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Posts Tagged ‘mathematics’

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

Posted by Bert Maes on July 28, 2010

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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Study: Cognitive Skills Completely Describe Economic Growth

Posted by Bert Maes on January 28, 2010

A new study from the OECD provides evidence of the link between educational attainment and prosperity.

Published on January 27th, the study, entitled “The high cost of low educational performance”, asks “Why do some countries succeed economically while others don’t?

Their answer is: economies with better cognitive skills in mathematics and science innovate at a higher rate, generate more ideas and new technologies and improve their productivity much faster.

The OECD continues: “Regional growth over the last four decades is completely described by differences in cognitive skills”. The math and science skills of the labor force are directly related to economic growth.

This actually says that:

  • raising cognitive skills are a crucial force in economic development;
  • improvement in the quality of schools is so very important;
  • the potential gains from improving school is truly enormous;
  • educational achievements transform economies.

An improvement of 50-point higher average in mathematics and science performance in PISA scores generates a 0.87% higher economic growth every year.

Or even a 25-point increase in PISA scores, makes the GDP in 2042 rise more than 3% higher than what would be expected without improvements in cognitive skills. This would increase to a 5.5% improvement in 2050, 14.2% in 2070, and in 2090 about 25% above the “education as usual” level.

Over many decades, the small rise in average 0,87% annual growth rates could bring a stonking $115 trillion in extra wealth for its member countries by 2090, the OECD reckons.

You can see this is a long-term perspective, but still, the report concludes “the enormous economic gains, put in terms of current GDP, far outstrip the value of short-run business-cycle management of current issues of economic recession”.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has cut $1 billion in California, the British government reduces spending on higher education by $980 million, half of American states will have spent all of their stimulus money ($787 billion) for education by the end of July. Cuts will follow, says the Economist.

These actions might be necessary (which I personally doubt), but the long-run issues should not be neglected. The economic value of successful school reform far exceeds any conceivable costs of improvement.

Countries must make substantial changes in raising the quality of learning outcomes now to reap the future benefits.

>> READ FULL STUDY: The High Cost of Low Educational Performance – The Long-Run Economic Impact of Improving PISA Outcomes (OECD, January 27th, 2010)

We welcome your views.

UPDATE: an additional graphic:

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Why We’re Failing Math and Science in Engineering

Posted by Bert Maes on November 3, 2009

We will need:

  • Better Marketing
  • Better Teaching
  • Better Training Equipment

Some kids see mathematics as the gateway to engineering, paving the way to creation of new gadgets and technologies.

But most see mathematics as a gatekeeper, a suppression of creativity, denying entry to talented would-be engineers.

school_philosophers_mathematics_39299521 percent of the kids that would like to become an engineer don’t feel competent enough in their mathematics, geometry and science skills. They experience it as too difficult, boring, nerdy and irrelevant to their lives.

Not surprising as the message kids usually get is: maths and science are challenging, but if you work hard you can do it.

Instead we should tell kids (ScienceDaily June 25, 2008) that:

* Engineers make a world of difference.

* Engineers are creative problem-solvers.

* Engineers help shape the future.

* Engineering is essential to our health, happiness, and safety.

* Engineering is a satisfying profession that involves creative ideas and teamwork.

But the QUALITY OF TEACHING should change with it:

  • The Sputnik era came because there were idealists who said we’re in trouble as a country, we have to compete against the Russians. Today, we have to compete against the Chinese and Indians who are graduating tens of thousands more very talented science, math and engineering graduates from their colleges. They’re not doing better than we are at the college and university level, but they’re doing massively better than we are in the numbers. (Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania)
  • => We have to compete at quality. The way that’s going to happen is if we have leadership at the top and a real fear through this society that if we don’t compete better by educating our best students—which means getting the best teachers, which means rewarding them for results—we’re going to fall behind…  (Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania)
  • Kevin Craig, professor of mechanical engineering: “One of the great failures in engineering education has been the inability of graduating students to integrate all they have learned — science, mathematics, engineering fundamentals — in the solution of real-world engineering problems (…) The college professors are teaching very little practical application engineering — but plenty of theory to their students. Which really does nothing to prepare the graduates for applying their skills to solving most of the problems encountered in the real world of Engineering and Design.” (
  • => The same comparison: “Nobody would accept training IT students with computers that are 25 years old, so why is it acceptable to use antiquated machines in the precision engineering industry, where technological developments are at least as fast?” (Kristin Alexandersson, CNC machine tool sales engineer for Haas Factory Outlet (HFO) Edströms Maskin)

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Why do kids say “no” to engineering?

Posted by Bert Maes on July 13, 2009

engineering toolsThe US National Science Foundation projects a shortage of 70,000 engineers by 2010.

According to a survey conducted on behalf of the American Society for Quality there is a variety of reason why 85 percent of youth, ages 8 to 17, say they are not interested in a future engineering career.

The top three reasons were:

  • Kids don’t know much about engineering — 44 percent.
  • Kids prefer a more exciting career than engineering — 30 percent.
  • They don’t feel confident enough in their math or science skills — 21 percent — to be good at it.

>> What will be – according to you – the consequences for manufacturing companies and the world’s economy?


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