People who understand and enjoy math and science have a great curiosity for why and how things work. That curiosity drives them not only to discover and learn, but to innovate and create. I fear that many kids are losing a sense of curiosity too early in their development. On a Saturday morning, rather than take apart a toaster or the remote control to see why and how it works, millions of kids play video games for hours at a time. Video games are extremely complex technologies, but how many of those kids have the desire, or the curiosity, to know how the video games work?
We need to capture and sustain the curiosity needed to create the next generation of mathematicians and scientists. Let’s be honest, many math and science concepts can be difficult to understand – even for many adults. But when our kids are fueled by a desire to know why something works, their curiosity will drive them through the more difficult concepts.
One way to grab a child’s interest in math and science early on is with cool concepts that children can relate to – which is where physics comes into play: the application of cool math and science concepts in real world scenarios. For example, how do rollercoasters work? How do accelerometers work? What is g-force and how does it work? The real world application of these theories makes math and science interesting and fun for the kids.
This is a solid argument for offering a physics course in 9th grade, which in most high schools is typically not introduced until 11th or 12th grade. I believe that before you potentially frustrate students with challenging and tedious subjects that may turn them off from math and science early in their high school career – why not start with rollercoasters and g-force – or Physics? Show the kids that not only are math and science concepts applicable in the real world, but they are also fun. (The Loudoun County Academy of Science began introducing Physics in 9th grade, and has seen tremendous outcomes.)
The Arts + STEM = STEAM
As I’ve said many times, I am a firm believer that there is an intrinsic link between the arts and the math and science disciplines. Not only does the incorporation of art into a good science and math curriculum help build the foundation for creative innovation down the road, but arts can also make the ‘boring’ disciplines more fun. We need to engage our children early on with the arts – and use that excitement and curiosity to enhance their STEM coursework throughout their K-12 education.
A great example of how this could be achieved nationally, is the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts and its Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) initiative. This initiative develops, evaluates, and disseminates arts-based STEM teaching strategies for pre-K and Kindergarten. As they note on their website:
STEM education must start in the earliest years at the time that children’s interests, desires, and abilities are formed. This important beginning leads to students’ success and choices in elementary through high school math and science.
A lack of curiosity will stifle innovation in our nation. After all, engaging kids in math and science may improve the quality of my future employee pool—but this issue runs much deeper than finding talented software engineers for our company. Cyber is a warfighting domain. Cyberwarriors are in high demand in our country, and without highly skilled software engineers and security professionals with strong backgrounds in math and science, our national security is at risk.
Telos CEO John Wood blogs about business, education, and the values that guide us.