STEM education

Science Technology Engineering and Math.  These areas of knowledge/competence are critical for students moving into the future.

Throughout the 20th century we valued these.  These skills drove the improvements in quality of life, productivity and achievement throughout the century.  Without these disciplines we wouldn’t have airplanes, fast cars, iPhones, computers, plentiful food, economic development, video games,  the list goes on and on.

The US lead the world and is still a leader but we are losing our edge.  Other countries are advancing faster than we are.  It is normal for the leader to lose ground as everyone else catches up, but we cannot lose the lead.

From an early age I was excited about technology, be it video games, the space program, computer programming, etc.  I spent a lot of time learning how a computer works and how to program.  Much of that was self taught because the classes just weren’t there. I was bored in the H.S. class I took because I was further ahead than the teacher was.  That wasn’t bad but it forced me to be resourceful.  I got lucky because my grandparents took an interest in making sure I had tools to learn.  Not every kid my age had that.  I had a crappy computer but at least I had one.

As I look at the amount of time kids are at school I am disheartened with the fact that we can’t find more time for the kids to be in the computer labs.  At our school the kids don’t get a lot of library time and only half of that is spent in our media lab.  There are after school programs to teach programming but those are optional and not all of the kids can participate.  We are creating haves and have nots from an early age when it comes to technology.

Learning how to program or get involved in technology has never been easier.  I think the problem is the excitement about what can be done.  Getting resources for teachers is not the limiting factor.  You can get a workable computer for $30 and hook it up to a keyboard and a TV.  We need to get kids excited about the possible or at least getting them to tools to figure out on their own what is possible.

When I started programming I didn’t know what wasn’t possible.  I copied programs out of magazines and wrote my own.  I learned how to manage memory and code all kinds of different things.  Most of them weren’t really useful but I was learning to not be afraid of the tech.

The other night some friends were over and all of the kids were sitting around the computer watching each other and helping write programs in Scratch.  It was really cool because they got excited about it.  We need more of that type of thing.

There are more resources available than when I went to school, but I would expect that with the rate of change in the world.  I think the problem is that it hasn’t kept pace.  We need to find more opportunities for ALL of the children, not just the ones that can meet after school.  Not just once or twice a month.  It needs to be prevalent in everything they do.

Sites like Codecademy, Scratch.mit.edu, etc and an inexpensive computer can provide kids with resources to learn a few things and have the skills to venture off on their own.  And the best part, aside from the computer its all free.

This is just one thing that can be done… more to come in future installments.

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