[VIEWPOIINT]Inspire our dreamersSpecial education for gifted children is booming in Korea. Teachers who instruct gifted children go through a few extra training courses each year because the skill of teachers is the most important factor in teaching gifted children. Alhough I am not a specialist in special education, I have had chances to teach brilliant secondary school students at an education center for the gifted at Seoul National University and through the Chemistry Olympiad program. I have developed my own way of teaching them, so I have often been asked to lecture teachers of special education. I have never turned down lecture requests because I believe I can exert indirect influence on students whom I cannot directly teach.
What kind of education for the gifted is desirable? These days, forcing too much education on children at too early an age is a problem in Korea, but early education for those who can handle it does have some merit. When I was a child, I was inspired with dreams of being a middle school student like my older brother when I looked at his study material for the middle school entrance examination. Solving problems that are supposed to be too advanced for you can inspire a desire to study more. Many secondary school students in the United States take college level courses, called “advanced placement” curricula.
And if children, who should learn the alphabet in preschool, can read fluently, they will lose interest in school quickly. Gifted children can learn quickly if they are interested, so the trick is to arouse their curiosity and motivate them.
What is the connection between atoms and plants growing quickly in the spring? Instead of assigning a chapter in a textbook on atoms, I often tell students to observe how much one bud grows overnight. How many atoms per second have to be added for that growth?
They learn through observation that a bud can grow a millimeter per night. Most of the mass of a soft sprout is water. How small is a hydrogen atom, which accounts for two-thirds of a water molecule? Go to Google on the Internet and type in “hydrogen diameter.” You will learn that the diameter of a hydrogen atom is 0.0001 micron. The length of a bud’s overnight growth is 10 million times the diameter of a hydrogen atom. A day corresponds to nearly 100,000 seconds. A hundred atoms stack up per second when a bud grows quickly. The speed is almost unbelievable. Once noting that fact, secondary school students and even college students feel an atomic world within them.
As the poet William Wordsworth said, “The child is Father to the man.” Instead of blaming students for avoiding science and engineering, we have to breed curiosity in students, whose hearts leap when they see a rainbow. We have to create an environment for dreamers who want to learn science and engineering; it takes a long time before we see the fruit, particularly in fundamental science fields.
by Kim Hie-joon
The writer is a professor of analytical chemistry at Seoul National University.