Jake Andraka shares a wonderful story about how he came upon an innovative approach to detect pancreatic cancer. His desire to learn about pancreatic cancer came from an experience that had personal meaning. A close friend, “an uncle to me,” had recently died of pancreatic cancer. Jake was driven to research the disease and in the process discovered how deadly it was, how poor our ability to detect it was, and how expensive it was to try to detect it. He also found out that the deadly nature of the cancer was more a function of our inability to detect it early enough. From his research he set out over two years to investigate and discover a simple, inexpensive and accurate way to detect pancreatic cancer, even in its earliest stages.
A few interesting things Jake shares: (1) his efforts involved hard work and tons of mistakes; and (2) his work was done outside the context of his traditional schooling. Watch his presentation at TEDxOrangeCoast and see what you think of his discovery, as well as his commitment to the long road that innovative ideas must often travel before they become reality.
For me, the most perplexing question that comes from watching Jake’s presentation is: Why can’t school be a place that inspires and nurtures the “Jake” in all of us? Every student should have the opportunity to have his or her school be a place where engaging and meaningful learning takes place. The type of environment that teases out or cultivates the “meaning-making” that every student wants to experience. Teachers need to look for these opportunities within the very students that come to them each day.
Jake was sitting in his biology class, bored by the typical routine, scripted biology lesson. He was sitting there tinkering with ideas about pancreatic cancer. You can bet that his teacher had almost no idea what was going on inside his head. Why was his teacher disconnected from what was important for Jake to learn and think about?