Volumes have been written over the last couple of years about the declining numbers of students taking science and math, and what that will mean to the U.S. and its ability to compete globally.
Today, I read an article, Engineering schools strive to serve up Pinter with Planck that stresses the use of media arts to provide for well-rounded grads who can compete in the global marketplace.
I think the problem is deeper. How do high school students find excitement in science, math, or the arts, without really hands-on experiencing them?
Last Thursday night, I attended an event at my daughter Sasha's new charter high school, Impact Academy of Arts & Technology--in the Bay Area of California. The event was an Alternative Energy Tradeshow that displayed the results of several months of work using science, math, and digital media. The students were remarkably knowledgeable, explaining complex processes logically using models, slideshows, PSAs, posters, and booths.
In just a few months time their efforts came together to produce an amazingly well-attended event. Last November, for example, the students started learning about Organic Chemistry to gain a fundamental understanding of the forces at play. They moved on through greenhouse gases, the politics involved, possible causes and potential cures. In History, students studied the Industrial Revolution and the roots of the energy systems in the U.S. In Math, they used linear equations to do cost analysis of their energy sources. In Digital Media, the students studied Public Service Announcements and advertising to better understand how to influence an audience with Digital Media. They used Photoshop, iMovie and Keynote to create posters, PSAs and slideshows.
As more information was gathered, the students selected an energy source and began individual research and to launch a campaign to sway voters to choose their energy source as the source of the future. And, at the event, we all voted based upon their efforts.
On a daily basis, teachers use lectures, explanations and demonstrations so that students understand concepts, learn to take notes, ask questions and clarify. Teachers also use inquiry-based instruction--asking students to define problems, pursue information, pose and test hypotheses, draw inference and defend their thinking.
Project-based instruction, such as the Alternative Energy project, creates opportunities to apply learning to complex problems as well as to develop products that require written and oral expression, extended research, analysis and synthesis of information, planning, perseverance, and organization--skills that are needed for success in college and the world beyond.
Me, I learned to memorize, study for tests, and for some subjects, promptly forget the material the moment the test was complete. In comparison, these students are experiencing education, not attending it. I would bet that if more schools took up this charter's methods, there would be little worry about whether or not students that moved towards engineering would be well rounded. It would be a given.
By the way, the students are in 9th grade.