Research has shown that the best way to get kids into the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) is to introduce them to role models in those fields with whom they identify. So what better way to get them excited about science than to show them that you’re excited about science, too?
Shark Week presents a very real opportunity to help your kids see how exciting STEM can be. But don’t leave it to us! Show your kids that you’re excited about STEM, too. Role model curiosity for them!
For Shark Week, I’m co-hosting five special one-hour shark-related episodes of Daily Planet, (Monday, June 27 through Friday, July 1 at 7 p.m. ET on Discovery). Throughout the week our show dives deep into the science of sharks and their relatives, to uncover new answers about their ecology, evolution, and behaviour. We find exciting scientists from all over the world who are doing the very latest research on these magnificent animals. The sharks are front and center, but if you look carefully, you’ll see our stories are about people – scientists, photographers, conservationists, and nature-lovers, who are working to help make the world better for these majestic animals. Our stories present women and men as role models that your kids can witness making a difference in the world. We’re showing your kids, through role models, that a life of research is exciting and within their grasp if they want to pursue it.
But in the end we’re just a TV show. To make the most of what we’re presenting, we need your help. In the best case scenario, our show will be a catalyst for conversation between you and your kids. Tell them the questions you had about what you saw. Tell them what surprised you. Tell them what you’d like to see those scientists do next. By role modeling that kind of engagement with the material, perhaps you’ll draw those kinds of thoughts, comments, and questions out of your kids. That kind of curiosity inevitably spills beyond the sharks themselves. Fast forward 20 years, and maybe we’ll be featuring your grown-up kids on our show!
I know. It’s a lofty goal, but honestly, every scientist you talk to got their “start” from some humble experience they had at some point along the way. For me, it was reading the right book about bats in high school. For many scientists, it all began with a TV show. I’m not kidding. There’s a very tangible opportunity here.
Finally, to hold you over until Shark Week arrives, below are five amazing shark facts that you can drop on your kids to whet their appetites before Shark Week finally begins!
Thresher sharks use their tails like bullwhips to whack fish in the brains and stun them before the sharks eat them up.
The skin of sharks has tiny backward pointing scales that make it very rough. There are populations of killer whales that like to eat sharks, and their teeth are totally worn down like they would be if you chewed sandpaper. Instead of pointy pegs, the teeth are flat and short, with the roots exposed!
The rough skin of sharks is thought to mostly be for defence (see #2), but it turns out there’s another benefit – it helps reduce drag when sharks swim, making them more efficient so they use less energy to swim.
The top speed of the Mako shark is more than 70 kph. A human dragged through the water at that speed would be seriously injured.
Some sharks lay eggs. Others have live young. Still others have eggs inside their bodies that hatch inside mom, before live babies come out. One kind of shark in that last category, the Sand tiger Shark, has the problem that when the oldest baby hatches, it will swim around inside mom eating the siblings before they hatch. And you thought your kids showed sibling rivalry!
Tune-into Shark Week June 26 – July 3 on Discovery.