What got me interested in STEM

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Dr. Charles Zollner shares with the Lybbaverse what first got him interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and technology) education. It wasn't the image of a germinating dandelion on his science book.

I was a bad student for the first 10 years of my life. School just didn’t interest me. I fidgeted. I got into trouble. Anything to break the tedium. I do remember being intrigued by the science textbook I had in my desk in first grade. I remember it to this day. The cover had a picture of a dandelion seed cluster beginning to disperse in the wind. I think we opened that book twice the entire year.

Subsequent years did little to engage me. School was taught in a very rote form. Memorization was emphasized. All that changed in fourth grade. My new teacher that year, Mrs. Maher, had a different style of teaching. She added a sense of wonder to her topics. Instead of teaching us to memorize that the moon goes around the Earth in 27.5 days, she explained that the moon rotates exactly so that the same side is always facing the earth. Isn't that fascinating? Why, yes it is, I thought. Wait a minute, why does it do that? Her teaching style engaged me. Her enthusiasm was contagious.

Although subsequent years generally lapsed back into the traditional style, a seed had been planted within me. I began to read more. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up my answer was generally, an astronomer or a chemist or both. Some sort of scientist.

For me, this geeky interest in how things work eventually found a place to land, like a dandelion seed, within the healthcare field.  If you want something fascinating, there is nothing more fascinating than the human body. If you want to learn about something in order to and make things better, nothing is more relevant and practical than the human body.

This style of teaching can apply to any subject. History can be taught as a dry memorization of dates or as the epic story of empires rising and falling, chance events that forever alter fates and tales of intrigue that have brought us to where we are today.

As today’s education tends toward teaching for an upcoming standardized test, I despair that the students coming up are being denied that sense of wonder.  The extent to which we can capture the imaginations of today’s youth will be the extent to which we can benefit from their talents in making the world a better place. 

As the world careens into a precarious time, whether our own civilization will rise or fall may ultimately depend on the degree to which we have engaged the intellectual resources needed to set it on a steady path. That will likely depend on this one metric: how well are we educating our youth?

Read more posts by Dr. Charles Zollner on his blog.

 

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