Clive Thompson (Wired article here) gets it right on why kids generally enjoy learning science:
“One of the reasons kids get bored by science is that too many teachers present it as a fusty collection of facts for memorization. This is precisely wrong. Science isn’t about facts. It’s about the quest for facts – the scientific method, the process by which we hash through confusing thickets of ignorance. It’s dynamic, argumentative, collaborative, competitive, filled with flashes of crazy excitement and hours of drudgework, and driven by ego: Our desire to be the one who figures it out, at least for now.”
Although I routinely teach science to people in their 20s and 30s, I have spent some time telling elementary school children about viruses. And I agree, you can’t just pour on the facts. You have to tell them how the facts were obtained. And why they are important.
And he’s right about the role of ego. Nobel laureate David Baltimore wrote years ago that science is driven by the ego, and he was spot-on. Who publishes in the best journals, who gets the most grant money, who gives the biggest talks – and most importantly – who makes the discovery first. It’s just human nature. Without the ego, science would advance far more slowly.