Education and Technology

How do you encourage students to enter careers in science and math?
Answered by Dr. Astro Teller, Jill Tarter and 1 other
  • Dr. Astro Teller

    Dr. Astro Teller

  • Jill Tarter

    Jill Tarter

  • Diana Bocco

    Diana Bocco

  1. Dr. Astro Teller Director of New Projects, Google


    I am personally very worried about the United States. I believe that our excitement for, and our focus, on science and technologies is waning at a time when science and technology are becoming the substrate upon which so much of our creative knowledge work is being built. So what I tell young people is that there are a set of skills that have nothing to do with science and technology that you will also need to have such as public speaking, working in groups, and being a good communicator; but if you don't know the basics of math, science, engineering, or computer programming, no matter what you decide to do twenty years from now, you will feel the deficiency.

    Today that concept doesn't seem entirely possible. People say, "What if I was going to be a writer? What if I was going to be a politician?" But when you really investigate future career choices, available twenty years from now, when today’s kids are at the height of their careers, then it is more obvious that it will be disastrous for them if they don't know the building blocks and they can't manipulate the building blocks on which value is really basically being generated.

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  2. Jill Tarter Director, Center for SETI Research, SETI Institute


    It's actually SETI as a concept. This question about could there be other intelligent life out there in the universe is a lovely teaching tool because it involves so much different science under a uniform and very well-connected story that sort of the science almost goes down without them realizing it. They get involved.

    So dinosaurs, creepy crawly things, ghosts and ET – young kids really like these subjects. And when they become the basis for educational opportunities, then it's all fun. It's all a great story. It's a mystery. It's what are we going to uncover, and how do I figure it out? It's a great tool. In some sense we have a real privilege to get kids excited and let this become sort of a gateway drug to the rest of the STEM education process.

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  3. For years, organizations and researchers have been pushing for a marked improvement in K-12 science and math curriculum. In 2005, a National Academies committee published "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," which analyzed the science and math levels of U.S. students and determined they were way below the international median standard. The report also pointed out that 60 percent of the elementary education math teachers in the United States don't have the proper qualifications to teach math. The percentage is even worse for teachers of science [source: Two Years Later]. The first step in encouraging kids to enter careers in science and math is to have teachers who are passionate and knowledgeable about their subjects so they can pass on that enthusiasm to their students.

    Experts believe children need to be involved with science by the fourth grade if they're going to stay interested in it long term [source: National Math and Science Initiative]. Teachers can foster this interest through special programs. For example, the "Zula Patrol" is a program broadcast on public television stations. "Zula Patrol" focuses on early science literacy education and covers science concepts in astronomy, geology, physics and math. A similar program is "DragonflyTV," a multimedia science program that combines PBS shows with interactive media and Internet portals. Both shows are available to teachers and can be used as part of the K-12 curriculum. Because they make science fun, they can help encourage students to see science as a more interesting endeavor. 

    Another way to get students interested in math and science careers is to create opportunities for high-achieving students to enter contests or fairs. Examples include the FIRST Robotics Competition (where students build robots and then use them to solve real-world problems), the Elementary Science Olympiad (ESO) and Math Olympiad programs, the NASA Space Settlement Contest (where groups of students or sometimes complete classrooms can enter by developing space settlement designs) and the National Science Bowl (a competition similar in format to Jeopardy but in a science question-and-answer format).

    In the end, it's important that children get as much exposure as possible to the opportunities out there so they can find something that interests them. Helping students understand that science is behind the creation of cool things such as video games and cell phones can suddenly make the discipline a lot more attractive.

    Science and society
    (Tetra Images/Corbis)

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