Education; It’s time for a new school model – STEM

We have discussed in this blog many of the problems attached with education as they presently exist. Sadly, I have fallen into the trap of emphasizing the problems we already know; decrepit schools, unqualified teachers, teacher unions, bad parenting, useless teaching methods, parents sending unprepared children to school, wasted resources, corruption, etc.

Now, I am climbing out of the negative trap that I and so many fall into and will be writing about ideas, innovations, digital education, creative lateral thinking, new philosophies and techniques for helping children learn more and overcome their home deficiencies and parental neglect. It is my hope to change the dialogue to one of hope instead of despair. Let’s begin with a few important studies that inform and educate us regarding future trends and possibilities.

1. STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In 2006, the United States National Academies expressed their concern about the declining state of STEM education in the United States. Its Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy developed a list of 10 actions federal policy makers could take to advance STEM education in the United States to compete successfully in the 21st century. Their top three recommendations were to:

·    increase America’s talent pool by improving K-12 science and mathematics education;
·    strengthen the skills of teachers through additional training in science, math and technology;
·    enlarge the pipeline of students prepared to enter college and graduate with STEM degrees.

2. The Department of Labor identifies fourteen sectors that are “projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy, or affect the growth of other industries, or are being transformed by technology and innovation requiring new sets of skills for workers.” These are: Advanced Manufacturing, Automotive, Construction, Financial Service, Geospatial Technology, Homeland Security, Information Technology, Transportation, Aerospace, Biotechnology, Energy, Healthcare, Hospitality, and Retail.

3. A study on Education and the Workforce submitted in August, 2011 by the Georgetown University Center confirms what teachers, parents, and public and private sector leaders have known for years: A post-secondary education is now the gateway to the middle class. The Georgetown study indicates that the lifetime earnings for people with bachelor’s degrees are 84% greater than those with only a high school diploma — whose lifetime earnings translate to just over $15/hour.

4. According to the Milken Institute Review, which everyone should read for its articulate presentation of the facts,  “In 1969, the average male college graduate working full time earned about 55% more than an average worker with only a high school diploma. Four decades later, this wage premium was 116%. Powerful economic forces, including technological change and globalization, have reduced job opportunities for less educated, less-skilled workers while increasing them for higher-skilled workers.”

5. The single most important trend in the world today is that globalization and the information/technology revolution have catapulted us into a whole new level of worker skills. We have cloud computing, wireless connectivity, Skype, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and inexpensive Smartphones. We have gone from connected to hyper connected. The last I heard there were 3 million job openings with no one to fill them because our general population lack the skills to apply.

6. Thomas Friedman, New York Times, said, “We don’t have a jobs problem; we have a skills problem.” He goes on to write, “Think of what The Times reported last February: At little Grinnell College in rural Iowa, with 1,600 students, ‘nearly one of every 10 applicants being considered for the class of 2015 is from China.’ ” The article noted that dozens of other American colleges and universities are seeing a similar surge as well. And the article added this fact: Half the “applicants from China this year have perfect scores of 800 on the math portion of the SAT.”

We already know that many parents of the students who are failing and dropping out are not motivated or committed to performing their important parenting skills. Their children are unlikely to succeed in this competitive climate if they live in a home where parents are uninvolved. Since this abysmal parenting problem is unlikely to change, I find it is more positive to focus on the teachers. They are the ones who are expected to teach skills in order to prepare their students, the ones who care, for the competitive future.

It is unfortunate that teachers have to spend time teaching character, values and disciplining students who come from homes where these attributes are nonexistent. It wastes their valuable teaching time with students who have a future. How many students who want to learn and succeed are stuck in classes with peers whose main goal is to disrupt and distract because they lack the discipline and intellectual ability to focus and learn? Enough said, let me focus on teachers, our valuable, hardworking teachers, at least most of them.

How do we change the systems/curriculum in our schools so this present generation of children is able to successfully compete in a one world labor market that is connected by the internet and World Wide Web? How does our educational system provide the skill sets needed for motivated children to succeed and fulfill their aspirations?

