Guest blogger, Cindy Moss, Ph.D, reflects upon her experiences as a judge at the 2011 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge final event and shares words of wisdom.
Serving as a judge for the Young Scientists Competition was one of the most energizing experiences of my 29 year career in education. The talent and potential I have witnessed in the past 2 national competitions has given me hope for our future. The opportunity that the 10 Young Scientists finalists have to work with successful STEM innovators from 3M will provide them with the confidence and skills they need to be successful in any endeavor they embrace in the future. And, all students who entered the competition had the experience of crafting an idea that uses math and science, and working to communicate it to others.
I am currently doing consulting work with the Ministry of Education in Thailand and a private educational group in India. China selected 25 of their top secondary math and science teachers and sent them to spend 6 months in our district to learn how we teach them. Other countries recognize that Americans are the best at collaborating and being creative, but American teachers and schools need to provide more opportunities for our students to master those skills. As educators we are under the stress of preparing our students to take high stakes multiple choice tests and many teachers choose not to take the time for competitions. However, the advent of Common Core State Standards provides STEM teachers with the impetus to engage their students in this type of work. As the Director of STEM education for 140,000 students in my district, I am constantly struggling to find the right kind of STEM learning for my students, and funding to provide it. The 3M Young Scientist Competition is exactly that type of experience. It is real-world, relevant, high quality, free and available to all students in 5th-8th grade.
National Science Foundation research has found that 1 real-world problem experience can be the difference between students choosing to take difficult math and science courses or choosing to drop out of the STEM pipeline. The National Inventors Hall of Fame found that more than 80% of the inventors in the Hall of Fame had the idea for their invention by the age of 10. Most of these successful inventors did not have actually produce their invention until they were middle-aged, but had their most creative ideas before they had been handicapped by learning all the things their current world declared impossible. In our district we have conducted research on elementary students who participated in a week of Camp Invention. An outside researcher found that the quality of the inventions from our economically disadvantaged students was as good, if not better than those of their suburban counterparts. We also found that special education, English language learners, and handicapped students were able to experience success in this type of learning. Our research indicates that Charlotte Mecklenburg students participating in creating a new invention had improved test scores in reading, math and science as a result of their experience and were willing to tackle more difficult science and math classes when they reached high school.
In conclusion I encourage you to engage 5th-8th grade students in the 3M Young Scientist competition so that they experience the joy of creating a solution to a problem and communicating their ideas to others. Remember you can't win, if you don't begin.