When it comes to introducing and exposing children to the wonderful world of science, educator Ronnie Thomas is on a special mission. He created his Atlanta-based company Fun Weird Science in 2014 to reach Black students in a special way.
“The program is especially unique because it gives students a chance to not only learn about science, it also gives them an opportunity to connect science to life in general and connect with the scientific genius of our ancestors as well,” Thomas said to Atlanta Black Star recently..
While his program provides a variety of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) engagement opportunities, from face-to-face learning workshops, summer camps, live science shows, and — currently — live virtual instruction, Thomas also incorporates Black History with his science lessons.
Although a student crowd and parent pleaser now, Thomas says his gift for a fun and creative science instruction was almost stifled. He says he became so frustrated with complacency and constraints in many school districts that he almost left the teaching field early in his career to become a truck driver.
“In too many of our schools, kids are being forced to read about science, but I believe in order for science to be impactful, kids have to actually do science with their hands,” added Thomas.
With over 20 years of classroom teaching experience, Thomas decided to “fill an early need,” specifically among young African-American students in STEM.
“When we look at the prison pipeline, many states have agreements with private prison corporations, and those corporations look at third- and fourth-grade test scores to determine what number of students may possibly end up in the penal system and therefore how many prisons may need to be built,” Thomas told Atlanta Black Star. “So I feel in order to redirect those students in their interest, we have to engage them in science and STEM learning early so we can help develop their confidence and competency.”
When it comes to confidence, Thomas says it starts with changing the perception of who and what a scientist looks like. “Society tends to limit our progression and success in the areas of entertainment and athletics, and when you ask young kids what a scientist looks like, many of them will envision a European male with crazy hair like Einstein!”
Unfortunately, the early scientific vision Thomas describes may contribute to some current statistics. While some progress has been made, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, African-Americans remain underrepresented when it comes to earning bachelor’s degrees in the physical sciences and engineering fields.
Additionally, underrepresentation in STEM fields is not just limited to race, it also applies to gender as well, with females being much less likely to receive STEM-related degrees than their male counterparts. This is why a parent like Chelsea Owens says she’s pleased that her young daughter participates in Thomas’ “Fun Weird Science” program.
“One of the things Ronnie truly discussed with her was women in science, so he is looking at her as a young African American girl and not only wanting to nurture the science but then also the history of African Americans in science, including women.”
Thomas says despite the current challenges of the current pandemic, there are lots of things parents can do to promote critical thinking and spark a love of science in their children.
“Sometimes we look at technology as a negative when kids are always online consuming technology and information, but we have to show them how to create that technology,” Thomas said.
For more information on Fun Weird Science visit https://funweirdscience.com/