A New Approach
Last spring, Obama gave a speech to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) about the important role that science plays in our country's development. During the speech he issued a challenge to NAS members to 'think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering.' This morning Obama announced that the community had met his challenge with the new 'Educate to Innovate' campaign.
Educate to Innovate offers several extracurricular strategies to support education in science, technology, engineering and math, also known as the STEM subjects. Although the campaign has been criticized for taking the focus away from the most crucial component of education - the classroom - the Obama administration has said that they hope that Educate to Innovate will complement the Race to the Top program, which is focused on improving classroom education.
During his speech, Obama identified three main priorities for STEM education in the U.S.:
- Greater STEM literacy so that all students have the ability to think critically in these crucial subjects.
- Higher-quality teaching in math and sciences to bring American students up to international standards.
- Expanded access to STEM education and career opportunities for underrepresented groups, especially women and minorities.
In order to achieve these goals, Educate to Innovate includes the following initiatives:
- A commitment by business and other private leaders to increase the scope and impact of private-sector and philanthropic support of STEM education. Key participants include Sally Ride (the first female astronaut), Glenn Britt (CEO, Time-Warner Cable), Ursula Burns (CEO, Xerox) and Antonio Perez (CEO, Eastman Kodak). With the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, this group will recruit other leaders from the private sector to mobilize resources, raise awareness and act as 'champions for STEM' on the state level.
- A new annual science fair at the White House, featuring the winners of national student competitions in areas such as robotics, technology and science.
- A series of public-private partnerships utilizing media and technology to bring interactive, hands-on learning experiences to more than 10 million students over the next four years.
Partnerships in Science
The public-private partnerships are bringing in groups from all different sectors to support the campaign. Several science and engineering societies have joined together to start National Lab Day (NLD), which describes itself as 'a national barn-raising for hands-on learning.' The program is focused on supporting project-based learning, improving science labs and creating support communities for STEM teachers. Although NLD is 'more than just a day,' the organizers are also spearheading a country-wide National Lab Day celebration in the first week of May, 2010.
Sesame Street, which is celebrating its 40-year anniversary, is also joining the campaign. The beloved children's television show will kick off its new season with 'My World is Green and Growing,' featuring an appearance by Michelle Obama. This will be the first episode in a 2-year initiative intended to strengthen the show's focus on math and science and increase children's understanding of the natural world.
In addition to Sesame Street's participation, there will be two more TV-related initiatives in Educate to Innovate. Time Warner Cable is launching the 'Connect a Million Minds' campaign. Utilizing its existing media platform, Time Warner will connect over a million students to after-school STEM activities. Discovery Communications will also be taking advantage of their broad media reach with the 'Be the Future' campaign. This program will create new STEM-related content across their 13 networks, including a commercial-free educational kids block on the Science Channel.
Finally, the MacArthur Foundation, Sony and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) are launching a series of national STEM game design competitions. The events, including the 2010 Digital Media and Learning Competition, focus on compelling, freely-available STEM-related video games that are appropriate for children and youth. In order to encourage the development of '21st-century knowledge and skills,' one of the competitions will only be open to children.