Saturday, June 15, 2013

HONORING PICASSO AND PROGRAMMING


What is the future of STEM education in this country? Today, while listening to This American Life on NPR, I became fearful that soon, perhaps, very little will be happening. We know that STEM education is crucial to our future, and we know that countries which focus on science, technology, engineering and math education will lead the way. Nevertheless, sometimes the finest teachers in a school system are eliminated because of budget cuts, and sometimes science classes are among the first to be slashed. What a shocking revelation.

Jason Pittman teaches pre-school through sixth grade science at an elementary school in Fairfax County, Virginia, and has been recognized by the National Science Teacher's Association as their Early Educator of the Year. His lesson plans are unique and encourage exploration and hands-on education. Unfortunately, his job was eliminated a few years ago and his district has to raise the funds privately every year to retain his position.  So, after ten years of teaching and winning several major awards, he’s quitting. He used to run his own technology business, and maybe he'll return to that, without the stress of wondering where his paycheck will come from. But what about the students who adore him? What about the four-year-old who said to him this week, "Mr. Pittman, this is the best day of my life. I love science!"?

At Big Mind Learning, we believe that in the intersection of art and science lies greatness. We recently honored Sal Elder Jr. as the first-prize winner in our Scholarship Essay Contest for his essay entitled "Programming and Picasso". We noted his natural story-telling ability, wit, and sophisticated use of language and personification. However, what is really at stake in his essay is his identification with Picasso who said, "“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Sal Elder loves to program, and through his lively description of his trial and error process, his love for experimentation is obvious and inspiring. He says, "I’ll be honest—I don’t fully know what I’m doing, or even who my target audience is. But it’s fun, and I suppose its main purpose is for me to learn about writing and coding. Furthermore, I get to enjoy the satisfaction, as Picasso must have, of having instructed myself through experimentation and self-motivation."

Let's get rid of our reliance on standardized tests and get kids into the labs and gardens, where true-life inspiration can reside. Many educators say that we will need more engineers and scientists in the future than ever before, so why are we eliminating some of our best science teachers?