Friday, January 28, 2011

Connect a million minds

A friend shared this video with me. I do wonder how the kids were selected and how representative they are of their countries. However, I also acknowledge the sobering statistics of where the U.S. ranks in terms of math and science achievement among youth. So I was glad to
hear that a movement has begun to bring attention to this issue.

My husband is in the math and science realm. I’m not. So I expected that he would be the one pushing math and science, while I exposed our children to culture, nature, languages, social sciences and adventures. I believe Mark will be a very good model and tutor in math and science subjects. He will be better positioned to answer questions, to explain how things work, to show the use of math and science in the workplace. But to my surprise, I’ve turned into the
stronger advocate of an education rich in math and science.

Perhaps it’s the fact that the best option we have available is an option where the instruction is in Chinese. That is accompanied by concerns about an ability to participate in the education, as well as possibly recognizing that our language and our country no longer sets the standard in this realm. I see the ability to navigate math and science in another language and among people of other cultures as only a positive, so I find the prospect even more attractive.

Granted, I probably won’t be of much assistance in River’s scientific or math education. The experiments they were running in the 3-year-old preschool class already included concepts I wasn’t familiar with. Did you know that if you put a white carnation in colored water, the petals would turn colors? I didn’t. Or that if you put a green bean seed in a dish with water and cotton it will do better than the green bean in a dish with just water?

Looking back on my math and science education, I think it was too little, too late. From junior high and high school, the courses were OK. But I recall almost no scientific exposure from elementary school and the math in my elementary school was way too easy for me. I took
home the workbooks in second grade and did the whole curriculum in a week or two. By the time I was able to skip a grade level in math, I was already in junior high, already spending my time passing notes in class, and was used to being bored. I wasn’t paying attention and had
lost interest in the subject.

Yes, in 10th grade my math teacher brought in a female engineer to talk to us about how she used math on the job. That was very eye opening and I appreciate the teacher’s initiative in exposing us to that. I wouldn’t have had any exposure otherwise. But it was too late by then. I was already slacking off in math, I already found it boring, and it was most definitely not cool in my school.

What if I’d been encouraged from the first days of elementary school, or from preschool, to explore the world around me? What if people had excited me and inspired me with the possibility of understanding how the world works, just at the time when a mind is full of questions and optimism? What if I’d been given the structure and the freedom to make hypotheses, test things out, and generate conclusions? What if I’d been in an environment where students and teachers were enthusiastic about learning and didn’t degrade achievement? I think I would have entered the core courses in junior high and high school with a greater sense of purpose, with greater enthusiasm, and with greater confidence.

I made it through college level calculus. But even then, I wasn’t fully paying attention. I regret to this day that I don’t have a stronger math background. Lacking the math makes it hard to advance in other fields, including medicine, science, engineering, economics and statistics.

I don’t care whether or not my children choose a scientific career. But I don’t want them to eliminate scientific careers because they weren’t sufficiently prepared. I want them to take in the principles and the concepts from an early age. I want them to have equal exposure to different realms – math and science, language, social sciences, music, art and spirituality – and to allow them to carry along further in whatever realms excite them the most. I want them to
have a better start than I did, and to not look back with any regrets.

I also know that this is not something I can teach them, that I need them to have access to quality math and science teachers. And beyond my own children, I’d like for all youth in our country to have the opportunity to compete for some of the best jobs on an equal basis
with kids from other countries. That is what makes me care about the low current standards and about making sure my children have access to quality math and science educations from an early age. I’m glad that more people are paying attention to this issue.

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