STEM Culture

The country’s first CTO, Aneesh Chopra, mentioned the President’s science and math initiative on his blog which includes a video of the president’s speech this week and showcases FIRST, the best STEM initiative in the US.
At the 12 minute mark, President Obama recalls asking South Korea’s president what his biggest education challenge was.  He replied, “our parents are too demanding.”  With the exception of some private schools, it’s hard to imagine that problem in the US.  We have an anti-STEM culture and it threatens the economic security of the US.
The good news is that the President announced a STEM initiative.  The bad news is that it’s not very good.  Dave Saba summarized how badly flawed in this blog yesterday; it’s a university give away.
In addition to devaluing science, we’ve made it boring.  There is a generation of learning tools and virtual environments that will help address that problem.  And rather than expanding multiple choice testing about science, we need to get more kids doing science in programs like FIRST.  Every student in grades 6-12 should be involved in a science-related project and demonstration every year.
Better grant programs, academic options, and learning tools will help, but this is a culture problem first and foremost. And that’s hard to change.  I don’t yet see evidence that we’ve connected economic pain of this recession with the need to improve education especially STEM.  Wall Street fiascos masked a more fundamental erosion of US competitiveness.  The most important long term issue for the US is education for innovation.  We need a STEM culture.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Susan Allred

Tom Vander Ark is on target. Instead of in the recession becoming innovative in education to engage learners in a high functioning integrated curriculum system replete with accountability, education is a political tool in most states where funding is cut with the same zeal as other public services. We must move beyond blame to solutions. National focus can only work if local communities understand and accept that the challenge for current students is different than it has ever been.

Richard Tavener

You make great points that STEM education is largely a 'culture problem,' and that STEM is perceived as boring.
It's no surprise that students today aren't interested much in science, technology, engineering and math. You're right that FIRST Robotics is a great example of how students can get excited about STEM.
Here's a clip of FIRST Robotics from the film imagine it!² The Power of Imagination that illustrates the point.
There is a chorus of voices in this film-- including Dean Kamen, founder of FIRST, Sally Ride, Sir Ken Robinson, the Blue Man Group founders, Ray Kurzweil, John Hennessey, president of Stanford, Peter Diamondis, ceo of the X PRIZE, Ed Catmull, ceo of Pixar Animation / Walt Disney Animation among many others--who agree very much with your opinion that "the most important long term issue for the US is education for innovation."
To that end, I believe there is a need to increase the value placed on curiosity and discovery, imagination and creativity, risk and failure--which are key ingredients to innovation--in the learning process.
The imagine it!² film project was made as a conversation starter around the importance of education for innovation. Using the power of multimedia, our hope is that the film project is part of a cultural shift that connects STEM with creativity, imagination and innovation.

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