions.

Chris Anderson: Yeah. They're not like Mega mind, they don't walk around with giant brains. They're just people, they do the same stuff as we do. They get parking tickets and they stub their toe on the couch.

Chris Anderson: But what they do have is this, like I said, this innate sense of curiosity about how the world works. And when we're talking about what kids need in the classroom, is they need that sense of curiosity, I think now more than ever. That's not something we always focus on is building that sense of curiosity, and wonder, and "How does this work?", and "Let me think about this. Let me think through this problem. Let me struggle with this."

Chris Anderson: And I think that's what's cool about a series like this, is that you see, like you said, you see these scientists; that they're just real people doing stuff that you can do too.

James Loy: I like how it's not necessarily just for kids, too. One of my favorite episodes was the Cincinnati Nature Center's naturalists.

Chris Anderson: Yeah? You like that one?

James Loy: Yeah, I did because, I've always been so focused on media, and writing, and communications. And I come from a small town farm community, where my grandfather was a farmer, and my mom is a gardener in her spare time. And it turns out decades later I got kind of a green thumb it seems like. Somehow, through osmosis and I guess upbringing, and I'm like "Maybe I should have been a naturalist." And I really liked what he does with his job, and how that is actually something that is happening here in Cincinnati.

Chris Anderson: Yeah, that that episode is really cool. If you ever get a chance to go out to the nature center and go for a walk with Corey, he's just like a walking, talking encyclopedia.

Chris Anderson: He just knows everything about the forest. And we went walking around as we were filming, and he's picking up snakes, and we found some turtles, and we're pointing stuff. There was a little kid who was really excited about the turtles that he was looking at. So we were talking to him and he's another one of those people.

Chris Anderson: It's not just about the science for him, he gets getting people interested in that, and he was just talking with some of those kids. And we saw at the nature center that afternoon was, I mean it was like poetry in motion. It was really great to watch.

James Loy: So since you've been so involved in the science community around the area, especially here locally in Cincinnati, what are some of the things that you've come in contact with that are some really great science resources around the area?

James Loy: Things that parents can take their kids to, or some hidden gems around the area that are really great resources for families and kids.

Chris Anderson: You know, in a certain sense, I'm pretty envious of kids these days because there are so many opportunities for kids to do stuff outside of the classroom that have to do with science. And I think when I was growing up that we just... They were there, but they weren't as ubiquitous, right?

Chris Anderson: So a couple programs I think are really great is CINSAM at Northern Kentucky university. They do summer camps with rocketry and robots. I Space does a ton of different stuff, and they have stuff for all different grade levels. So whether your kids are just in elementary school, or in middle school, or in high school. They have robot competitions and FIRST LEGO Team, coding camps, all sorts of stuff.

Chris Anderson: And the museum center too, I would say also has a good set of programs. If you're a parent, and you have a kid who's really interested in science. I'd also say... Nothing beaches good, old fashioned, exploring. Take him to the zoo, but take him to the nature center. Go down to Big Bone Lick. Take them to Mammoth Caves. Let him explore, let them, let kids get their hands dirty.

Chris Anderson: I think there's something to be said for things that are a little unstructured, and letting kids kind of explore on their own. Find an old VCR at Goodwill, and give them a screwdriver and say "Have at." Take it apart, and see what's in there. And guess what it does. Well, if you don't know, we'll find out.

Chris Anderson: There's so many internet resources... Try something or let your kids do it. That's sometimes okay too. For you to take a step away, and say "You do this, you figure this out." It doesn't always have to come in a kit.

Chris Anderson: It can just be stuff, like I said, stuff lying around the house. Find a project they want to do on the internet, and let them do it. And if the screw up, that's okay, that's cool if they screw up. Because if they screw up, they're probably going to want to come back and do it. And so much of science is screwing up. Is breaking something... Like, "Oh that didn't work." But they learned something from that, and you learn from your failures, and you learn when things don't go right.

Chris Anderson: And one of my favorite moments as a teacher, was that penultimate test, right? Where it was right before the kids got it. Let's say a rat trap car. That was one of the projects we did. It was right at the cusp. And the trial before they really got to make it work was the best, cause nothing mattered. Time, space, lunch, going to the bathroom.

Chris Anderson: None of that mattered except "Man that broke that time. But I know what happened, and I know why, and I think we can get it fixed." Which is such a beautiful moment. Cause the normal stuff of high school like texting your friends or skipping out on class to go to the bathroom, and all that normal stuff didn't matter.

Chris Anderson: All that mattered... They were all consumed in the moment, and what they were working on. Which is the moment you want as a teacher.

James Loy: That's a great way to look at getting over... I think there's a big... There is an inherent fear of failure in most people, but I think also our society today somehow engenders-

Chris Anderson: Yeah.

James Loy: avoidance of failure. But it seems like this sort of STEM learning, and just this love of science in general is a way to not only get over a fear of failure, but also a way to crave it and yeah, see the beauty of it and learn from it.

Chris Anderson: Yeah, you need to crave it. And I think as teachers, and as parents too, failure is good. We need to set a structure for failure. That's the key is having an environment where you can fail, and that's okay.

Chris Anderson: Now, there's a difference between trying something out and it not working, and not giving a hoot. And just letting things go by the wayside. To me that is the ultimate failures; when we don't even try things. We don't even work at something to make it better or, learn or anything like that.

Chris Anderson: But having that structure... Having that safe place where I can try something and I'm not going to feel embarrassed. I think that's what probably our fear is, is that nobody likes to feel embarrassed, or foolish, or stupid.

Chris Anderson: Nobody likes to feel that, no matter who you are, how old you are, what field you work in. That's just a human thing. But if we can make it so if we can try something, and it not work, we can go back and learn and not feel that way. That's the magic place we want to get to.

James Loy: What is next for a Science Around Cincy? What kind of things do you have coming up? Where you hope to take this project going forward?

Chris Anderson: Well we're trying to get a season two together right now. So, we're in the reproduction process of that. We'll likely start filming here in the late spring. We're going to try to get all our episodes done through the summer, and start with some before the beginning of next school year. So that's the immediate hurdle we're trying to get, is just getting that ball rolling.

Chris Anderson: What we want is that to be a resource for teachers, too. And a resource for parents to get their kids engaged in this. So all of our episodes come with teacher resources. So we want to build that out too, and build that resource for educators at any level.

Chris Anderson: You can connect what you're watching in the videos to what the kids are learning. And so we want to expand that too, because we want this to be a real tool for anyone who teaches science. So that's kind of the first couple of hurdles.

Chris Anderson: I think going down the road, we'd love to share with as many people as possible. And I think that's kind of our ultimate goal; is just to get disseminated as widely as we possibly can.

Chris Anderson: It's hard to cut through the noise of social media these days, but I think we're doing a good job so far, and I think people are, who are watching, are engaged, and I think they like it. And they're starting to share their friends and that's all we can ask for. So check us out.

James Loy: Chris Anderson is the host and executive producer of Science Around Cincy. Every episode is on YouTube, and; where you can also find additional classroom resources for parents and teachers that go along with each episode. And thank you for listening to this episode of the Reframe Podcast. You can find more of our episodes wherever you get your podcasts.