Teachers are essential to the future of our nation! And the quality of that future resides in how well they inspire an enthusiasm for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the nation’s students.
It is in those areas that any modern nation develops the new products and processes that drive the engine of economic prosperity by creating new market demands and the jobs that will meet them. If we want to maintain a high standard of living, we have to get serious about fostering an interest in the STEM subjects in our young people.
The problem is, America has fallen behind in this critical area. Way behind!
Data taken from Is America Falling Off the Flat Earth? (2007) by Norman R. Augustine shed a pretty grim light on America’s future prospects for prosperity. Let’s just take five bulleted factoids from the study.
• In Business Week’s ranking of the world’s information-technology companies, only one of the top 10 is based in the United States.
• Nearly 60% of the patents filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office in the field of information technology now originate in Asia.
• The United States ranks 17th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving degrees in science or engineering, a fall from third place three decades ago. It ranks 26th in the proportion receiving undergraduate degrees in mathematics.
• Fewer than 15% of US high-school graduates have sufficient mathematics and science credentials to even begin pursuing an engineering degree.
• The National Intelligence Council reports that in 2003 “foreigners contributed 37 percent of the research papers in Science, 55 percent in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and 71 percent in the journals of the American Physical Society. (quoted verbatim)
And there were dozens of other similarly disheartening statistics to draw from in the 93-page paper. Where are our scientists and engineers, our technology innovators and mathematicians? And if we are lagging behind now, where will we be when current elementary and high school students enter their adult work lives? How many of them will be equipped to invent the next generation of cool things or solve the complex problems we face in keeping ourselves fed and healthy and in keeping the planet alive?
In large measure, the answer to that question lies with teachers. They have the opportunity to light the fire that will fuel curiosity, thinking, and creativity in our students. But it is up to the rest of us to see that teachers have the resources and preparation they need . . . and that we support their efforts to try innovative approaches in science instruction. Approaches, by the way, that are recommended by the National Research Council and the National Science Teachers Association, among others, but which have not been as widely adopted as they need to be. Instead many teachers face unnecessary obstacles to doing science with their students.
Check back here in a few days for more from Norman Augustine’s white paper and a message to teachers. And in the meantime, I invite teachers to talk about those obstacles and about their vision for improving science instruction, so that kids get genuinely excited about science . . . and technology, engineering and mathematics, of course! Please weigh in. How will you help create the next generation of STEM professionals?
You can learn more about Golden Apple’s Inquiry Science Institute here: http://www.goldenapple.org/inquiry-science-institute