STEM is important to me; I became painfully aware of how far we have fallen behind while I was in Malaysia. The newspapers were publishing practice exit exams for high school students. These included questions in electronics, chemistry, statistics, probability, calculus and physics. I don't think too many U.S. students would fare well on those tests.
The problems with our schools go beyond STEM. There are many children struggling with learning to read. They get get no practice at home for many reasons: their parents are too busy, English is not spoken at home, their parents are not literate, etc, etc.
By third grade, children are expected to know how to read and are expected to learn subject material from reading. Any child who can not read well by then is more than likely going to face a lifetime of being behind the curve.
I participate in Schools of Hope. Teachers teach to the average level of their classes. Start with making sure that all of the kids can read and you can raise the quality of education.
I work with MESA (Math Engineering Science Achievement) as chairman of the Industry Advisory Council in Utah and have a Ph.D. in meteorology/physics. We definitely need an added emphasis on STEM. What I do not want to see is the continued accelerated learning that has crept into the school system over the past 30 years. Acceleraed as in taking calculus as sophmore in high school. It is well known that boys mature much slower than girls. The boys are simply not ready to compete academically with the girls in these acceleratd learning environments. It is as if graduating from college at age 18 is the object. The school system needs to take this into account and allow the young men to mature at their natural rate. There are exceptions of course, but by and large, the young men simply cannot compete until they reach about 16 to 18. Does it really matter whether you graduate from college at age 18 or age 24?
One aspect that continues to confound me is the attempt to insert Art into the STEM curriculum to make it STEAM. As best I can determine the STEAM program is an attempt to ride the coat tails of a good program and reduce its focus and thus effectiveness.
The reason we have STEM in the first place is the gap in effective instruction in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic in our education system (note the absence of art). It is these three elements that support knowledge, communication and science. In turn, these are the engines of innovation and engineering. Without innovation and engineering, enterprise is dead and our community fails to move forward.
The Arts insertion in STEM is predicated on the idea that art is the sole repository of innovation and creativity. I think it is here that the justification breaks down. Yes, there is art in engineering and innovation but it is one bred from the nature of human endeavor, not just from, painting, sculpture and outward appearance.
Wherever humans create in any realm we make connections in structure and form that are endemic to the creation. We do not need to "create a work of art that visually explains" an engineering design or scientific discovery for it to be useful or validated. If you cannot appreciate the art inherent in the design you likely need to expand your understanding of the innovation process.
We do not need works of art to insert something in our innovations that is already there. We do need youth with a strong foundation in science, engineering and math to be able to be successful innovators and move us forward.
If we focus on STEM we will have a community based on successful enterprise with free capital to pay artists for their work. That is the coat tails that the arts should be riding. If we focus instead on the arts, we will divert our efforts from the building the foundation neccessary to make art a successful endeavor.
Without STEM Art will not survive. Conversely, the absence of art will not be the end of STEM. Let's keep the cart before the horse.
I started volunteering at FIRST in 2005. This is my 9th season (Aerial Assist) and I still love watching the students and teams grow and develop year after year. The robot is a focus but it is only a means to the goal of creating a viable environment for learning business and technology. Rookie teams experience the start-up phase. The Veteran teams must learn sustainability and mentoring. The Great teams reach out to the community and other schools. They become founders of new teams.
I am a engineer that had to bootstrap my drive to build things. In the 60's and 70's opportunities like FIRST were few and far between. I value the change we are making in bringing these students a new perspective on accomplishing real-world results with real-world constraints.
Thank you Rich for reaching out to listen and learn about the FIRST mission and goals. You have helped to create and sustain the opportunity that teaches these students that 'Gracious Professionalism' is a worthy business principle and golden rule for STEM students.
There are few things more rewarding than being a mentor for a FIRST team. There is no harder fun you can have, and it's a great way to pay it forward. I have students who join not knowing righty-tighty-lefty-loosy, but after a season or two they start asking "What engineering schools I should apply to?" I KNOW this program changes the trajectory of students - Every year there are kids drifting in the winds of uncertainty about where to go in their careers - who 'lock on target' when they join an FRC team.
With so much bad Karma about 'hating your job', It is a wonderful gift to provide kids exposure to a career they could love the rest of their life, explaining that not only do I get to do engineering at work, I love it as a hobby too- and for one fourth of the year, I get to share with students who likely would never know what real engineering is all about. GO TO www.usfirst.org and see how you can make a difference doing something fun.
Charles, I agree with you. Students are very aware of the job market today and if they put the extra effort in for an engineering degree, they want to make sure that extra compensation will be waiting for them when they graduate. They are also aware that while an engineering degree does afford a lucrative growth path as the years go on, non-engineering degrees can also offer an accelerated climbing rate up the corporate ladder too.
That's an interesting link to the Hewlett-Packard paper, Rich. As it points out, part of the problem is attracting young students toward engineering, Programs like FIRST can certainly help with that, and I applaud them for the work they've done. But the other part of the problem is keeping students after they start college engineering curriculums. Most major universities have engineering washout rates between 50% and 67%, largely because engineering school is hard. It's always going to be tough to keep students who don't want to work that hard, especially if they think they can make equal or better money elsewhere.
There are school districts (I live in one of them) that have very strong STEM programs. These are public school districts. A number of local districts have gotten together to create an institute to enhance the teachning of STEM in K-12 schools. Much of the funding came from companies. The web site is http://www.aurora.edu/stem/vision/index.html.
Some of us are trying to revive an older program that ended about twenty years ago that had a big impact for many of us of a certain age.
"Things of Science" comprised a subscription to a service that sent out a little blue box about once a month with some project and some parts to make something, or mess around with stuff. The projects themselves ranged from building a sextant (a favorite of mine, since my father and I made it, and then, since he was a merchant marine officer, he taught me how to shoot a sun sight), to various kinds of bugs. I also remember building an electric motor out of nails, and a bunch of other projects, many of which were re-purposed in other forms afterwards. I recall the subscription cost was about the same as my subscription to "Donald Duck ..."
I understand that a lot of the stuff was donated by various industries.
The program ended in about 1990 (my daughter got the last one then).
The science service (that runs the ISF) had the rights to the program, but hasn't run it for a while.
Not sure exactly what to do, but I have been speaking to various people and foundations about it. Folks at the NAE have pointed out that it is actually about half "Things of Engineering", and that might be a way to go.
Anyway, if people are interested, please feel free to contrubute to the nascent movement by at least discussing it, especially if you got those boxes yourself and they made a difference to you.
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