Race to the Bottom? Science and Engineering Education.

One week ago today, the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council held a public briefing and symposium to release the report “Engineering in K-12 Education:  Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects.”  The report assesses the value of developing and implementing engineering curricula for kindergarten through grade 12.  The report also describes what engineering concepts children are able to understand and at what age, and provides an analysis of more than a dozen engineering curriculum projects.

Access the report for free online or listen to the webcast of the event.

On a related note, recently, a friend and extraordinary man David Hartman forwarded to me an Aviation Week and Space Technology article. Hartman, a former cohost of Good Morning America, is the tall man pictured here with a VERY pregnant, fat me…it was yeeeeaaars ago, OK!?  Recognize MIT’s Marvin Minsky, Penn and Teller, ABC’s John Stosell, Robin Roberts and Antonio Mora? Hartman and Mora cohosted the Discover Technology Awards, a program I directed. But I digress… the article’s written by Norman Augustine, an engineer and former CEO of Lockheed Martin, who addresses his “concerns about the impacts current trends will have on his field.” *

If you’ve stayed through that intro, you deserve a mind-boggling excerpt from this article: “Students in grades 5-8 have a 98% chance of having a science teacher who does not have a degree in science.”

Read the piece titled Race to the Bottom and take note that it’s not all bad news. In fact,  I’ll be back with a look at how and why U.S. adults are outpacing other nations when it comes to science literacy…while our kids continue to lag far behind.  (9/29 addition: Here’s a related article on Why the World Needs More Engineers. Thanks, subscriber Bart, for sending this to us.)

*Augustine and Hartman go back to 1987 when Hartman produced a prime time documentary on National Defense and the U.S. Military.  I should mention that Hartman wants readers to know that it was Tony Borotto, a retired aviator, who sent him Augustine’s article.

  • I honestly believe, that it’s not imperative that teachers have to have a degree in the field they teach in (ducking). What’s needed are teachers with a strong fundamental knowledge and, more so, passion for what they are teaching!!! While I taught high school chemistry, I also taught both conceptual and AP (Advanced Placement) physics as well. I could because I was well grounded in physics and could teach it too. I know many a biology teacher who could teach chemistry better than some chemistry teachers! Knowledge in a subject does not necessarily a good teacher make. The passion, combined with knowledge, will show how much each science is worth learning. Teachers are leaders by default and elementary, middle/junior and high school teachers are all demonstrators of how much fun science can be. I think you get the idea.

    Most schools are administratively top-heavy- pouring money their way is a complete and utter waste! The money needs to go to the teachers- those in the trenches. Salaries that match societal importance would be great as well, but administrative support can be worth more than money if done efficiently and effectively. That would be a good thesis right there.

    If a degree is to be had, a strong fundamental background in a science is sufficient- if combined with a deep seeded passion (as previously opined). A Ph.D. is certainly not necessary. Another potential source of waste are “education” programs (IMHO)! Get a good mentor and s/he is worth a career’s worth of “credential” courses!

  • I honestly believe, that it’s not imperative that teachers have to have a degree in the field they teach in (ducking). What’s needed are teachers with a strong fundamental knowledge and, more so, passion for what they are teaching!!! While I taught high school chemistry, I also taught both conceptual and AP (Advanced Placement) physics as well. I could because I was well grounded in physics and could teach it too. I know many a biology teacher who could teach chemistry better than some chemistry teachers! Knowledge in a subject does not necessarily a good teacher make. The passion, combined with knowledge, will show how much each science is worth learning. Teachers are leaders by default and elementary, middle/junior and high school teachers are all demonstrators of how much fun science can be. I think you get the idea.

    Most schools are administratively top-heavy- pouring money their way is a complete and utter waste! The money needs to go to the teachers- those in the trenches. Salaries that match societal importance would be great as well, but administrative support can be worth more than money if done efficiently and effectively. That would be a good thesis right there.

    If a degree is to be had, a strong fundamental background in a science is sufficient- if combined with a deep seeded passion (as previously opined). A Ph.D. is certainly not necessary. Another potential source of waste are “education” programs (IMHO)! Get a good mentor and s/he is worth a career’s worth of “credential” courses!

  • Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Race to the Bottom? Science and Engineering Education. | Science Cheerleader [sciencecheerleader.com] on Topsy.com()

  • Coe Parker

    i have to totally agree with the comment above!

  • Coe Parker

    i have to totally agree with the comment above!

  • Mar Dixon

    Thanks Paul – I was thinking the same thing. I don’t find it relevant for the teacher to necessarily have a degree in science to teach science. An understanding – a thorough comprehension – a positive approach to teaching the lessons, yes.
    Degree? Optional.
    Just because a person passes a test, doesn’t mean they are the more knowledgable. For Grade 5-8, it’s a balance of knowledge, with people skills. Can they relate the science data to a ‘language’ that each individual class will enjoy listening to .. that should be the main issue.

  • Mar Dixon

    Thanks Paul – I was thinking the same thing. I don’t find it relevant for the teacher to necessarily have a degree in science to teach science. An understanding – a thorough comprehension – a positive approach to teaching the lessons, yes.
    Degree? Optional.
    Just because a person passes a test, doesn’t mean they are the more knowledgable. For Grade 5-8, it’s a balance of knowledge, with people skills. Can they relate the science data to a ‘language’ that each individual class will enjoy listening to .. that should be the main issue.