When I was an engineer, a buddy and I had what we called our roadshow: We'd grab a HeNe laser in our bag of tricks and head out to one of the local schools to introduce second- or third-graders to what light was really all about. We had our shtick, a series of jokes that had the eight-year-old set laughing themselves silly. Mostly, though, they were fascinated. We gave them little squares of flexible diffraction grating from American Science & Surplus to show them the visible light spectrum, we gave them plastic light pipe to investigate optical transmission, and we finished up with the always popular trick of making a previously invisible laser beam appear by beating chalk board erasers together over it to create dust.
It was a blast. Not only were they fun in the classroom, gasping and asking questions, they’d send these great thank you letters afterward with pictures of us doing the demos, looking like superheroes. We couldn't get enough of it.
Then came the day we did our show for a group of eighth graders. Unlike the young ones, they were not fascinated; at least they didn't appear to be. They were talking, staring out the window, and beyond a few of them, unengaged. After all, science wasn't cool, was it?
Unfortunately, that attitude is more the norm than the exception. Somehow, we manage to lose kids during the transition from the wide-eyed years to young adults. We need to think about ways to keep kids involved in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). We need to develop ways to help them succeed. We need to become mentors. The folks at the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC; September 26-29; Boston, MA) understand that, which is why they developed the Mentor Meet-up.
If you look back over your education and career, you'll almost certainly identify somebody who helped you learn the ropes. It's time to give back. At the Mentor Meet-up, you'll meet a group of bright, motivated kids from area high schools and colleges. It's a chance to share your experiences and get them excited about their future. It's a chance to meet the people who might one day be your colleagues. It's a one-day meeting, but the connections you form there don't have to be.
So stop by the Mentor Meet-up and scoff some cheese cubes and warm soda. You'll have a good time. Even more important, you'll do some good. And who knows, maybe you'll even get a drawing of yourself looking like a superhero.
Because if you become a mentor, that's what you'll be.
Engineering the Next Generation: ESC Boston Mentor Meet-up Wednesday, September 28, 3:30-5 pm Hynes Convention Center, room 109 Register for the networking event here. Reminder: You must be registered for at minimum an ESC Boston Exhibits Pass (which is free) to attend this event. More information on ESC Boston and passes can be found here.
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The irony is that their lives revolve around technology – computers, gaming, MP3 players, smart phones… They love playing with the gadgets but somehow we lack the charismatic element to keep them engaged in the science behind it all, at least in the US, anyway.
I went to school in the UK for a year when I was in high school and the difference in attitude was amazing. In the US, it was unhip to get the "A" paper. In the UK, my classmates were invested in doing well and proud when it happened. The second irony here, of course, is that we live in a world in which increasingly economic survival requires education. How do we get kids to understand that?
Regarding science, maybe the thing to do is concentrate on the fun factor during that transitional time, Maybe with science-fair type projects that involve local colleges so that they can include technologies like robotics. What do you think?
There sure is a transition.
I took a lot of geology as an EE (I like science :-) I used to go to local schools and talk to the kids about rocks back in the mid-eighties; my profs asked me to, and I loved it. I typically went to 4th grade classrooms. They ate it up! And they were very engaging and participatory...I really enjoyed it. I would get the thank-you notes; I still have them.
Then one time I went to a 6th grade classroom. WHAT a difference! Just like you said; looking bored, staring out the windows, not participating, totally unengaged. I never really figured out what happened in that short time from 4th grade to 6th grade (I don't know if that is still where the transition happens these days). Sounds like it is still there...and needs addressing. I think peer pressure, media (TV, movies) and parental non-involvement are at the core, but I only have my impressions and anecdotal data. But for sure there is a negative step function in interest and enthusiasm there for a large number of children...
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