Computers are the language of our students; this is how they communicate with each other and their parents. I was at my son’s BBQ over the Labor Day weekend and spoke to some of his friends. I asked them how they communicate with each other and their families. They replied they Twitter or Facebook for quick notes and email to get longer messages to their friends. They Skype with their parents and extended families. They don’t know what a postage stamp is and they don’t write letters. This generation is more computer savvy than their teachers, parents, and anyone who is a generation behind them. They are involved in everything and disdain the obsolete, like the Encyclopedia Britannica. It’s Google folks; it’s Wikipedia; it’s the internet!

For starters, I suggest we think about the following ideas for teachers:

·    We offer computer skill seminars to all existing teachers before each school year begins, some will be refresher courses and some will be starter courses. We teach them not only to become proficient in operating their computers and computer software, but we also teach them the skills in how to join in the conversation and operate the latest technological innovations and communications; Twitter, Facebook, Cloud Computing, Skype, Google and all of its components (Gmail, Ngram, Google Docs, etc.), LinkedIn, to name a few.
·    Have each school create their own email system so professional communication can be stored for future reference and information gathering. Teachers should not use their personal email accounts.
·    We include in our university education curriculum’s courses or laboratories for new teachers that emphasize computer skills and all of the latest online technology and methods of communication. They must be proficient in order to graduate.
·    We gift each teacher their own computer. We give each teacher a free laptop like federal and state governments give cell phones and laptops to many of their public employees. The taxpayer bears the cost for these perks for government employees why shouldn’t they do this for teachers, who impact every child in our country?
·    We require teachers to communicate with their students in online conferencing tutorials, like many corporations do with online conferencing when they brainstorm for solutions to corporate problems. Think of this, teachers and groups of students working out problems online, collaborating as a team for the success of all.
·    There is a program at New Humanitarian private school in Russia called “Curators”. These are designated teachers whose job it is to oversee students in each grade. Curators generally do not conduct lessons but observe classes, identify problems and take children to meals and activities. Many children stay at school until 6 p.m. doing homework with curators.
·    Every teacher should study and teach courses in “thinking,” as in critical thinking. A dissident Soviet educational philosopher named Georgy Shchedrovitsky argues there are three ways of thinking: abstract, verbal and representational. To comprehend the meaning of something, you have to use all three. Teachers should be “thinking” in their classrooms. They should delight in barraging children with word problems and puzzles to force them to think broadly. To do this they must think broadly!
·    Classes should be videotaped. This way we could critique how teachers interact with and nurture relations between children. The administrators and staff could work on reviewing footage and discussing methodology with teachers in order to improve their teaching skills and student interaction.
·    At New Humanitarian children are graded and ranked, with results posted. The school master says, “they send an entirely different message to the kids: ‘Learning is hard, but you have to do it. You have to get good grades.’ ” In our school systems we instill an ethos that everyone’s-a-winner. This is destructive and dishonest. A child needs to know when they are not a winner. They need to know they are being left behind.

Educational reform is the only real source for the revitalization of our country.

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  1. September 23, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    You are making a great point about parents not involved in their children’s education and instilling the sense of the winner.

    I have heard so many parents say: “I drove him to school, now it’s the teachers’ job to keep him busy.” How about teaching your child that when they enter that classroom, they should have respect for their teacher? I can go on forever on that topic… I just don’t know when the school became an excuse for lack of parent involvement in children’s education. Parents think that as long as the child is at school, they don’t need to do anything. The attitude is: “If my child is falling behind, it’s the school’s fault.”

    And then I have also heard so many teachers tell parents that their children are doing great at school and everything is going fine, only for the parents to find out at the end of the school year, that their kids have had problems all along and no one told them. A friend of mine learned that her son couldn’t recognize some of the letters of the alphabet at the end of Grade 1, but throughout the school year, the teacher was telling her that he was doing better than most kids in his class and he’s very smart. When she met with the teacher to talk about her son’s performance, the teacher started telling her that her son had been struggling all year to grasp the material. When my friend asked the teacher why she wasn’t notified about these issues, the teacher said that she didn’t want the boy to think that the teacher is putting him down and that he’s not doing well. It’s ridiculous. He needs to know he’s not doing well, so he can put in the effort to do well. How else would he know if he’s reaching the expectations?

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