Posted tagged ‘White House’

PUTTING STEAM BACK INTO STEM EDUCATION

November 13, 2011

Recent media reports express concern over the number of college students who are deciding not to continue their science based studies. The major reasons are the unanticipated difficulty of both the math and science courses. Analysts state that the decline in solid elementary and secondary education in math and science are major contributing factors. Considering the national goals of expanding and invigorating instruction and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), this is a discouraging development.

IT’S THE TEACHERS, RIGHT? This is the motivator for all of the local, state and national efforts to tighten the methods and extent of teacher evaluations. In my opinion, with minor exceptions, we should not thump the teachers. The classic barriers of over-populated classes, curriculum goals that seek to satisfy national testing rather than student learning, and dreadfully fickle administrative guidelines that undergo school-board opinionated revisions, all turn the education process upside down. By the time all of this descends upon and around the teacher, student education has become a locked-stepped march into confusion. In spite of this, most teachers strive to teach and to inspire each student to learn. This turns a regular school day for teachers into an average 12 to 15 hour day when they really work to make learning successful and joyful.

JOYFUL LEARNING? There is an inherent stress for most youngsters during the education process; even for the super-bright ones. Making the process joyful, when suitable, reduces the stress, opens the mind and makes learning pleasurable instead of either deadly dull or frightening. In most cases, this approach is the product of highly motivated teachers who dress up their presentations (art, videos, student demonstrations, visiting heroes, etc) that far exceed the dry-as-toast curriculum dictated by the national test score mantra. All of these extra efforts are variables and in many cases difficult to consistently sustain so overall the education process FAILS with respect to future STEM success.

SO WHAT’S TO BE DONE? As and example let’s take five critical areas for consideration. These examples all presume a standardized education concept that enhances both STEM and HAMLIT education. This combination imposes a considerable demand on teachers through all elementary and secondary grades. Right now both are cut short because of the imposition of that national testing mantra. Yes, we do need to evaluate the system and how well it is serving the education of our young, but under no circumstances should that evaluation debilitate a sound and well structured curriculum. Broadly speaking the White House does not seem to recognize this educational impediment built into its mandates.

The five critical areas are as follows (The emphasis on items 1-3 are for elementary education, K-3):

