Friday, February 10, 2012

More on STEM

Shrikant Kalegaonkar wrote a response to Paul Borawski's February blog that resonates with me.  It's not about getting people to like STEM--it is about the self discovery and how STEM resonates in their lives. Unfortunately, we have systems that put barriers into place that prevent that self-discovery. 

In the state of Virginia education system students are taught to a fixed curriculum based on Standards of Learning (SOL). Other states have similar systems.  Individual public schools are funded based on their student's ability to pass SOL exams.  There are two unintended consequences at play.  First, there is inherent pressure on teachers to teach to a test. Second, students are being trained as "parrots," rewarded with a grade for the right answer.

The traditional undergraduate academic institutions also play into this problem.  They wail at the system that creates these parrots that now frequent college classrooms.  They have courses in their curriculum that are deisgned to "weed out" students (introductory statistics courses are often cited here) and they often fail to work with students to help them understand the linkages of their curriculum and how it relates to the world in which they will enter.  

So how do we fix this?  The only way I know of is to get involved in the learning process as a parent and volunteer.  When both my son and daughter were in elementary school I would go to my child's math teacher and, as someone who taught statistics at Christopher Newport Universtity, I would offer my services to teach and provide free textbooks to the teachers.  I would teach fractions, pareto charts, bar charts, stem & leaf plots (can you believe a 2nd grader needs to know about stem & leaf? Another rant for another time!) using M&M's. Can you say big hit?  

Now my son is approaching high school. I am looking to offer tutoring services under the guidance of a friendly faculty member.  After having stumbled in earlier teaching efforts, I figured out a most effective strategy:  Tell stories, show logic, ask questions, create fun.  School is stressful to our kids and if our subjects can relieve the performance stress that is required in our school systems the student will naturally take to it.

Getting your employer involved is also important. It also supports ASQ through the Social Responsibility initiaitve. Our shipyard has a community outreach program with both the local public school system as reading and math mentors and the universities engineering programs that help students see who fluid mechanics, thermal dymanics, et. al., impact shipbuilding and ship repair.

Change comes from the spark of passionate people.  In the 18 years I have been an ASQ member, I have never met a more passionate group of people who are willing to share of themselves and their experiences.  Change does not occur until we participate.  How will you get involved?
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