I recently watched a Ted video that showcased the work of three students who won the Google Science Fair competition. It was recommended by Bo Adams at Its About Learning, PBL Examples, courtesy of TEDxWomen. It is really a very interesting and eye-opening piece about three young girls who challenged themselves to master something unusual. Take a look at their stories.
Here are my takeaways, aside from the captivating stories about their three research projects to change the world.
- Every student needs a mentor and adults in schools and the workplace need to take responsibility for mentoring ALL students.
In the video two students mention that their original idea required them to write to hundreds of scientists to find a laboratory where they could do their work. High schools, labs and teachers, typically do not have the equipment or expertise to directly assist a high school student whose project is complex. Two of them mention that they sent out hundreds of letters or emails and receiving only 1 reply. Of course, all it took was one scientist to say yes, however, I am shocked to think that only 1 out of a 100 professionals positively replied. They received “I’m too busy” responses, as well as no responses. I believe this is inexcusable.
These three girls are so poised, articulate and capable of expressing themselves clearly while explaining complex, scientific concepts.
- We have to teach ALL students to develop speaking and communication skills to explain themselves clearly and confidently.
It is not sufficient to teach students science, history or English content, give them a project to complete, and a presentation to give without teaching them the requisite skills to speak and communicate effectively. As a science teacher, if I lack the skills to teach speaking and communication effectively then I have a responsibility to partner with other teachers who have the skills to teach students well. In schools, we can’t leave speaking and communicating skill development to our debate teachers and the few students who take debate.
- We have to help ALL students identify something they are passionate about in the academic domain of school.
These three young women demonstrate a real love for their work and a passion for science. Schools, and the teachers who teach in them, need to take responsibility for helping EVERY student develop a passion for something in their academic curriculum. It is not sufficient in my view to merely teach the content, assess the student, graduate the student, and leave it up to them to discover themselves in this work. Schools need to innovate their processes and curricula in such a way that students are encouraged and expected to find something that stimulates them to do creative work. They should also be expected to communicate and share that work with the greater school community.
What if schools had TEDxSchool types of capstone projects at the end of the year? It doesn’t have to culminate in a Google Science Fair competition. Schools can create their own capstone projects that showcase student talent and creativity.
This is an excellent idea, and it is a way that I think private schools can continue to extend their value in a future where learning is commoditized by Khan Academy and admission to a particular private school is no longer seen as a guarantee of admission. If a school can teach students to form strong relationships with adults, particularly as a mentor, then I think students will set on a path to grow up healthy and successful. The story of the student in the above video who wrote hundreds of professors to find a research position is a perfect example.
And this is a place where private schools, with the legions of active alumni and parents could easily provide a big boost. What if in freshman year every student was asked to think about developing a “world domination plan” and find an issue in the world they wanted to learn and read more about? Then in the sophomore year, these students could be paired with an adult working on the same issue to explore it further. This could be followed with a internship or active work on the project and could ultimately lead to the student accomplishing something truly meaningful before his/her senior year.
You make great points John about the networking available in independent schools. So how do we move in that direction? How do we create programs, projects, and curriculum that connect students to a mentoring relationship. A teacher can be a powerful mentor. No doubt, you are a mentor to a plethora of students in physics. Is there a way to extend that into developing a student’s academic passion? Let’s think, talk, and plan.