BERT MAES

The Future of CNC Manufacturing Education – CNC Manufacturing, Education Reform & Change Management News.

[Research] Start STEM education way earlier: from 5 through 9 years!

Posted by Bert Maes on July 28, 2010


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Four researchers in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, biology, and education have found evidence that should transform our educational practices in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

Their research is demonstrating that young children have the capacity to learn more than anyone previously imagined. Their key finding is that acquisition of information by the human brain is most rapid and efficient from birth to the preteenage years.

Our current pattern in formal science education is focused on 14-16-year-olds. By this point, however, we have entirely missed the optimal learning period for children, and the optimal moment to get young people attracted to science, engineering and manufacturing. The period from kindergarten through 4th grade is “a peak window of opportunity for teaching basic science concepts.

According to Bayer – regardless of gender, race or ethnicity – interest in science begins in early childhood. Nearly 60 percent of the respondents say they first became interested in science by age 11. This parallels the findings of a 1998 Bayer survey of American Ph.D. scientists: six-in-ten also reported interest in science by age 11.

It is important though that formal and informal science learning at such early age is embedded in social interaction. Human children readily learn through social interactions with other people.

Children spend nearly 80% of their waking hours outside of school. They learn at home; in community centers; in clubs; through the Internet; at museums, zoos, and aquariums; and through digital media and gaming. Encourage children as early as possible to play with construction toys, take things apart and put them back together again, play games that involve fitting objects into different places, draw, and work with their hands. These activities are often highly social and as such they maximize motivation and influences children’s interests, goals, and future choices.

In formal school settings, research shows that individual face-to-face tutoring is the most effective form of instruction. Students taught by professional tutors one on one show achievement levels that are two standard deviations higher than those of students in conventional instruction. One-to-one instruction in science at a very early age, combined with new learning technologies provides an interactive environment with step-by-step feedback, feed forward instructional hints to the user, and dynamic problem selection.

From the article The Future of Manufacturing is in the 3rd Grade: “It appeals to students with hands-on, project-based courses where students have fun while applying the fundamentals of science. (…) Students learned to make cars out of paper, catapults out of mouse traps and robots using computer software.

The benefits of such system are huge:

  • Create an immediate, strong engagement and intense connection with engineering from an early age.
  • Educational technology (for example, text messaging, Facebook, and Twitter) as social interaction tools can extend the sensitive period for learning.
  • Programs enhancing early social interactions produce significant long-term improvements in academic achievement, social adjustment, and economic success.
  • If you would add science as a subject at an early age you give the right input and the right learning opportunities at the right time to bring our economy the essential manufacturing specialists.

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4 Responses to “[Research] Start STEM education way earlier: from 5 through 9 years!”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bert Maes, Bert Maes. Bert Maes said: [Research] Start #STEM #mfg #education way earlier: from 5 through 9 years!: http://wp.me/pxaXr-Fu [...]

  2. Ed Neale said

    It would be good to see more involvement from the outside commercial world in helping to shape the curriculum and help ensure students are usefully equipped when they leave school. One of the problems with STEM education, aside from the quality of teaching, has often been the lack of context – i.e. it has tended to be taught in isolation with little reference to its application in the real world.

    It has always struck me as odd how students leaving school and, increasingly, university, are facing a Catch 22 situation whereby they are unable to find a position unless they have prior experience. yet to have that experience they need to first be qualified.

    Perhaps one way to address this is to make apprenticeships available for young people at a much earlier age – this is a tactic that has been used by Formula 1 teams and even, dare I say it, football clubs, for some time now and has been a factor in the success of some of the most prominent players in those fields, as well as benefitting the teams in question not just through the apprentice’s skills, but also also their loyalty to the team that trained them.

    My other concern, particularly with the serious levels of debt that students are facing these days, is that many 18 year olds are going to university with little or no real idea of what they want to do or why they are studying their chosen subject – my opinion is that they should have to work for a couple of years first to get an idea/appreciation of whether they really do want to go to university. The problem is that the current system is effectively presenting little option but for them to go to university, in the same way that students in the UK have effectively been shoehorned into remaining at school until they are 18.

    I think that the idea of early apprenticeships might also present a solution to this problem as well.

    The benefits of this idea, in addition to the above would be:

    For the ‘employer’ / company running the apprenticeship:
    – Reduced cost of training a younger person in terms of salary
    – Ability to shape the individual to their needs

    For the apprentice:
    – Valid alternative to a primarily academic education
    – Ability to gain experience
    – Money paid not as salary but rather as an effective ‘training trust fund’ – if the apprentice were to opt to take up, say an engineering degree at university, then the money paid into the fund could be used to help fund this move. Alternatively, it could start as an early pension fund.

    • Bert Maes said

      Absolutely, Ed. I didn’t think about that.

      Young people have indeed no idea what they want to do with their lives. By the way: that included me at that moment in time. I completely agree with your solution to make people work for a couple of years before choosing their careers.

      School curricula, school days and school weeks have to be entirely redesigned. How would your ideal school look like between age 6 and 18?

  3. [...] But often substandard innovation and skills are the result. Educational programs in which students from an early age get exposed to manufacturing technologies in an entrepreneurial manner, therefore, are central to [...]

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