NASA summit focuses on science, tech education

Agency promotes creative ideas, public/private partnerships to improve STEM education. Speaker Willard Daggett promotes communication with students as the answer.

In the effort to make America more competitive in the sciences, NASA has organized a summit of schools, students and leading STEM-oriented institutions to aimed at fostering educational partnerships, reports eSchool News. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Educators, policy makers, students and NASA officials convened at the University of Maryland for the first NASA Education Partnership Summit. The discussions centered around preparing students for a changing workforce. The forum focused on business and educational partnerships to attract and retain more students in the STEM disciplines, and, ultimately, to pump more highly qualified workers into the new global economy.

"We're reaching out to all sectors," said Bernice Alston, NASA's deputy assistant administrator for education. "We're reaching out to industry, government, nonprofits and community-based organizations. We're reaching out to everyone, because we don't have all of the answers and we think that we can do a much better job if people who have vested interests in their communities can have a say about how we improve STEM education."

One example of this business/educational partnership is the Bernard Harris Summer Science Camp. The camp - founded by a former astronaut, physician, and accomplished businessman - hosts disadvantaged middle and high school students at some of the nation's top universities, allowing them an opportunity to improve on their math and science skills in hopes of securing better jobs. The camp is expanding to 20 campuses nationwide this year.

According to Willard Daggett, author and founder of the International Center for Leadership in Education, the answer to making a more fruitful partnership is better communication.

"Do you really know what's on the mind of K-12 educators in this country?" Daggett asked a room full of NASA administrators during the summit. He added: "Because until you know what's on their mind and they know what's on your mind, you're never going to be really good partners."

Dagget said that with the expertise of scientists, engineers and other professionals, schools can strive to make the curriculum more relevant. The trick is to not overburden teachers with another chore to do, but to "balance the daily pressures of increased accountability with the potential benefits of change," he said.

"Kids today are being wired differently because of an intense and ongoing interaction with technology," said Daggett. At home, they play video games and chat with friends on cell phones or via email. They listen to music on digital MP3 players and do their shopping on the internet. Technology is woven through almost every facet of their daily lives--that is, until they get to school, said Daggett, who added: "It's almost as if, when kids come to school, we break them of the habit."

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