Friday, December 16, 2005

How would you improve science education in the US?

Over on The Panda's Thumb there is a post (the title of this post is a direct link to that one) about improving science education in the US (duh, it's the title of both my post and theirs). A lot of the comments describe experiences similar to my own. There are a lot, so I'm telling mine here.

I loved science and math in elementary and high school (Note: In 6th grade I got a very low grade in science because I was rebelling against the teacher. It was a conscious decision. Don't ask.) I really don't remember any particularly great teachers in elementary school. They were mostly pretty good, but for the most part they were background noise. At that age, if you put a book in front of me, I would read it. If it had any educational value, I would learn something.
In high school I had some very good science teachers. For example, in 9th grade, Mr. "Old man" Rainey (He taught "Science." It wasn't until 10th grade that science was broken into classes for different areas) encouraged my friends (Joe Autrey and Jason Baker) and I to try to synthesize potassium nitrate (we already had sulfur and carbon) during the chemistry section.

Then I went to college (after six years in the Navy). Most commenters on the post (on the Panda's Thumb) write about how terrible the intro science and math classes that they took were. Mine were also pretty bad (I only went to Physics 101 because the girl who was TA for my recitation was cute). But, at least in the Electrical Engineering department, the later classes didn't get any better. My junior year Electronics Design class (EE 310) had a lab component. It sucked. All of the so-called experiments were fill-in-the-blanks, cookbook recipes. It got so bad that I finally said "Screw this, I don't want to be an engineer," and dropped out (there were also some other issues, but that was the biggest). I still love science and math, particularly electronics. Penn State didn't kill that love, but it did wound it pretty bad.

On a similar note, I applied for an electronics techncian position in Rock Springs today. I hope I get hired. I really want to get back into electronics professionally. Of course, I may have to find a new hobby.

Later,

3 people have spouted off:

tom said...

Yes, Old Man was one of the greatest teachers I've ever had and probably one of the greatest teachers I ever will have. Unfortunately, not many teachers share his passion for education, knowledge, and science.

John said...
We aren't the only ones who feel that way. You should have seen how many THS alumni came to his funeral.
12/17/05, 9:10 AM
phil said...

Hey, is it not possible to become an "engineer" without a college degree? All the information that is taught in college is freely available (not necessarily without cost, but to anyone).

Sure, you couln't get a "job" in engineering withoug a degree, but that doesn't mean that you can't design stuff and sell the designs or build the stuff and sell it.

I think that our society, our culture, is a bit dismal and deterring in brainwashing people into thinking that you need a college degree to make something of yourself.

For some things, of course it's important - like Doctors (Who would visit a surgeon who hadn't been to medical school). But for many things, life experiences are much more important than college learning. Many construction workers (the ones who aren't burnt out drug addicts or complete idiots) think that engineers are a bunch of idiot because the guy that actually builds the stuff and puts it together can see many types of design problems that the engineers easily miss.

This doesn't mean that those construction workers could be engineers, some of them may not even be able to add, but the life experience they have would certainly benefit an engineer. A good engineer would talk to and listen to the advice of the people who actually build and use the stuff they design.

Colleges produce engineers with no hands-on experience with real world issues and with a cocky attitude towards the non-engineers ("You don't know what you're talking about, you're not an engineer").

Oh yeah, I've heard that most Penn State Engineers get jobs in sales rather than engineering.