Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Science And Technology Tuesday: A Student Writes

Check out this insightful column written by high school student Lisa Burdette, who attends Horseheads High School in upstate New York:
In the United States, young people are fortunate enough to possess the ability to choose their own career path.

These days, however, few are choosing math and science careers. Current scientists and engineers see the consequence of their field's decline in popularity. In the future, if the trend continues, the United States could lose its position as the scientific center of the world.

China and India have begun to produce thousands of scientists and engineers who work for much lower wages than their American counterparts. As a result, many large corporations have outsourced jobs to these workers in their native countries. China and India groom their children for scientific success from a very young age. Their youth schooling experience is geared toward creating a plethora of brilliant scientists and engineers.

Although children in the United States are not required to follow a defined path in their education, politicians have recently developed bills that would enact measures to improve science and math education in grades kindergarten through 12.

One such bill is the education component of the Protect America's Competitive Edge (PACE) Act. According to the National Science Teachers Association, the PACE Act was created as a result of a National Academy of Science report stating that improving K-12 mathematics and science education would be crucial to maintaining America's "competitive edge."

In the United States, young people are fortunate enough to possess the ability to choose their own careers.

Upon reviewing the major points of the bill, however, I failed to find a specific focus on improving science and mathematics education in grades K-6. The bill seems to be geared toward secondary school students - those in junior high and high school - and even college students.

However, interest in science truly begins at the elementary level. A key component of improving the number of American scientists and engineers is igniting interest at a young age and nurturing that interest throughout a child's education.

Educational television can help to interest a child in a subject. When I was young, I watched "Bill Nye the Science Guy" and "Magic School Bus," and I learned much from those shows that I remember and utilize today. High school science teachers often use "Bill Nye the Science Guy" in their classrooms because it is such an excellent resource.

Currently, educational television leans toward multicultural education. While multicultural education is indeed extremely important, a balance should exist. A greater number of fun and educational science shows should appear.

Even if children enjoy math and science when they are young, they may lose or ignore that interest in junior high because of the enormous peer pressure to be "cool." If educators could find a method to make science "cool" and socially acceptable, I believe that many more students would pursue the subject.

Teenagers tend to believe that scientists are social pariahs who are concerned only with their work. Adults should strive to dissuade them from this perception by demonstrating that scientists and engineers are indeed normal human beings.

In addition, illustrating the application of classroom learning to real-life situations would more fully engage a young teenager. Instead of simply learning formulas and doing simple labs, science teachers should demonstrate the widespread effects and applications of their subject. Some teachers are already adept at this, but some are not. Students need applications to which they can relate.

Recently, the government has focused on improving standardized test scores. While that is certainly a worthy pursuit, better test scores will not increase interest in math and science. Politicians and government officials should instead attempt to develop a true interest and involvement in science and math among young people.

Careers in science and math are certainly not ideal for everyone. We shouldn't attempt to force young people into such careers. However, students may miss out on something they truly enjoy if their science education comes solely from a textbook, which I'm sure many would consider quite dull. In order to increase the number of math, science and engineering majors in the United States, we first have to infuse students with an enthusiasm for the subject.
I'd say that Miss Burdette is a pretty sharp young lady. If she doesn't desire a career in science or technology, maybe she should consider one in journalism.
Contributions for this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education are due tonight. Get submission info here; see our latest education-related entries over there.