Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How about the Science of Football?

Several professional soccer teams in the UK are actually hosting after-school programs in their clubhouses. They use the draw of their popularity to offer lessons which pertain to the sport but also cover other subjects, such as business and science. Link to article in the Times of London

Connecting with STEM Programs for OST

I was in Boston over the past two days and met with a number of leaders who have created great programs and/or are doing related work to advance the state of STEM education, after-school, youth development, etc. I plan to share what I learned in postings over the next few days.

Funny take on STEM Education

The Onion has an article in the "funny because it is sadly true" category:

"In a nationally televised Oval Office address Tuesday, President Bush expressed the concern that if Iran is allowed to enrich its students unchecked, many of them could end up anywhere, with some potentially landing in major university centers in New York and Los Angeles.

'The U.S. stopped enriching its students decades ago, and we call upon Iran to do the same,' Bush said."

Friday, September 22, 2006

Contests and Competitions

There are many contest and competition programs to encourage young people in STEM learning. Many of these are well designed and offer great incentives for students and coaches. However, they are also highly proscriptive and demand a lot of adult and student time. This is one of the reasons that they tend to be dominated by higher income participants. Most program organizers are aware of this concern and have been making efforts to reach underserved populations. The Team America Rocketry Challenge opened its entries to non-school groups and ended up having its national winners come from a rural 4-H club.

I am starting to build a wiki page with some more examples of competition programs. Feel free to add more information.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Equity through STEM Learning

I attended a great session last weekend sponsored by ASTC and hosted by the NY Hall of Science and the Educational Equity Center (EEC) at AED. EEC has been developing a new curriculum, Afterschool Math PLUS, with support from the National Science Foundation. The product is outstanding and seems to be showing great results through the pilot phase, which includes sites in NYC, St. Louis, and Louisville. Implementation is being done as a partnership between a science museum and a community-based after-school provider. With private support, EEC is now moving forward to replicate this success. EEC also has exemplary curriculum for science inquiry, reviewed at the Consumers Guide to Afterschool Science Resources and available here.

EEC's efforts are not just about teaching math and science skills. They start with a focus on equity - ending discrimination based on gender, race/ethnicity, disability, and level of family income. The need for changing attitudes about science and math and offering engaging learning opportunities follow from this.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Einstein and the Dominant Paradigm

Corey Powell wrote an interesting essay for the book My Einstein, reprinted in the October 2006 Discover magazine, about Albert Einstein’s enduring legacies as scientist, philosopher, and symbolic figure. Powell’s description of how Einstein revolutionized physics with unconventional thinking got me thinking about the potential for revolution in education:

“Einstein was a kind of physics hippie, a man whose creativity was inseparable from his refusal to play by the rules of academia and buy into its comfortable certainties. He reminds me of Bob Dylan kicking out an electrifying “Like a Rolling Stone”… Einstein could easily have compromised…Instead he chose a line of work that allowed his thoughts to hum freely until they spun out the song of special relativity.”

“every natural philosopher before Einstein, going back to Aristotle and beyond, accepted some version of [absolute space with variable physical laws.] Einstein arrive at special relativity almost purely from an examination of logical flaws in the then current theories of physics, flaws that were evident for all to see. … He insisted on examining the workings of the world at a more rigorous level than even the most illustrious of his predecessors, until he was totally certain that the system made sense. His requirement of total consistency forced him to take seriously the problems that his predecessors and colleagues alike had swept aside as trivialities or unanswerable…”

Can education, like physics, be revolutionized by a “Swiss Patent Clerk,” looking at the fundamental things that fade into the background for those too close to the issues? Clearly this has already started to happen with fundamental laws of schooling being challenged by grassroots or non-“establishment” efforts (See Deborah Meier, KIPP, High Tech High, and more!)

Einstein’s revolution was built upon critical work by Maxwell and others, and relativity was only acclaimed after being confirmed by findings from other researchers. We can expect an education revolution to be preceded and followed by critically important work by established experts. But the lesson of Einstein is that anyone out there can push the fringe, even challenge the fundamental principles – the length of the school day, governance, funding streams, or anything that needs to change if every child is to succeed.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Interest as well as achievement

A small finding announced a few months ago should be a wake-up call to many of us in education. A group at the University of Virginia found that career preference in 8th grade is a better predictor of which students enter STEM careers than achievement test scores (in math). This article from the Boston Globe provides a good summary of the research, which was published in Science. The key point is the same as in my last post - building student understanding and measuring academic achievement is only one piece of the puzzle. Getting young people interested in and excited about science and technology is as important if not moreso. If CSI (or a better link) and Mythbusters can get this started, shouldn't schools and after-school programs keep the kids engaged?

On a personal note, after winning multiple math awards throughout my youth, I hardly considered a math or science major in college. Special thanks belong to the middle school principal and Teach for America staff who trusted me to bring my passion for math to a 6th grade classroom!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Engagement, Capacity, and Continuity

Engagement, Capacity, and Continuity: A Trilogy for Student Success, a report by Dr. Eric J. Jolly (Science Museum of Minnesota), Dr. Patricia B. Campbell (Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc.) and Lesley K. Perlman (Campbell-Kibler Associates, Inc.), provides a useful framework for anyone trying to connect youth development and academic achievement. It acknowledges that there is no magic bullet that moves a child into productive adulthood, something that most of us know but too many policy makers forget when dividing up scarce resources.

Our efforts in education must include all three pieces:
  • Engagement - "The spark" that gets a child interested in learning.
  • Capacity - "The skills" needed to continue to the next level of understanding.
  • Continuity - "The pathways" that provide access to higher learning and careers.
Some youth development workers worry that science will take the fun out of after-school, so we must work to make after-school science engaging - something that children are as likely to choose for themselves as basketball, dance, or drama.

Some educators worry that hands-on, inquiry-based science does not actually lead to higher-order understanding. Yet, quality inquiry learning is considered necessary by all of the major science standards (NSTA has a good position paper summarizing this.)

Some policy makers think that a child with an interest in science and the skills necessary to achieve success will find the path to a career. However, there are many more obstacles, especially for the millions of children living in poverty, who choose jobs over career-related internships, or who cannot afford college. Even given the resources, a child may never pursue a science or engineering career if they have never seen a role model - someone who looks like them - follow a similar path.

So, as we meet the challenge of raising a generation of science and technology workers, let us keep in mind that there are many pieces to the puzzle. Luckily, none of us faces that challenge alone.

Back to Blogging

I went away for vacation and then Labor Day, so now I am back. I am excited to see that I got a comment, so I hope that means that some of what I write gets read.