Monday, February 6, 2012

Siemen's STEM Institute: A Luddite Wants In

I would like very much to go to the Siemen's STEM Institute this summer, though after today, I'm not sure they'd welcome me  in their midst. I've spent hours wrestling with a Flip camera, MS Movie Maker, and and apparent conflict between the chip set in my laptop and the rest of the world (a chip with a chip on its shoulder), and  may be disqualified for my inability to produce a simple two minute video broadcasting my Luddite qualities.

I have a fine 1956 Futura typewriter sitting in my room, ready to type up a cogent argument for my presence. Which may just highlight the problem.

Still, this has not been a pointless exercise.

The thrust for STEM education focuses on things human--help the economy, cure cancer, and screw the Commies and anyone else who is a little less Western-Eurocentric than the fine folk who rule our land.

And that's fine and good, I suppose, but not all my lambs have both the desire and the chops to become STEM All Stars. Each and every one of them, though, lives in this universe. Very few of them realize the same universe belongs to them.

Last week was midterms. I got restless, as I tend to do during things like midterms and shopping for underwear, so I grabbed a microscope and tossed a drop of our windowsill pond water on  a slide.

A stentor spun a whirlpool in its own universe, a magnificent critter with a reason all its own, pulling in other critters with its vortex, so that it may continue its stentor ways.

I put a camera on the scope, and projected the stentor's world on the screen. Most of the students stopped, stared. I shouldn't have distracted them from their task at hand, but I am glad that I did.

This universe cannot be subdued. The horseshoe crabs will creep out of the bay millions of years after we're gone.

This matters.

I teach what matters, and a lot of what doesn't.
I teach to young folks whose bodies share the same carbon atoms that will, sooner or later, end up in the carapaces of the horseshoe crabs that will outlive us.

I teach science because a child who know her universe is more likely to know joy than a child who does not.
If she happens to cure cancer in the meantime, well, bonus points.

On a good day, nothing, nothing, beats teaching science to young humans.


John T. Spencer said...

This is going to come across as bitter, but I'm tossing it out there anyway. I talked with two groups of STEM students at ISTE and was disappointed both times. They were bright, I suppose. And really, they have a much higher chance of being engineers than most of my students.

However, they struggled to answer questions about ethics and science and technology. They struggled to make connections between concepts. They struggled when I suggested that if India was pumping out so many engineers (as they pointed out) then the demand will be too low for the supply and they might as well try out to be gas attendants. I said that last part nicely, but it rattled them a bit. I wanted them to argue with that, but they politely told me that this was simply not the case.

Then I felt like a prick and realized that they had no reason to talk to me about ethics or engage in any dialogue at all. They didn't know me and I didn't know them. My students are used to those kinds of questions.

And yet . . . for as much of a prick as I may have been, I was struck by the sense that what they could produce was somehow more important than what they had learned. Perhaps that's the biggest tragedy of STEM.

For what it's worth, I'm still not sure what STEM means. I have engaged students in science, math, engineering and technology. But I also push for AHEM (to borrow your phrase).

Anonymous said...

I found out this summer that live windows movie maker is not the thing you want: you want windows movie maker 2.6, which you can download.
Plug in the flip camera, and let it do its little upload thing. You can then import the file into movie maker 2.6, cut it up and edit it, narrate over it...
I don't have a cell phone, I don't Facebook, but I can follow instructions when it suits me, and the movie editor is pretty cool. You are not a Luddite, merely a hitherto unmotivated learner.

doyle said...

Dear John,

Hardly bitter, mostly sad--we train children to chase the worlds of others.

I smell a new Spencer blog post coming up... =)

Dear Anonymous,

Oh, I'm plenty motivated but, alas, am also mortal.

I make conscious choices. We all make choices, even when we don't realize it.

Thanks for the heads up, but I got a work around already--I am a persistent mofo.

I'm not a "learner" either, no more than I am an educator. I am, however, a mammal.