  1. STEM and HAMLIT should be specifically present at the Kindergarten level, but in a most innovative way. Here the joy of learning is most important. Simple math concepts and delightful literature and music experiences should be presented in a most memorable and enjoyable way.  Young minds grab at these concepts when presented in this manner. Additionally, parents must be more actively recruited to support what is happening in Kindergarten. They should be fully aware of the program and the variety of supportive things they can do to enhance their children’s early learning experiences.
  2. STEM and HAMLIT follow the youngsters out of Kindergarten into the first stages of elementary school.  Now all children don’t learn at the same rate and not all will be serious STEM learners, but all of them will be at ease with HAMLIT when creatively presented. Yes, creative presentations. Most teachers, particularly elementary level teachers do this automatically and usually very creatively. These efforts must be extended to STEM as well. Math can be so dreadfully dull if presented in that way, but when creatively presented (using a variety of teaching aids) it can win over children that appeared not to be good STEM candidates.
  3. ENTER THE COMPUTER: Although the students may have already had some exposure (home or school) to computers, the Third Grade is the key place to begin using the computer to enhance STEM learning. Right now, there is some concerns about how effective this will be, but as the article in the foregoing link points out there are steps that, if taken, can make the computer a vital and highly productive instrument for enhancing the learning process; particularly for STEM. Teachers must be directly involved in the choice of software programs to be used. A misfit of program and teacher methods will produce a zero learning result with both frustrated students and teachers. Administrators and school-board officials must recognize this and insist on teacher input in the software selection process.
  4. ELEMENTARY LEVEL EDUCATION is critical to the full success of the youngsters through their Middle and High School experiences. A poor foundation in this area coupled with the greater student independence and learning responsibilities in these advanced grade levels can lead to a student drop-out. This is quite simply a tragedy whether the student was a good STEM candidate or more HAMLIT oriented. Dropping out is like shooting curiosity and imagination on the spot. Again, teacher instructional latitude, even with heavy computer participation, is critical. Impositions of the standard testing mantra, worrisome and severe teacher evaluations and often bumbling administrative processes can severely cripple these advanced learning experiences. So again, before harping, its the teachers, we need to carefully examine the teaching environment, the available tools and the level of administrative imposition that distracts teacher productivity.
  5. COLLEGE/CAREER PREP should actually start in Middle School and increase in supportive ways through the remainder of secondary education. Right now the push is for college from everywhere and everyone, and yet many students are either not ready or are just not interested in that direction for their future. Sound counseling on alternatives that continue to bolster the students opportunity profile should be included along with the standard college pep talks. There are a host of technical training opportunities, including the military services, that provide a student with some promising career alternatives. These should not be ignored. Additionally joint sessions with the non-college oriented students and their parents should be conducted to help prevent the forceful persuasiveness of parents fixated on college for the kids.
ALL of the above requires extensive time and effort on the part of both teachers and counselors. Again, the extremely tight schedules, mandated curriculum and standards test preparation along with the complexity of both STEM and HAMLIT subject matter demand more from teachers than neither time nor class size permit.  Yes, computers will help somewhat, but under no circumstances should they become tools to free up a teacher to perform those distracting administrative tasks. Computers are good, but they cannot sense all the nuances of each student’s learning method. Only a teacher can do that, and when he or she is intensely distracted by non-academic endeavors that alertness is muted. Guess who suffers?
Well, it is obvious that things must change, and the responsibility rests with every one of us, not just parents, teachers and board-members. All levels of government that interact with our education system must hear from us, and what we say must be in full concert with making sure that there is an ample supply of steam in the STEM program and also lots of bright words, art and stunning music in the HAMLIT program. We can then begin to bask again in the aura of bright, highly creative and dedicated young people and adults whom we so desperately need to keep us moving forward.
Well, it really all comes down to this (See video)>
About the Author: XiNeutrino (Waddell Robey) after leaving the high-tech aerospace and health science fields, he devoted a little over seven years working as both a TSS (Therapeutic Staff Support) and Therapist in Children and Family Services. Most of his time was spent in school settings with his young clients and this has given him a unique and highly informative perspective on our education system, its teachers, and the varying success of its students. Those experiences along with his independent observations and discussion with teachers and administrators have formed the opinions and recommendations expressed in this blog article.

IMAGE CREDIT: Cartoon depiction of STEM at work. Courtesy: eidmladenkaraman.com

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A CASE FOR UNCOMMON SENSE.

June 30, 2011

Ages hence will remember our century not for its barbaric wars, but for its major contributions to fundamental scientific knowledge…..Whatever the scientific discoveries of future ages, they will be based upon the body of twentieth century science.” 

From: “Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science” by Alan Cromer ISBN 0-19-509636- 3(Pbk.)

When the brothers Robert and Courtland Gross hocked just about everything they owned to raised the $40,000+ to buy Lockheed from the Scottish Loughead brothers it was a very bold, very innovative move. One could say they definitely used uncommon sense, considering the fledgling world of aviation at that time. I personally hope, they regularly shake hands, even hug, as they look down on their dream today.

When that young, bold airmail pilot, Charles Lindbergh decided to enter the contest for a transoceanic flight to Paris, he had a dream far beyond that of winning the challenge money. Like the Gross brothers, Lindbergh was motivated to boost aviation as an up and coming means of safe transportation that also would spell great opportunity for humankind. When he declared he would enter the contest as a solo pilot in a single engine plane he used brave, stunning uncommon sense to fulfill his dream. I hope he and the Gross brothers, whom he knew well, gleefully join in frequent celebration as they look over the results of their efforts.

