But how are teachers going to get this message across to their students who see math and science as just boring numbers on a chalkboard?
The U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference that was held last week in Washington, D.C. had many different panels dedicated to answering this very question. One of the panels that caught our eye when we read the article in U.S. News was a panel called “Music, Magic and More,” a panel to help build students’ natural curiosity in the world around them.
First to speak was Parag Chordia, a scientist and technology entrepreneur. Chordia played music and told members of the audience to guess the genre, a simple enough task. The brain is able to recognize music by doing a mathematical analysis of sound waves and deconstructing the chain of events, said Chordia.
By presenting math in a different way, students are able to see the world in a different light and go from there. “Free the student,” he says to US News. “Let their natural curiosity be their guide.”
Next came Seymour Simon, children’s science book author, who recited poetry and shared his joy of being in nature as a child. “The wonder and poetry of nature is always around kids,” Simon said. “Don’t spoil it for them by making it too dry and technical.”
He explained that teachers should make big numbers real to the students. Bouncing a ball to the ground, he explained how that act could be compared with the Earth’s distance from the sun. “In the time it took this ball to get back into my hand, a spaceship can travel seven miles,” he said. “Even at that speed, it takes a spaceship 2.5 days to travel to the moon.”
Last but certainly not least came Alan McCormack, professor of science education at San Diego State University. McCormack performed magic tricks inspired by the Harry Potter novels, but encouraged students to figure out the mechanics behind each trick. “When I first started teaching seventh grade I taught the way my professors had,” he said. “I lectured and gave notes. The result: It was boring. Then I discovered magic.”
He lit cups on fire, pulled a seemingly never-ending ribbon out of another cup, even managed to stretch out a bottle made with “invisible string.” But the end result was to teach kids how the tricks worked using science and math.
“Testing should not be about regurgitation,” he said. Educators should also encourage their students to work in groups to solve problems. Chordia also pointed out that people learn in such different ways, and technology is now making it possible for students to find the ways that work best for them. These are some of the same things that Mae Johnson said at the STEM Saves Lives Conference held at the beginning of this year.
“It’s a profoundly exciting time to be involved in science and technology education,” Chordia said. “We are on the cusp of major changes in education.”