I jumped headfirst into Tucson’s STEM/STEAM community a few years ago, joining the team of people who organized the very first Arizona SciTech Festival. What I learned through that experience is that one of the most important things our country and our world needs is people who are science literate. Yes, we need people working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) jobs, but foremost, we need people who have a handle on the language and method behind those jobs.
This would mean approaching math just as we approach reading, not as a skill for the few people who can manage it, but a basic skill that is accessible to everyone. Just as public schools don’t accept not being able to read as usual and expected, they should not accept not being able to understand math as usual and expected.
It would mean not just putting kids through high school lab courses and hoping that a few come out the other side with a sparked interest in learning more. Instead, curiosity would be encouraged and cultivated throughout their schooling. And that curiosity would be first developed in their homes, with families that gather to watch shows like NOVA and Nature, discussing what they saw presented on the shows.
And those families would be reading nonfiction together. When a child is interested in a particular subject, parents would not only find books for their child to read at the child’s reading level, they would search out more advanced books and read those aloud to their child.
It would mean that it would become unusual to hear adults decrying math. Just that one change would make a huge difference. Think about how often you hear people talk about how impossible reading is, and then contrast that to the number of times you have heard people say the exact same thing about math.
Just as the languages we speak and read put voice to the thoughts in our heads, so do the languages of math and science–they describe the universe around us.
Agents of STEAM is my contribution to this effort. I want to connect people to ways they can learn and experience the wonder of everything around them, and focusing on STEAM seems like a good start.