STEM Education - The Power of the Investment

BlogHer Original Post

Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education is getting a lot of attention from the White House and from private industry. As a non-parent, I really do have a stake STEM education. On the surface it seems like a good idea to invest $250 million dollars, since most of it is coming from Intel. Why should I care? The most basic reason? My own safety and survival.

I have seen the eradication of entry level employment. I look at industrial employment and it is a fraction of what it was 40 years ago. We can't run an economy on just service jobs or service entrepreneurs. Even contemporary vocational education is caught between providing a necessary skilled workforce and lack of resources to train those students interested in paraprofessional training.

There are increasing groups of young people who have never held a job or had access to employment. I also know that those same young people face increasing competition from middle age and older folks who have no choice but to continue working because there are no retirement funds available for their future.

I don’t want to do the doom and gloom scenario. We have had enough of that. But first, I need to tell you a memory.

Long Ago A Teacher Tried To Tell Me...

School did one of two things to me; either bored me or made me feel incompetent. On the first day of junior high I came prepared. I had comic books, magazines and a newspaper for backup. You see, after six years of public school education I was resigned in my 7th grade to the idea that school was a major waste of my time. I was better served by day dreaming and catching up on the essential information that 16 Magazine and Tiger Beat provided.

I visualized my strategy. I had competition for the back row so I had to bust a move to make sure I got my seat. The back row in a crowded class was the perfect place to study the graphic artistry of Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four.

The one thing I did not count on was my science teacher, Mr. Halverson. For one thing, he wasn’t old or crusty. No matter. I wasn’t going to let youth and good looks get between me and Dr. Doom snatching Sue Storm. I was studying page 3 when I sensed something was wrong.

The room was too quiet. People were paying attention. The class clown was silent. The Princess, whose nails must be inspected every fifteen minutes, was looking like she might be interested in something other than herself. Even the tough guys were checking him out; their Jeff caps were actually above their eyes.

This was not normal. I came up for air long enough to hear Mr. Halverson talking about expectations. What he wanted from us. What he was prepared to do to show that science was more than just a bunch of facts. That man was giving the pitch any sales man would have been proud to deliver except that he was selling access to knowledge.

I looked around. There were 34 other students in the room. I was the last skeptic. I held out for another five minutes and somehow, he made me believe.

Mr. Halverson was a good as his word. There were no new science books so he photocopied our current science reading material. He didn’t use the old-timey 1950 science slide strips or movies. We generally started class with the daily science news and how we were involved or where this was going. A lot of what he provided came out of his paycheck or his imagination.

There were no prepackaged science lab kits or a list of experiments to perform. We made our science projects with whatever we had around the house. I am proud to say that a project of mine caught on fire. Or did it blow up? Anyway it was unintentional. He made me feel good about the importance of failure.

We learned many lessons but being prepared for what life brought you, even if unexpected, that was ultimately his biggest lesson.

Did we turn into perfect students? No. There was a constant effort made to get him off track just to hear him talk about the future. He was on to us fairly quick and suckered us back to the lesson of the day. We worked it out. I can’t remember anyone voluntarily cutting his class. And yes, he did have to kick us out at the end of the period.

The Big Pay Back

I needed to tell you this memory because what Mr. Halverson brought into the classroom, besides his enthusiasm and actual regard for his students, was that he paid for what little extra we had in class. Many teachers, past and present, make this kind of investment for their students. I know many teachers do this because they don’t want to hear the crap about not in the budget or it is not going to be appreciated.

I think that Mr. Halverson would want to remind his former students that he was serious about preparing for the future. He would tell the administrator that teachers shouldn’t have to subsidize classroom education (or parents either). I think he and I would be asking with a calculator in hand where exactly did all that money go and who is spending it?

Well, he knows I’d ask. Some things and people just don’t change.

I think he would want to know that the focus would be on the needs of the students first and everything else is structured in service of the student’s education. We never talked about that, but I don’t think he would object too much. It is what I observed from him and it worked so yeah, I’ll bring that forward on his behalf.

Moving Forward, Again.

Over the next year it will be important to keep an eye on the many STEM initiatives and funding. My skeptical side feels like there is a gold rush warming up. That is not necessarily a good or bad thing.

What is important is that education will change. It has to because an educated, inventive work force is one of the means any country stays competitive in a global market. Intel, Cisco Systems and other industry contributors know this and that is part of the reason they are forking up cash money and their talent to make this happen.

Ok, it is good for their future business too. Let me put it another way. Ask India and China if their investments in education are paying off. Where are your computer or credit card customer support calls going? When you buy apple juice is it made in Oregon, Brazil or China? Last week I discovered my apple juice came from China.

It isn’t like there isn’t a world of things to create, repair and restore. Besides movies and music what else can we bring to the world? It is not impossible but we do have to get started.

Different Voices About STEM

There are dozens of stakeholders who have or are making an investment in technology education.

The Project Tomorrow - Speak Up is one of those places where students, parents and teachers have really good ideas on what a contemporary school needs. You can view a video of high school students sharing what they feel would be helpful in a school situation. Stories From School has a great post on the reality of implementing a requirement that might increase the drop out rate. The Learning Out Loud blog does have a questions about the STEM focus.

The Public Broadcasting System is working to provide a variety of STEM projects. One of the ways they are involved is through the program SciGirls. The show is targeted to girls aged 11-14. There is also the STEM Resource Center for Teachers and, I would assume, home schooling parents to show how their current programming can be adapted for additional educational resources.

On the academic side, many institutions are presenting themselves as portals to STEM education. Mary Bart of Faculty Focus takes a look at African American, Native American and Hispanic colleges and universities to see how they are implementing STEM instruction as well as honoring their chartered educational missions. Teachers.TV and Classroom 2.0 look at the ways that collaborative learning among teachers and education professional can be supported and resources obtained both within and outside of the traditional structures.

The new tools and resources don’t always cost an arm and a leg. At eLearn Tools for STEM take a look at some of the resources that could be put into place such as equation writers, videos and screen recorders.

Cisco Systems is the main supporter of GetIdeas.org a conversation with educational leaders talking about leadership, mission and global education. GetSchooled is funded by Viacom and supported by a number of other corporations. The goal is to find ways to reduce the drop out rate.

I hope that I and my classmates have paid the investment forward or at least try too. It is never too late and around here all voices are welcomed.

Gena Haskett is a BlogHer CE. Blogs:Out On The Stoop and Create Video Notebook

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