The above stories are just two examples of many, many cases where bold entrepreneurs have used uncommon sense to make dreams and ideas into productive reality. Well, right now in this country, we are running low on uncommon sense and running high or finger pointing and blame dodging which produces screeching halts in our reputation for striking, and successful innovation. Yes, the political cries calling for common sense in this and that is a daily diatribe. Once in awhile we here a faint whisper calling for more uncommon sense. The problem is, the investor, the bold entrepreneurs of the Gross and Loughead brothers type are today playing with paper (stocks and bonds, etc) rather than dreams and ideas. We have essentially ceded to EurAsia (Europe, India, China, etc) the uncommon sense modus operandi. Interesting enough, in America the continuing examples of that uncommon sense rests with those early pioneers that produced Lockheed, Boeing, Northrup, Ryan, Douglas and many other dreamers. So, why have we given up on what we do best – innovation?

When the shuttle Atlantis launches next month in its final flight and the closing chapter of NASA’s glorious, innovative shuttle program, the book of uncommon sense stands the chance of being slammed shut. Yes, just like in those earlier, innovative days, there are young design and development companies out there struggling to break out on their own. They are trying to do this in a national atmosphere of fear. Fear of deficit an arch enemy of innovation. This barrier is exacerbated by political opportunists who see the deficit as the lever to bring the nation into a sharp turn backwards. If this should come to pass then both common and uncommon sense will be locked away. The best and saving solution is an immediate burst of uncommon sense, or more practically speaking, an outburst of innovation.

Now, President Obama has spoken eloquently about the importance of innovation in our future and as a mechanism to invigorate our economy, but he too is hampered by the deficit aura. This is where the breakout must occur. The White House and Congress must exercise uncommon sense to defy the deficit by directly stimulating innovation in our automobile, energy, science research, and space systems activities. Yes, there are other areas, but these areas will respond most quickly to uncommon sense by exercising it themselves to design, develop, and discover new paths of growth for this nation and for humankind.  We need:

  • Fuel efficient cars – not legislation, but actual vehicles that use other energy sources efficiently and inexpensively.
  • To accept the responsibility of nuclear power generation as the greenest method of high energy production. The challenge is not design, the challenge is to innovate safety and endurance.
  • To discourage political opportunists who seek to stifle science not recognizing that our future existence depends on a broadly aggressive scientific research environment.
  • To prevent the stifling of our exploration of our solar system and deep space. To ignore this urgent matter is to essentially return humankind to darkened caves at a time when our continuing evolution demands that we seek understanding of all that surrounds us.
  • To acknowledge the warnings and cries for help from our environment and in doing so begin to recognize that a safe and living Earth is the most vital resource we have for our continuing existence.
So, uncommon sense, long in use to move humankind beneficially forward must not be discouraged or disabled. If  boosted by government support and allowed its fullest expression, we will see that deficit dragon diminish in pace with the increased innovation that will set us free again. Mr.  President, Congress, don’t tell us about it, DO IT,  get uncommon and sensible now and save this nation.

IMAGE CREDIT: Wright brothers first flight at KittyHawk, NC  http://tinyurl.com/3kjuhlj

HELP! We Are Being Poisoned!

May 20, 2011

Panic stricken crowds flee from the tragic Chicago fire.

The following discussion may seem far way from the broad topic of Explorology, but that is not and never has been the case. Scientific research is exploration of the most essential kind, and that is exactly what we will be talking about here.

Well, just like shouting ‘FIRE’ in a crowded theater, running out onto the street and shouting the above would either get you restrained or redirected to a mental institution. What if you are right? What if we should be shouting for help? Some of us do, and sadly too few responsible corporate and government leaders hear us. Actually, it’s pretty certain they hear us, but ignore us; hoping we will go away.

The above scenario instantly and dramatically changes if a news break or official announcement states that we are being poisoned, but by terrorists. Alarm bells ring, all kinds of serious looking people wearing protective clothing and headgear appear. Oops, false alarm, no terrorists and all the pollution samples are ignored or discarded. Everything returns to normal poisoning.

Our governments, national, state, and local all have many environmental and health agencies loaded with dedicated and skilled watchdogs. They all are ready and eager to extend their range and detection efforts, but unfortunately they are kept on short leashes. O.K. the whining and moaning stops here. The thrust of this blog article is to consider potential areas that either need expanded research or the initiation of new research.

