Buzz Lightyear was the first to land on the moon? Kids poll puts spotlight in science ed

A young girl makes her way through a

A young girl makes her way through a exhibit of a Bengali Tiger at the Museum of Natural History in New York Upper West Side. (RJ Mickelson/amNY)

A young girl makes her way studies a Bengali tiger exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. (Photo: RJ Mickelson/amNY)

Is it one giant leap backward for education?

When asked to name the first man to walk on the moon, misinformed students answered Buzz Lightyear, Luke Skywalker or Lance Armstrong more often than astronaut Neil Armstrong, according to a recent survey of British children ages 4 to 16.

Quizzed on what Sir Isaac Newton discovered, 60 percent of 9- and 10-year-old said fire while others said the Internet, the Birmingham Science City poll found. (He developed the theory of gravity.)

“While some of these findings will raise a smile, it suggests that school children aren’t tuned into our scientific heroes in the same way that they might be to sporting or music legends,” said the center’s director Dr. Pam Waddell in a statement.

American students don’t fare much better. Less than half of 17-year-olds know when the Civil War was fought and about 25 percent misidentified Adolf Hilter, according to a 2008 Common Core survey.

But unlike history, science for children is more about experimentation than memorization, education experts said.

“I would rather have a student who can search for solutions to a question and formulate an explanation based on the evidence [than] one who can just recall facts,” said Chris Sheehan, of newyorkscienceteacher.com.

Cartoon characters such as Buzz Lightyear of "Toy Story," sports stars and other media figures actually can help the learning process, experts said. “Any way you can get it to click is good,” said Gwen Hill, of The Science Barge, a learning center docked on the Hudson River.

Sportacular, an event last year at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, used superheroes to illustrate the physics of light and flight. Allison Lyalikov, science manager at the museum, said that it’s OK for children to get the wrong answers.

“Science should be hands-on and inquiry-based. It’s about letting kids have that natural curiosity, that spark,” Lyalikov said.

That approach could have helped some city teens who stumbled over the British survey questions in a small poll amNewYork conducted Wednesday in Greenwich Village.

* There was some debate about which astronaut, Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin, was the first man on the moon. One man joked that it was Louie Armstrong.

* One person thought Isaac Newton was responsible for the theory of relativity.

* Some were unsure if Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone.

emily.ngo@am-ny.com

Tags: Science , survey , education

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