Your Students Can't Win if They Don't Enter

by Kim Moldofsky, The Maker Mom

Sure, there are lots of great reasons for your students to enter the Young Scientist Challenge. I mean, what teacher wouldn't be over the moon to have their student earn the title of America's Top Young Scientist? And, as the parent of a high school senior, I can assure you that the $25,000 grand prize will come in handy when it's time for the winner to pay for college.

The other finalist prizes are fantastic, too. A chance to work with a 3M mentor and scienist as well as an exclusive tour of 3M headquarters would be the highlight of a lifetime for any scientist, but especially for one under the age of 15.

Each child who enters wins

Entering the Young Scientist Challenge may light a spark in a way that middle school classroom work does not. My friend Liz, known online at the Kitchen Pantry Scientist, shared her observations after her son entered the competition a few years ago. She wrote, "He didn’t make it to the finals, but the fire was kindled. He was blown away by the [previous year’s] finalists’ presentations and how much his peers knew about science and technology. Whether he makes it to the finals or not, I couldn’t be happier. He’s engaged, he’s excited, and he’s working to think creatively."

As a teacher, a few encouraging words from you might be all it takes to prompt a student into action and possibly make a lifelong difference. I was reminded about the power of teachers in a recent interview I heard on National Public Radio. The story wasn't about science, but rather about the winner of their Tiny Desk Concert Series. As the name implies, the winner earns the opportunity to hold a live concert, recorded for broadcast, in NPR’s Washington, D.C. office. There’s no fancy recording studio involved. The concert takes place in a work area among the (presumably tiny) desks.

I was struck by the winner's unusual voice. It turns out the winner, Gaelynn Lea, has osteogenesis imperfecta, more commonly known as brittle bone disease. Her arms and legs are bent and are quite short. So short that she holds the violin upright as if it were a cello as she plays it from a sitting position.

As Gaelynn discussed her unusual style, the show host asked her how she got started as a musician. Gaelynn told her that in 5th grade, she took a test that indicated her high aptitude for music. But she says, “The orchestra teacher took note and took it upon herself to help me figure out how to play because she knew that I could probably do a good job if we figured it out. So she was really awesome and encouraged me to experiment.”

Gaelynn does a bit of public speaking and said that part of her message is to tell people that “if you have a friend or loved one [who] has an idea that they really want to do, just don't discourage them. Because I'm a very unlikely candidate, in many ways, to be doing music as a career. ... But she wasn't thinking of it like that, and she just said, ‘Well, this is what she wants, and we're going to figure it out.’ So that's so big. Because she easily could have said, ‘You know, maybe you should do choir, instead, because this is going to be too hard,’ or ‘I don't see how this is going to work.’ So I was so lucky. I mean, really lucky for that.”

We know teachers have superpowers. Gaelynn’s interview was a great reminder of that. And I want to remind you that your students have until 8:00 PM ET on April 20, 2016 to enter this year’s competition. There are scientists in your classroom and your support from you might make all the difference.