Scientists and Other Critical Thinkers

August 5, 2011 at 12:19 PM Leave a comment

Educators may not abdicate responsibility for STEM education. All the scientists in the world cannot do their jobs and teach the children in K-12 schools. But a relatively small cadre of volunteers can create a pipeline of promising young scientific thinkers from every demographic whom they would call their own.

Seems like all scientists are from Missouri, the Show-Me State. This need for evidence of student preparation is driving a two-pronged approach to STEM improvements in education. One is highly visible, but not scalable, mentoring by scientists for future scientists in extended day programs throughout public education. The other is a systematic development of capacity in math, science, technology, and engineering within every school. Neither will succeed without the other.

Scientists are the new elite across the globe. They are brilliant thinkers who make things that the rest of us take for granted. They go to elite schools, they have the power to change the world, and many have amassed incredible wealth. Yet, they jealously guard their gates. The barriers to entry in science go beyond academic challenge and achievement. The scientific community sometimes seems skeptical to the point of chauvinism when considering newcomers.

Educators need help opening doors for their students; they also need help integrating 21st century STEM innovations across the curriculum. Many students have limited access to the world of scientific discovery beyond electronic devices. All students need opportunities for exploration that fosters deep mechanical and intellectual engagement, crucial building blocks for higher order thinking. To remedy the situation, a number of successful after school programs have brought professionals from the scientific community to introduce real world problem solving opportunities for students. As partners, these corporate citizens share content knowledge and skills from applied math and science with support from teachers who offer pedagogical awareness and classroom management.

Students who develop analytical and critical thinking skills through their work with mentor scientists should see benefits in all areas of their schooling. However, this will not single-handedly save schools or close the achievement gap. What it should do is provide evidence that the children CAN achieve at a higher level and overcome barriers to access to higher education and careers. Armed with higher expectations and new allies from the field, the schools themselves are ultimately responsible for their own success and long-term survival.

(Addendum….The impetus for this blog entry was consideration of after-school programs that bring scientists in to work with the kids with a high degree of personalization and engagement. I think school leaders need to think about their intent…are they trying to get more critical thinking in general and improve test scores, or are they trying to connect students to the scientific community to stimulate interest in STEM careers. 
There is a lot of brain power and personal commitment going into after school programs. We have to be careful not to waste this window of opportunity with the scientific community. Many will burn out if they are teaching the basics to kids who are not receiving strong classroom instruction as well. Finding that potential star among the kids for whom a genuine mentoring relationship can happening is at least as important as getting a few more points on test scores…especially if we are going to keep the scientists engaged.)



Entry filed under: Issues and Ideas, Pedagogy.

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