In the second of what appears to be a series of commentary on the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math hearings being held by the US House subcommittee for Science, I’d like to draw your attention to a few points in “Reform in K-12 STEM Education”.
First the funny bits, brought to you today by Dr. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University:
- “Mathematics is very intimidating. Every time I go and visit with our Math department … I take Valium before I go over … they scare the hell out of me.” (1:18:43) … So remember kids, if your PI asks why you’re dropping X before group meeting, tell ’em Dr. Gee said it was cool. Honestly, I think most group meetings would be improved by a little X.
- “If you can’t be a lawyer, if you can’t be a doctor … you can always be a teacher.” (1:10:06) I kid, I kid.
While this hearing was a bit less interesting for me than the previous, probably due to my lack of experience teaching at the HS level, some comments bear repeating:
- Dr. Simons (11:23), a straight shooter if ever there was one, placed the blame for a decline in STEM on a lack of educated teachers at the K-12 level, causing there to “not be enough Americans to fill [science jobs]” (13:13). I’m not sure I agree with those assertions, but he probably knows something I don’t … probably more than just the one thing, actually. He also gives the best quote I’ve heard about why science teachers are hard to find:
“The very economy that depends on these people … strips them from the classroom.”
- One of the committee members, WA Rep. Brian Baird suggested that there should be a ‘voluntary national curriculum’ that schools could follow, not just for the students in order that parents might be able to better help their own children because, ”The average parent can’t help their child past 6th grade in math and science.’ (1:11:41) Utterly impossible to implement in our crazy ass “states’ rights” society, but not a bad idea. Dr. Baird is apparently getting out of the politics game which, if you watch his comments, seems like a bit of a loss.
- Lastly, reinforcing my personal hobby horse, hands on projects for students inside the classroom and through partnerships with extramural organizations (museums, companies, etc). To quote Dr. Wadsworth of Battelle (the best company you’ve never heard of), “When a child sees the application of STEM to a real problem … that’s the most stimulating way to engage them into the field.” (51:48) Dr. Gee (30:20) seems to think that some of the more fadish, ‘inquiry based‘ methods of teaching are the solution at the K-12 level (or P-20 as he likes to call it), but I’m of the opinion* that any real gains are purely from the more hands on approach some inquiry-based methods take.
By an odd coincidence, Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour had an episode last week about inquiry-ed and its ability to motivate students. I object to inquiry-ed on the grounds that when taken to extremes, it is both fadish and inefficient, but it’s worth a listen to see how motivated you can get beginners in STEM by making the projects relevant to them. Plus, Dr. Kiki’s voice is just kind of hot … don’t tell my fiancee … worth a listen if you need a new podcast … take that, Ira Flatow!