Charter schools aside, most U.S. public schools—primary through high school—still approach education in much the same way that they did for the last generation, and the generation before that, etc. Sure, there’s the new Common Core math approach in use today, which is widely mocked and denigrated. Another change is that cursive and typing classes have mostly gone extinct, although typing could still be useful (unless you assume everything will eventually operate via voice control).
Largely, however, children are taught the same basics at the same time—even if they’re taught in a slightly different way. As I help my own children with their homework and look at their familiar curriculums with a sense of nostalgia, I wonder: Is this the approach we should still be using to teach them?
As a career technology editor, I certainly am not an expert in education. Yet I’m well aware of today’s engineering developments and how they continue to impact how we live, work, and create. We exist in a moment—it’s hard to tell precisely how long it will last—right before major medical, manufacturing, transportation, lifestyle, and other marvels drastically change the world (think of examples like driverless cars and robotic surgery).
In the face of such dramatic change, however, much of what our children learn in kindergarten through 8th grade is still the same rudimentary building blocks: Starting off with learning colors, numbers, and letters and moving on to counting, reading and writing, multiplication and division, earth science, history, reading, etc. I’m not saying we should necessarily be teaching toddlers to code, but maybe engineering- and technology-related concepts should make an earlier and more regular appearance in the curriculum?
Many schools do try to add new programs. The problem is that public schools in particular are not set up to have much fluidity around their curriculums. Budgets are fixed in most areas, and many teachers and administrators, while excellent at what they do, aren’t well-versed in today’s fast-moving technology. This is where you come in—well, not just you, but any engineering or science-minded person who could offer advice on a basic science lab, educate a STEAM teacher on things like building a basic circuit, or offer some other contribution (calling all makers and hobbyists!).
For instance, many elementary schools are starting with a community-assisted effort like a student makerspace. And they’re often looking for donations—everything from Legos to shoeboxes and batteries, old toys and games, etc. So if you have anything to donate, please reach out to your local schools and see if they’re interested. But start with the elementary schools first. High schools often have some good stuff already in place; the elementary schools are the ones that need a boost. Do some summer cleaning and reach out. And if you have any knowledge you can share, see if there’s a way for you to do that. Your employer may even want to sponsor a program by providing kits or some tools as a donation.
To better keep pace with technology, our schools need support, aid, and donations—of things and knowledge, not necessarily funds—to help children grow up with technology as a part of the standard curriculum, just as it has become a standard part of life. If you’ve been thinking maybe you should “give back” or have extra time on your hands, see what resources you can gather or solicit and get involved. Even if you just end up passing along directions on a simple starter kit of some kind with some materials, it will be appreciated. We’d love to spotlight STEM programs that are already making a difference, so if you know of any, send me a note at [email protected].