wendyhawkinsIt IS Rocket Science: The Imperative of STEM

By: Wendy Ramage Hawkins In: 2010 Annual Conference

26 Apr 2010

The future of education is now—and not a moment too soon. The Denver School of Science & Technology admits all applicants based on a lottery—65 percent minority, 50 percent low-income, 50 percent first-generation college—and sends 100 percent of them on to four-year colleges and universities. 

Michelle Obama is teaching about gardens, vegetables, and healthy eating. Cameron Diaz is teaching about trees. Three- and 4–year-olds (and their families) are learning about science and math from some of the world’s most effective teachers—Elmo and the gang at “Sesame Street.”

Engineering is showing up in the statewide education standards in Massachusetts and Tennessee, and is ‘coming soon’ in Oregon and Washington. It may even make it into the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) bill moving through Congress now.

Engineering—the process of designing and making real stuff that solves real problems—is gaining traction as the entry point into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and careers for young students around the country, thanks to the tireless efforts of Yannis Miaoulis and the Museum of Science, Boston. These are some important lessons for those fortunate enough to attend today’s session, “It IS Rocket Science: The Imperative of STEM,” during the Council on Foundations annual conference on Monday in Denver.

But the learning didn’t stop there. Some additional takeaways:

  • We do our children a grave disservice when we spend our energies getting them excited about STEM careers, but fail to give them the rigorous education that allows them to pursue those aspirations.
  • We remember things from experiences that are highly emotional or highly significant, or with lots of repetition. You can’t teach math every day as though it were a first kiss; some repetition is required.
  • A concentrated STEM program is not enough—the overall school culture and rigor is key to success.
  • Public engagement to change the conversation around STEM education is critical. We can’t expect our kids to love and do well in science and math if all the adults around them are saying, “Oh, I was never any good at math (or science)! And I haven’t really needed it anyway. …”
  • We are in trouble when a brand-new teacher qualified in history is assigned to teach biology at an inner-city Washington, D.C., high school, for which he is qualified solely because he was a finalist in a high school science competition. (Full disclosure: the competition was the Intel Science Talent Search, but even so …) Both the students and the teacher deserve/require better.

Wendy Ramage Hawkins is the executive director of the Intel Foundation.

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