I went and heard astrophysicist extraordinaire, Neil deGrasse Tyson, speak at UW last week. What an entertaining two hours. Students from Cleveland High were in attendance and seemed very enthused to be there. He didn't talk on one subject but meandered around various topics (including the demotion of Pluto - very funny).
Times columnist, Jerry Large, interviewed him and got some good quotes. I had just been watching NBC news last night and the President was featured saying, "We have to make science cool." Sigh. Here's what Dr. Tyson has to say:
"Getting kids interested in science is not the challenge," he said. "Kids are born interested in science." The challenge is to get out of the way of their curiosity, let them develop their skills, use their creativity.
"There is no greater education than one that is self-driven," Tyson said. You go to the library, visit museums because you want to learn, and your quest for knowledge outside of school magnifies what happens when you are in school.
So what excites a kid is basically what is going to drive him or her to learn. Helping students understand that almost any discipline is multidisciplinary will help students try to do well in all subjects.
He pointed out that NASA is the most prominent (for better or worse) example of government funding for science and has been for decades. He also pointed out that Kennedy wanted a space race, not to raise awareness but to beat Russia.
I asked him a question that got an ooh and then applause. I asked what he would do to help K-12 public education in this country.
He said he only had 3 great teachers in his life and challenged the audience to count in their heads their number of great teachers. Most said 2-3 (but there was the smarty-pants up in the balcony who said 8 and that he grew up in Evanston, IL so there). He said he wished he could clone those teachers.
A little disappointing but it was interesting that he didn't say there were too many bad teachers, just not enough good ones. And that's the point. Despite what ed reformers are trying to sell, there aren't that many bad teachers. But there are a lot of discouraged, stagnant or underperforming teachers. These are teachers who may be in schools that aren't supported with professional education. These could be teachers who aren't pushed to do better and to have high expectations. These are teachers who could be helped to be better teachers and aren't.
That might be something to focus on until we get cloning down (and which of you teachers is the volunteer for the first teacher clone?).