Spring and summer are full of book festivals, art festivals, music festivals and craft festivals, but it's rare to see education-focused fests such as this weekend's Nebraska Science Festival.
It's the first of its kind in Omaha and features many events at a dozen locations around the city, including a dancing scientist, bird watching, DNA extraction and a talk by Bill Nye, a scientist and engineer known from his TV show “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”
Unfortunately, students interested in science often are labeled as nerds, and elementary education sometimes isn't as focused on science as it is on literature and math, but this weekend's festival is trying to combat that.
“'Oh, I'm no good at (science),' or 'I'm not comfortable with teaching math' ... seems to be perpetuated in our society,” said Lynne Houtz, who teaches science education at Creighton University.
Houtz, a professor and associate chairwoman of the education department at Creighton, is thrilled that the science festival is happening this weekend, and she's encouraging all of her students to attend.
Science skills can lag behind in students because math, reading and literacy are emphasized in standardized tests much more than science, she said.
There also can be a “nerd factor” with science, Houtz said, but any time science and scientists are portrayed positively, she's happy.
“I'm always concerned when there's a social awkwardness that's associated with people who are good at math or science,” she said. “Because they're good at math and science, it's a logical perception that they're socially awkward.”
Educators are happy to see a festival with free events for people of all ages focused on science, and many events, including Friday's student expo at the Durham Museum, are directed toward students.
“The point is to expose people to science and show that it can be fun and accessible to everyone,” said Kacie Baum, special events associate at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and one of the event organizers. “People don't think they can do science, but there's science in almost everything we do.”
The Nebraska Science Festival has been two years in the making and stemmed from a conference where Baum learned about Science Cafe events and festivals similar to Omaha's that were happening in many other cities.
UNMC has since organized several Science Cafe events at Slowdown, which include conversations about current science topics over pizza and drinks. The next Science Cafe, Tuesday at Slowdown, will feature a talk by Joslyn Art Museum curator Karin Campbell about the museum's Marie Curie exhibit.
“UNMC wanted to get involved because our mission is to spread science literacy to as many people as we can,” Baum said.
Since his TV show aired in the mid-1990s, the science festival's featured speaker, Bill Nye, has done a good job of bringing science to the masses.
In “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” Nye took scientific subjects and made them entertaining. Over the years, Nye has spoken often on the importance of science education, which he calls “the key to our future” both in speeches and interviews.
“If you don't believe in science, then you're holding everybody back,” Nye told Popular Mechanics in a 2011 interview. “Science education: We should support it. Especially elementary school science. Nearly every rocket scientist got interested in it before they were 10. Everybody who's a physician, who makes vaccines, who wants to find the cure for cancer. Everybody who wants to do any medical good for humankind got the passion for that before he or she was 10. So we want to excite a new generation of kids — every generation — about the passion, beauty and joy ... of science.”
Contact the writer: 402-444-1557, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/owhmusicguy