Don’t Blame Teachers for the Poor State of STEM

[The following is a response to colleagues’ comments, in ETCJ’s staff listserv, re the need for change in the way science is traditionally taught. The discussion was spurred by the 2 Feb. 2013 report, “For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence,” by the Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission. -Editor]

You have to remember, I got thrown out of schools for doing all of the things that we talk about that are going to be the future. I worked with the White House. The principal called me in and said, “You can’t do this technology stuff in Arlington Schools if you want to stay.” That was not a choice to me. Teachers who did what they were told are still probably working. I was not what the schools wanted, an innovator using technology. You are preaching to the wrong person.

I can’t demonstrate my skills right now. I don’t have a place to do it. Tracy Learning Center in Tracy, CA, is where I worked to help establish advocacy. My benefactor died.

Nysmith School in Herndon, VA, and a few other schools and projects do what I love. NCLB took the steam out of STEM, the science out of the classroom, and the focus away from what was called SMET, now STEM. NCLB took me out of the classroom. I will always remember the discussion.

I was with people who are STEM evangelists in the Nysmith School, which I visited in the NIIAC times. We as a council visited the school back then. Both of the schools are not mainstream. Tracy School is a charter school, K-12, mostly minority kids, very minority. Because the school has a longer day, with another month in the school year, it has to be a charter school. We had a plan. 

Nysmith

I remember dreaming: What if I could work in a school like this? Instead, I built my dream using a public school classroom. It worked for a time until the heavy hammer of “we must start testing in January until the testing day” came around. I lost my individual planning time and “experts” came to my classroom to “teach for the test.” It was mandated. So I protested and was moved to a career education school as a last resort. I survived there, building community programs, individual programs, and reaching out to the groups like NASA, NOAA, National Geographic, ESRI, Earthwatch. I was properly educated and NSTA certified to do STEM in every way. Before I left, I established an after school program and rich connections with the Smithsonian. Worked for me.

Support from People in the Learning Trenches

I really loved the way in which NASA nurtured me to do project based learning, and how, in the same sense, provided a learning opportunity for me. Workshops, resources, mentors — how exciting it was to be at Goddard talking to the people who did the space projects. I am a Christa McAuliffe Education and a Challenger Center Fellow and a PAEMST winner. I had an NSF grant from the Online Internet Institute. But the winds of education changed to NCLB — then Rhee.

Real Learning, Real Mentors

I used to read the National Geographic, but it became alive to teachers — not the beltway bandits but to people who lived, breathed and advocated all the things I was interested in. I never, ever, ever had such a learning opportunity. All the divisions of the National Geographic came together to create a learning opportunity for me. It was life changing. There were also components of mapping, ecosystems, ecology, archaeology. Instead of reading about things, suddenly I was in Marjorca, Spain, in the islands working with a real scientist in the field. Some of it was fun, e.g., a pig ate my hat. But I found Carthagenic beads and lots of bones. Who had ever heard of the Carthagenians? Not me. Who knew? And I have been to Carthage. I taught use of educational IT for some summers in technology.

It was the opening of a fascination with field work and archaeology. I was working on the project of the Beaker People. But there was history and world work to learn about. That was Earthwatch. There were the Jason projects and ESRI. I have, as many teachers have, been always busy learning, learning, learning.

GIS — I knew about it, but gradually used and learned it. The schools, of course, were not interested. Last summer, I was able to interest inner city kids in the history of DC preformation of the capitol, the time when the capitol being established, how it was during the war, and then after the war. Not sure who learned more, me or the kids. It was summer, it was hot, it was play time, and we were hovering over GIS programs and having the time of our lives learning what is not necessarily taught in schools. It was a pleasure to see, think, be retrospective in thought and history. I myself was amazed. I learned and wrote with the kids. It was awesome. But I don’t think at this time that it affects all students.

Talk about physics — NASA taught me, and I loved the ideational scaffolding that took me to NSTA and the courses at Berkeley. I loved being one of a few women in the class and being able to bring my technology into the course. NSF officers saw my writings about the class, and it made a difference. George Lucas and visualization and modeling — how awesome that was.

All of the children that I taught studied physics. We did not read the science book. We did science. I started with the Eisenhower grants, and with a Marymount degree in science, math and physics, some computational science. And then there was the Smitnsonian — courses for $5.00.

Then let’s talk about Frank Withrow‘s influence. He shared innovative ways to work, to learn and to teach. I loved the integration of the projects, especially the “Voyage of the Mimi.” It was an incredible learning tool.

Think Team Learning

Challenger Center, Moonbase America, etc. — so rich a learning experience. A Jason project. it snowed, and the kids called me and organized how we would get to the headquarters of the National Geographic. They got to talk with Bob Ballard.

With team learning we involved the kids of different ability and knowledge, but also there was a group of parents who were so interested in the learning, the teaching, that I had a support community of parents and NSF officers. I used to, in my early teaching career, be afraid of parents in the room. With team learning, I had astronauts, scientists, hippies, poets, and physicists as a part of my team. So I am not wedded to old style, and, in fact, computational thinking and math and supercomputing are my new interests. I don’t have a school, I don’t have funding. I just have a passion for learning. I advocate. Maybe someday I will  be able to demonstrate, but I don’t care if I don’t. I will find a way. In the meantime, I will be Ground Truth for minorities in the social media.

Have you looked at my links on Snip.IT?

Sometimes good things happen. ..

A set of small miracles happen. A person who saw my writings donated technology to a group that I work for. I did not even beg for it. Donated CISCO networking tools and resources and paid to have them delivered. There was expert back up. I work in advocacy for JEF, a supercomputer center in the DC Ghetto. It is a real supercomputer center. Dr. Jesse Bemley is a friend. We are sometimes involved in the Supercomputing community. I am not a PhD. He is.

GIS

With ESRI I was able to introduce the BDPA and Urban Tech Academy to GIS. When I went to the conference, I saw the jobs, I saw the information. I could not believe the rich depth of the conference. The first day was another transformation for me. So much to learn, so many ways to link the visualization, the global projects, the oceanography, and the daily use of GIS. We are going to ESRI again. It is a new world of learning, new opportunities for innovative thinking, reflection and knowledge building.

One Response

  1. […] You have to remember, I got thrown out of schools for doing all of the things that we talk about that are going to be the future. I worked with the White House. The principal called me in and said, “You can’t do this technology stuff in Arlington Schools if you want to stay.” That was not a choice to me. Teachers who did what they were told are still probably working. I was not what the schools wanted, an innovator using technology. You are preaching to the wrong person. I can’t demonstrate my skills right now. I don’t have a place to do it. Tracy Learning Center in Tracy, CA, is where I worked to help establish advocacy. My benefactor died. Nysmith School in Herndon, VA, and a few other schools and projects do what I love. NCLB took the steam out of STEM, the science out of the classroom, and the focus away from what was called SMET, now STEM. NCLB took me out of the classroom. I will always remember the discussion. I was with people who are STEM evangelists in the Nysmith School, which I visited in the NIIAC times. We as a council visited the school back then. Both of the schools are not mainstream. Tracy School is a charter school, K-12, mostly minority kids, very minority. Because the school has a longer day, with another month in the school year, it has to be a charter school. We had a plan. Click headline to read more–  […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s