Secretary of Education Discussion 4: Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts

Carol Broos is one of twelve teachers who have been invited to participate in a round table discussion concerning the direction of education with the new Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Jan 21. She was sent five questions in preparation for the meeting. This is the fourth one:

What should the new administration do to increase student engagement in mathematics, the sciences and the arts?

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Carol, I have spent my entire working life advocating for the needs of gifted kids. I would like to see the federal government redouble some of the original efforts and funding that focused on gifted kids. Funding for initiatives like Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program has continue to drop over the last 5 years. In my 25 years as a gifted ed facilitator I have seen little or no advances made in educating gifted kids in public school general education classrooms. Support of gifted scholars would definately increase student engagement in all academic areas. Thanks for reading my comment. N

PS How exciting to have this opportunity!!
I always see kids take to hands-on opportunities. We should be modeling science and math education on the hands-on problem solving methods championed by Resnick, Papert, et al., where technology is used to build real-world artifacts and sophisticated simulations where the educational experience may be richer, deeper, or cheaper.

For the arts? Funding helps. But how about we start advocating that the arts are natural manifestation of what it means to be human. As one of the world's more wealthier nations, we spend far too little on giving our kids meaningful, substantial experiences with music, visual art, and dance. The arts are not just for those who show evidence of excelling within them. The path towards mastery in various artforms encourages creative ideas. These experiences deserve just as much recognition in our educational system as literacy and STEM. In fact, so many people have seen strong connections between mastery in one with experience in the other.

The federal government should advocate for quality programs in math, science, and in the arts. Doing so well may require additional advocacy for year-long schools.

Lastly, I'm lost for specific examples, but the entire systems that allow other countries to "beat" us in various areas should be examined. Not necessarily for the sake of being first in a list, but for the benefit of streamlining and improving our approaches with children.
In my fourth and fifth grade school we have found that adding time after school with teachers to work on more "fun" and hands-on activities we have found that the students are more engaged in the arts and science. These after-school opportunities take away some of the pressures of NCLB and standards based instruction and brings the love of learning back into the picture. Of course these activities are tied into a learning experience, but they are not as standards driven as the rest of the day. We have found that the after school activities have made a significant impact on the school day as well.

Our school has a very diverse population with many of the students speaking a new language and over 60% receiving free or reduced lunch.
I teach at the North Carolina School of Science and Math--so of course from my experience they are all really excited about those subjects and are less engaged in the humanities! But even with my skewed perspective I feel that we have a tendency to single out subjects as "worthy" or "not worthy" and the cycle of reading programs and science initiatives turns and turns...in my opinion we should be focusing more on integration of subject matter--what better way to get kids interested than to show them how everything is really related? That the technology class they are so excited about and that has encouraged them to want to be a video game designer takes narrative writing skills to create an engaging story line, and physics to make movement through the game realistic...etc.

The elementary schools really have high schools beat in this aspect. The very set up of the school day in secondary education is preventative to collaborative integrated learning.
A shift to project-based learning with a focus on 21st century learning tools is needed to invigorate dry and boring traditional lessons. Student portfolios should be a requirement. There needs to be training for every teacher and testing to make sure they meeting teacher technology standards. Each states department of education should hire a cadre of technology teachers from their ranks to offer summer courses in integrating technology. Rather than paying teachers to attend, a tax-credit could be issued instead.
I might agree with you about professional development, but it must change too, like I changed my methods in my classroom you have to change your approach in yours.
Too often I come to a professional development where the leader does not develop the workshop to the level of my needs. Too often the professional developer is using the examples that I could never use with my High School students or an elementary school teacher can use with her/his elementary school kids.
I believe that professional development should be individualized and allow us time to process and apply the new methodology during the workshop, not after it or never. For example, you can give us so needed time to create our own projects for our own students during your workshop. Right now professional development uses bad teaching strategies from the past.
You're absolutely right. PD needs to be long enough (2 week workshops) that we can wrestle with projects we care about, and create new solutions to them. Indiana University's Freshman Learning Program does this with IU faculty, and it really works. I've heard a number of faculty say that it is "a life changing experience."

I've transported the approach to high school PD, and it works just as well. The key, as you've said, is time to process information, and time to create -- and test -- new teaching strategies.

I've only had one opportunity to work with elementary teachers, though, and it wasn't as successful. My guess is that they have so many subjects to cover that it's a different ball game. That, and of course, the fact that I wasn't yet on the right wavelength to meet their needs. Even so, the core of what you've said seemed equally true: giving the teachers time to reflect, and to create projects, makes a huge difference.
When I was a new teacher everything was interesting even thing I couldn't apply, but things changed with experience. Very often the PD repeats the same strategies and turns into waste of my time while if they gave me time to create some new projects I would be happy even when the strategy itself is very familiar.
Elementary school teachers have many responsibilities but that is not the main reason. They are the ones who are forced to teach things out-of-license more than us and every year their load is growing. I noticed that my High School students as a rule (with just a few exception) don't know what East is, but are bored to discuss electricity. Why? because they learned about electricity in their elementary school, but the teacher never had time to mention that the direction of a sunrise is called East - concrete knowledge which belong in elementary school. Unfortunately, they didn't learn much about electricity either it was inappropriate and unfinished issue.
I love the comments here in this section - problem-solving, after-school time, integration, making learning engagement appealing and appropriate to gifted students (and remember that there are many forms of gifts, so don't measure this with another test please!). I would add "ensure complete personalization" to the list (and to do this we must use technology).

So I'll add an off-the-wall concept:

Build a virtual game space that can accommodate 3 million players (or more). Build the cheat codes of the game equal to the contents of knowledge and let 'em loose.
So glad to see "engagement " here ... I agree with the "Constructivist" (hands on) comments & a reason why I am so supportive of virtual worlds as deep and "engagement" learning environments... particularly STEM content !
What is STEM Content?
STEM = "Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics" see the National Science Foundation's and National Research Council's many projects and research findings for more.

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