Here are a few notes from my visit to Washington, D.C., as a member of the 21st Century Leadership Academy and the Triangle Coalition.
Dr. Goldstien (the first speaker of the conference) reported that we are born with the need and desire to be on a journey (he’s an astrophysicist). He suggested that life is about satisfying the journey. Concerning this he said, “The journey and dream (of it) is written in us, in our genes; the body of knowledge(BOK) (things we learn in life) is not; therefore let’s journey – bc it’s through the journeying that we obtain the BOK.” He continued, suggesting that to be human is to explore, “Sadly, we’re beating this out of them (students) in the institutions (schools) where this (promotion of exploration) should be happening.” He suggested that classrooms should start with a journey and expectation that students will be taken on a journey where they will be exploring new and exciting events, people, things, and so forth. In addition he said that teachers should create, support, and promote student journeying and exploration – where inquiry based instruction is essential. He used Toto from the Wizard of Oz as a metaphor, saying that we should (and our students should) always try and pull back the curtain on things – to see the phenomenological perspective of things. He recognized that this is often done in classrooms by teaching the scientific method or engineering design process – however, he argued that both of those methods are too rigid. He said that as a scientist/engineer he likes to “poke things, and just see what happens” – where curiosity and exploration leads his inquiry. He ended with two quotes that summarized his slant on learning: 1.) “Knowledge is not power, it’s what you do with knowledge.” 2.) “Joyful education should (and will) lead to joyful employment.”
A panel of government and business officials were the second to speak. Susan Traiman, who was involved in writing “A Nation at Risk” among many other related reports, said that “Innovation is the life blood of business” (obviously I will be using this quote a lot in my research). She also shared some data regarding what students are studying at the top universities. She said that of the top 32 universities, only 9 of them offered technology and related majors. She suggested that we should use this data as a proxy to see/understand where people are studying and choosing careers in; suggesting that if our top universities are not even offering technology and engineering majors, it’s no wonder the American economy is behind in technology and engineering domains. What was so interesting about this panel, was that the second panelist was from 3M, and she shared a data point that was very interesting to me: “15 of the 20 fastest growing jobs require technology and engineering.” In light of this, she reported, 3M gives over $20 million to supporting education annually. She ended her words by sharing that 3M so highly believes in innovation that they give (or rather require) their employees (all 750 Ph.D. and 10,000 technicians) time to innovate (15% of their work hours are supposed to be spent working on their own “innovations”).
While in DC I also spent a significant amount of time listening to various STEM related initiatives, and meeting with various US Senators. Needless to say, it was very educational.