Tuesday, October 25, 2016

STEM, schmem

You've all heard the acronym, STEM, by now, right? If by some chance you missed it, it stands for Science Technology Engineering and Math. And whenever I read it or hear it, it always sounds a bit like this to my ear: IF WE DON'T TEACH OUR CHILDREN THESE INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT THINGS STARTING WHILE THEY ARE STILL GESTATING BECAUSE WAITING UNTIL THEY ARE THREE IS TOO LATE THEN WE WILL RUIN OUR CHILDREN AND THEY WON'T SUCCEED IN COLLEGE AND LIFE AS WE KNOW IT WILL END!

With all this screaming in my ears, you can understand why I find the acronym and the hype surrounding it to be a wee bit annoying. Because hype is really what it is. Why do we need to push our children to do things as early as possible? What is the ultimate purpose? My sneaking suspicion is that if we really get down to it, the root of it all is that every parent wants to be special, and the best way to be special is to have special children. No, not the special that means behind the curve, but the special which screams says advanced. My mother liked to term them 'gifted parents' and secretly enjoyed pulling me out of the gifted program (at my insistence) because of the reaction she got from other parents when she told them. (I didn't fall far from the tree in that respect.)

Sorry if I just alienated a bunch of you, but I really am going somewhere with this. The end is a worthy goal... to have children, who, when they are grown, have a good working knowledge of the maths and sciences. It's good to have an educated populace. It is good to have citizens who can invent and create new things.

It is the means I completely and totally disagree with. We do not need to hand small children iPads and phones to teach them technology. They will pick that type of technology up all by themselves, thank you very much. And if you think the technology you just handed your three year old will have anything to do with the technology they will have access to as an adult, you are not paying attention. Having math skills are great, but let's wait to introduce higher math until their brains have developed to a point where they can actually use it and not just perform it. Sure there will always be the outlier who can understand and play with numbers and advanced mathematics far earlier than most, but that's an easy and unique case which can be handled in and easy and unique way. The same with science. The best way to introduce science to children younger than adolescense is by allowing them to explore it, and more often than not, that exploring is much more effective if it is self-directed.

This isn't just me being reactionary and holding nutty ideas. This time I have some real articles to share with you. My tune doesn't change. What children need is to explore a wider world at their own pace, using all their senses. They need to listen to stories and to develop a strong relationship with their parents. The need real, solid objects to manipulate and hold and not some image on an ever present screen. They need freedom from tests and rigid book work and overly controlled schedules.

The first article is How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off. I find this one particularly interesting as it discusses the adult life of gifted children and why we don't see that particular population well represented in the group of Nobel Laureates. The take away from it, for me at least, is towards the end where it discusses the wide spectrum of interests that these scientists have. They are dabblers (though I expect they all dabble quite well) in many areas... not just in STEM fields... and these areas influence them in their science work.

If we want adults who are interested in more than just the narrow world of their own particular field, we need to introduce the wider world of arts, music, and literature when they are young. Narrowly focusing and emphasizing one area of learning over another is not great for overall creativity, and without creativity, not only will the arts die out, but new discoveries in the sciences will as well.

It also turns out that creating scientists has more to do with literature and parental relationships than it does anything else. Reading to Children 'More Effective than Technology at Boosting Science Skills' is an article that my science-majoring son sent me. Pretty much books read and discussed with adults is the best way to create a skilled scientist. Books move at a better rate for children to make us of, and the added bonus of discussing the ideas of the book afterward with an adult makes that information useful. I love it when I find my recipe for education (play, read, read, play) supported by outside sources.

Finally, about those real books verses screen books. Take a look at Your Paper Brain and Your Kindle Brain Aren't the Same Thing. We use different parts of our brain to read different things. The part of the brain that reads screens is far better at skimming and jumping than the part of the brain that reads text off a page. It is the part of our brain that we use for deep and sustained concentration. If this part of our brain is not used, like any other neurological ability that is not used, the brain real estate is taken over by some other function and that original function is lost. It is not your imagination if you find reading an actual book, even one that would have been easy for you years ago, feels so much harder and more difficult to concentrate on if you are out of practice. We need these skills for much of our adult lives and by allowing our children to learn solely on computers, we are robbing them of even developing abilities at deep and sustained concentration.

Our children are natural scientists. They explore, discover, categorize, organize, question, and solve all the time. If we were to give our children the time they need to do these things at their own pace and their own time, we wouldn't need to come up with some backwards focused 'program' to fix what wasn't broken.

1 comment:

Carla said...

I have a (related? unrelated?) question. Do you see a vast difference in your biological vs. adopted children in their love of reading? I know you encourage reading lots and lots of books starting from a young age, and I'm wondering how much of that may have translated into a love of books. Or do you see that it depends more on the individual child's "bent" rather than on early interactions?

I wonder because I have always loved reading and books. I am one of 7 children and my brother who is less than 1 year younger than me (go Mom!), never liked reading nor felt proficient at it. With so little space between us, there was very little differentiation between us in terms of being read to at a young age.

Just in case you were looking for a blog topic....

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