Thursday, March 17, 2011

S.T.E.M

Tuesday night my girls and their troop-mates spent an evening at a local museum learning about electricity.  It was a Girl Scout event open to all troops in our area.  I did not know that it was sponsored by our local electric company, United Illuminating.  Had I known, I would have attended anyway, but I would have had different expectations.


smart board jeopardy

static charges

simple circuits

The event was Energy Efficiency, but dumbed-down the message was “turn off your lights and replace the bulbs with CFLs”.  The girls had a great time.  The evening was structured into centers, located in various rooms and hallways in the museum.  One center was "energy jeopardy" on a smart board.  Another was recording the temperature under lights outfitted with old incandescent light bulbs and the newer-greener-cfls.  

In several rooms, my daughter’s had to spout out “but my Mom does not like the new light bulbs”.  I cringed.  We use them, albeit reluctantly.  I explained that I do not dispute the efficiency of the bulbs but I do have concerns about breakage in our home and the exposure of mercury to my children and myself.  From what I have researched there are specific detailed instructions on what to do should one break.  The area needs to be aired out (for several hours), the pieces carefully cleaned up and disposed of in a sealed bag in a different location other than in the house.  I do not use mercury thermometers, why would I want to use mercury light bulbs?  These bulbs must be recycled and I doubt that the general population is following recommended guidelines for this product.  The leader, an employee of UI, agreed with my concern but did not want to address it saying he was just going to “stick to the science”.  Um...okay.  Anyway...I let the topic die as I did not want to embarrass my girls but since they kept bringing it up, I felt the need to explain myself.
One thing that was interesting to me and my friends was the use of the acronym S.T.E.M (science, technology, engineering, math).  It seems to be the new educational catch phrase.  I have heard it before, most recently at the Girl Scout Day in Hartford.  I love how the educational field creates words.  When I was studying to become a teacher I was told that it is the leading profession for jargon.  Made up words.  Only the “expert” knows and understands.  I would laugh when I would hear teachers give parent-teacher conferences, one in particular to a bi-lingual family that struggled with English, using words like “manipulatives”, “DRP scores” and “SSR time”. I wished she had just said “your son struggles to do math unless he has something like blocks to help him count.” or “your son’s reading scores were a little low and I notice he can’t sit still during our silent reading time”.  
Now it seems S.T.E.M is one of those new and fancy acronyms.  I would surmise that the Girl Scouts have latched onto it to promote girls entering into these fields.  This led me and my friends to talk about why our young people are not the leaders in these fields.  Why is it that other countries value these fields more than ours?  Why do so many people come to our universities, which are world renown for the sciences and technologies but are then denied visas? Why must they take their knowledge, intelligence and desire out of our country, rather than being allowed to stay legally and either work for our companies or start their own company here?  We wondered if it was because other countries value the sciences more than ours.  Perhaps they want it more than we do because we already have so much that we struggle to understand what it is like to live in a developing nation.  
I have been thinking about our conversation and I think these two things may be true.  But I think our country has a different culture.  We value entrepreneurship;  the rogue thinker who starts his own computer company in his garage and then becomes the leader of an entire industry.  We value the free spirit who at one time settled land out west (yes, displacing those who were already there....but our country immortalizes the pioneer spirit).  We are young compared to other countries, like India and China, who have waited centuries to rise to the powers that they are now experiencing.  
Do we need to change our way of thinking?  Do we need to shift our value from mom and pop small businesses and free thinking entrepreneurship and instead focus on churning out masses of students suited for the sciences?  I don’t know.  I think there needs to be a combination of the two.  I value capitalism.  I am a free-market capitalist.  I support minimal government regulation feeling that the checks and balances in free market capitalism will self manage the marketplace.  But we need to empower our youth to join the field.  They need to believe that they can start a business because they have mastered the necessary skills.  If it is a technology business, then that is where their educational focus must lie.  If it is a service business, then the vocational schools are a good choice.  Do our children know what is available to them?  Are they receiving guidance to follow their dreams and talents?  Or are they lost in a system that pushes them along finally out a door into a world they are not prepared for despite their passions and talents?  
We talked about how we each had our talents in high school.  One of us was interested in math and science and excelled in each course she took.  But there was no path made available to her.  No one took the time to say, these are your talents...here is what you can do with them.  I reflected on when I tried to drop my high school physics class.  I was one of few girls taking this class.  My teacher refused to sign my drop sheet.  Unfortunately for me he did not explain why.  I did not understand it until years later.  I did not purse a field in math and science although with my high school classes and grades, I certainly could have.
We also discussed how these talents and passions are easily extinguished by schools.  If a child has a passion for programming and the only way to feed that passion is through elective courses, he or she must perform well on the mastery tests.  If he or she does not, often the elective courses are taken away from the student and a test prep class in inserted in its place.  I know a wonderful child who is on a 504 plan.  She does not test well.  Yet she dreams of entering into a service industry.  Unfortunately the technical schools here look at CMT scores as one requirement for admission.  Despite the fact that she is on a 504 plan, they still considered her test scores and she was denied acceptance.  Will she still be able to follow her dreams in a traditional public high school?  I doubt it.  
While I see value in offering these types of programs to young girls, to spark their interest in the maths and sciences, it will take more than just calling a program a S.T.E.M. program to really affect change.  It needs to start sooner and the system must be changed to allow students to pursue their dreams, realize the goals and utilize their talents.  
When are we going to wake up and see that we can give our children the education they need, whether it is tradtional or non-traditional, to be those future students at M.I.T and R.I.T, Harvard Business School and Wheaton.  We still claim to have the world’s largest economy.  There are still opportunities to merge entrepreneurship with the sciences and take this country to new heights.  
I refuse to believe that change is not possible.  Not when I see my girls and their friends striving every day to become the people they want to be.  For Grace it may be through music or science.  Her dream is to become a meteriologist focusing on severe weather.  She may end up at the National Weather Service or work to enhace early warning systems for tornados and tsunamis.  Lilah may very well become a young chef or baker and realize her dream of owning her own business through a store front or etsy site.   I know as long as they are home, I can help them pursue these dreams by guiding their science programs and making available opportunities for cooking/baking classes and unlimited time to bake at home.  But this needs to be the case for every child, not just those who are homeschooled.  One elective a semester just won’t suffice.
This New York Times Op-Ed article has been making the rounds of the homeschooling yahoo groups.  I found it very interesting.  It is a new way of approaching traditional schooling that may allow for some return to individual control over education.  I hope this catches on.....


http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/15/opinion/15engel.html


What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Those little projects look interesting!

    I think traditional school squashed my natural talents, too. i love that we as homeschoolers can tailor education to fit our individual children.

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