We will approach this by considering a series of questions, some of which are hypothetical, but believed to be highly relevant.

Research and Regulation; are they compatible? Yes, they cooperatively exist today, but both need continual fiscal support, updating and solid leadership. Research has already established areas that need regulation to prevent harm to humans, but opponents of regulation legislate crippling acts that impede regulation or even abolish it. Research, is often affected by fickle funding which is also affected by oppositional lobbying attacks that either divert or stall funding for vital research into dangerous hazards to humans and our environment.

Innovation and Regulation; can they co-exist? Right now, it is a struggle. Entrepreneurs often regard regulation as barriers, both financial and operational, that prevent them from being successful and profitable. History reports many, many cases of the regulatory process being misdirected or ‘blinded’ by specific influence from corporations who seek to run outside the regulatory envelope. This is a clear example of the collapse of ‘arms-length’ relationships between the regulators and the corporate operations they are supposed to be monitoring.

Can sound and proper regulation be achieved and sustained? The first requirement is protection of regulatory agencies from politically inspired legislation that seeks to diminish or abolish their efforts. Changes, or redirection of any regulatory agency‘s operations should be exclusively the result of either or both research results and court decisions. The only legislation that would be permissible would relate to the scope of operations of the agency. In most cases this would result in White House executive orders and not direct legislative action. Most importantly, the regulatory process must be fully sensitive to new research data that either redefines or expands the target areas under the agency’s purview. Again, history records many areas where new data has been either overlooked or intentionally ignored due to political or corporate pressure.

Can scientific research receive increased government support and assurance of complete data review? Well, here again there are variables affected by political and social disputation of some findings (e.g climate change). This nation has a wealth of scientific review organizations most effectively represented by both the National Science Foundation and the National Academies of Science. These two organizations, plus the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy should exclusively moderate and resolve any such disputes. Assuming the data is correct and vital, the next step is inclusion of that data in the operational profiles of the responsible regulatory body.

Enforcement; obstruction or opportunity? Proper and complete enforcement of various regulatory issues is a variable. Screams from the offenders and their political cohorts claim “Big Government” intrusions. As a result the issue gets totally obfuscated by the harangue and the critical issue is left in limbo. If the enforcement process sought to provide suggestions and even means to derive alternative methods or products that avoid the offending process then suddenly the screams could become cheers and ‘intrustion’ bows out to ‘support’. For such a new relationship between enforcement and compliance there would need to be considerable changes in the regulatory process that would include sci-tech and financial support to induce the necessary new methods or policies. Yes, that costs money and time, but look at the money and time spent avoiding the regulatory process and the intense impact on the environment and humans. All of these avoidance strategies ultimately cost more and accomplish nothing, whereas a regulatory process that supports change as an enforcement aid could produce the desired safe environment. Most would call this constructive regulatory enforcement.

Is there a role for citizens in the research and regulatory process? The answer is,’absolutely.’  What is lacking is a fully coordinated process of taking those citizen inputs and reviewing them and assembling clear examples and descriptions of specific problems. Right now there are a host of environmental and consumer advocacy groups that take citizen input and present them to government, at all levels. The problem is, that these efforts often fall on deaf ears and no action occurs. This is often represented by glamorous, clamorous Congressional hearings that are filled with sound and fury, but yield little real results. This is an area of critical change. A clearing house process that evaluates citizen input via environmental groups provides a non-political and usually sci-tech assessment of the issue. Additionally representatives of the affected regulatory body as well as the offending organization also evaluate and comment on the issues. The end product is an official presentation to the Congress and the White House that enhances and further depoliticizes the issue. This should improve the chances of the problem receiving both full attention and support from the government. The objective is supportive enforcement as discussed above.

Come On! Is this something that can ever be put in place? Well, that is totally up to each of us. How really active are we in the entire process that evaluates and acts on environmental and health issues? Do WE consider these issues when we vote for our elected representatives? Do WE work as closely as we should with advocacy groups that seek to achieve some or all of the changes presented above? Lastly, do WE really care about our planet, our global well being, and full support for the scientific research that make all our lives better and safer? Government is US. What we do not follow up on weakens US and allows unregulated, renegade behaviors to endanger all of us. So we jump up, shout and scream and blame government, but that is US. So the ultimate solution is our own direct and immediate involvement. Can we get with it, NOW?

