Engineers and scientists are problem solvers. They tend to ask questions, especially one important one: 'why not?' In some ways, it's the basic question at the heart of every research hypothesis. It's a great thing to work in a culture with few boundaries on thinking, innovating, executing -- it is an inspiring, can-do attitude that people here at NYU-Poly readily embrace.
If we want to create high quality educational opportunity for STEM now, and truly democratize access to it, this attitude matters. A lot of what we hear in STEM education is about what we can't do: not enough time in the day to have engineering. Materials are expensive and budget priorities are elsewhere. There are not enough teachers with mastery of STEM content.
What's nice though from where I sit is that scientists, engineers, and technologists are more and more asking the question: why not do-it-yourself?
This summer, NYU-Poly's faculty researchers, graduate and undergraduate students, and many more in the University community are all-in to provide high quality education in the fields of STEM, now. A small, urban University with 4,000 students in Brooklyn is running a dozen STEM education initiatives on its campus -- from workshops and courses to programs, to in-depth research experiences, and intensive training for teachers. NYU-Poly's engineers and scientists will share their content knowledge and expertise with over 300 middle and high school students and teachers. More then 200 more middle school students in summer camps in public schools and community centers will learn introductory computer coding, circuitry and how to build interactive devices from NYU-Poly trained high school students.
For us, the scale is exhilarating and it definitely shows what people both passionate and expert can do now. But in the context of 1.1 million students and 80,000 teachers in New York City schools alone, the glow wears off quickly. What's driving the K-12 STEM education DIY, can/must-do attitude among the university's academic STEM professionals and their students is that for most K-12 students today, the probability of their being prepared to pursue and succeed in STEM fields is low. And we know that if a student belongs to certain demographic groups, the chances are even lower.
Notwithstanding the consensus on the stark macroeconomic consequences of that fact to U.S. competiveness, or the nation's underutilized human capital, or on the value of inquiry, critical thinking and scientific literacy, or on the inspiration we draw from the possibility of lifting up generations of creative innovators that solve our most pressing problems -- from our campus it feels like the actual plans for STEM education are under-ambitious relative to the size of the challenge.
The field needs an agenda that more deeply involves scientists and engineers, brings more content expertise to classrooms, and reforms the systems that will have big, transformative effects on what, and how, young people learn.
Where scientists and engineers can be most helpful are in areas like intensive professional development for in-service teachers in STEM disciplines and in classroom techniques for hands-on and activity based learning. In creating new teacher preparation programs that include engineering, computer science and other fields (think S-T-E-M teachers). And in creating programmatic, curricular and other innovations that teach fundamental STEM concepts through their application.
But a lot more has to change: the systems for training and developing teachers needs deregulation so that practicing engineers and scientists play a meaningful role, and teacher certification rules need reform to reflect real-world, contemporary and unified approaches to science, engineering, technology and math. Students need more time on task, in the classroom and through formal connections between in-school STEM instruction and extended day activities and projects. And none of this happens without school accountability regimes that deeply integrate, instead of crowd out, STEM education.
A lot of people and organizations are working to make STEM happen now -- the 159 universities and nonprofits that comprise 100Kin10 (a national effort to train and retain excellent STEM teachers), many cultural and research institutions where scientists and others are making tremendous contributions to K12 STEM education, and more.
And this summer, to coincide with its 16 summer STEM programs that provide access and opportunity for K-12 students and teachers, NYU-Poly is launching social media hashtag #STEMNOW. Seizing STEM education's national moment, #STEMNOW will highlight the contributions of engineers, scientists, technologists, teachers and students. Visit our campaign page and please join the nationwide conversation on social media at #STEMNOW. Tell your story, tag photos and posts, and demonstrate what you're doing to advance STEM, now.
Follow Ben Esner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@NYUPolyK12STEM