IMAGE CREDIT:

Panic in the streets of Chicago during the tragic Chicago Fire. From the Chicago Historical Society – Copyright 1996

THE INSEPARABLES: SciTech and Government

May 4, 2011

Yes, this is a highly prejudicial blog article. It is pro-science and definitely proposes new ways to both strengthen America‘s SciTech prowess and at the same time elevate the general well-being of humankind globally. Some, kindly, would term this as a solicitous appeal while others would…well?

In a rampage of proposed budget slashes a deficit threatened government reacts instead of carefully enacting. Yes, enacting would address the deficit, but in a manner that sustains the core strengths of America. One of those most important core strengths is our scientific and technological prowess. Put simply, can this government sustain itself and this nation without progressive science and technology? Similarly, is there much hope for this progressive and vital core without an equally progressive government? Truly, these are inseparable partners with a desperate interdependence.

So, what do we do?

President Obama in his 2012 budget proposal increases Federal spending on SciTech by 13%. On the surface this appears good and progressive. What is not clear is where that increase, if approved, will be applied. Additionally, one must wonder where the justifications came for that increase. In other words what SciTech advice was used to make that determination?

The White House and the Congress have many resources, but there are also strong inputs backed more by whimsy and illogic that solid justifications. Most of this kind of response seeks to degrade SciTech and in doing so pushes the nation backwards. On the positive side input from strong sources, including the Congressional Budget Office, the White House budget staff, the National Academies of Science, the National Science Foundation and a host of private and university research organizations all submit supporting data for their fiscal needs.

As critically important as full funding support for SciTech is, an exclusive focus just on that issue is dangerously and terminally myopic. Yes we need to finance a full spectrum of research, including space exploration, but for this to become a fully acceptable and supported standard we must pull down the walls of scientific exclusivity. At the same time we must break through the barriers of suspicion, superstition and theological extremism that blockade SciTech progress. These are false adversaries promoted mostly by political opportunism. That’s right it comes far less from the pulpit and more from wild-card politics. The common ground is the deep spirituality that comes from new discoveries and explanations that enrich and elevate humankind and all that surrounds us. Science does not defy us, it continue to define us and in doing that we grow and evolve and glorify our place in the Cosmos.

Regardless how you chose to justify it, humankind has a mission and now we spend more time denying it and its rewards than we do in seeing the light of discovery that is shining in our faces. There is so much astounding beauty and exciting revelations out there that our SciTech selves help us to see and appreciate. It is only the unexplained that imposes fear and suspicion. With each new revelation provided by SciTech, humankind moves forward, but also closer together.

Here is the essential connection. Government must be of and by the people, and science promotes an ever-expanding environment that enhances our surroundings and thereby improves human life. Stop science, and life then diminishes and thus governance – thus extinction  Shall we vote for extinction through both poor financial management, and even poorer use of our ability to explore, discover, and thereby explain? Good governance that promotes assertive SciTech, unifies humankind with the Cosmos. SciTech and governance together from now on work to forever protect and espouse this unity. Is it mystical? No, there is no mystery. Is it spiritual? Absolutely, each new revelation strengthens us and provides an incredibly deeply spiritual sensitivity for each other and for all that surrounds us.

SciTech is vital and governance is its essential promoter and protector. They are truly inseparable. Banish either and we banish humankind.

IMAGE CREDIT: I was born into Einstein’s and Roosevelt’s age and learned to value their commitment to progress and the well-being of all humankind. The image above is courtesy of “Time Line” http://tinyurl.com/3tal7g4

READER REFERENCE: For more about scitech and the funding crises you may wish to read Parts I and II of this blog: Tag-Along Science: (1) http://tinyurl.com/3d6ez8c and (2) http://tinyurl.com/3e5txtq