TED Conversations

Michael Martinell

Migrant/ESL Instructor, Watertown Public School

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What are your ideas to inspire my students in science, technology, engineering, and math?

I believe that students construct their own meanings from personal experience, and the knowledge that they gain through their own observations. I also believe that the role of the teacher is to help guide and encourage the learner, and allow them to make and learn from their own mistakes.

I teach English as a Second or New Language (ESL/ENL), and work with students whose families are predominately migrant, and are many times poorly educated. Their ages range from just entering preschool all the way to seniors in high school. They are spread over multiple school districts, and are separated by hundreds of miles. My students come to me with large academic gaps, meaning they have missed large chunks of important information in their school experience. They are largely motivated learners; however, their opportunities are severely limited. Also, due to the nature of my student's family lives they enter and leave school at an alarmingly high rate.

I have decided to completely change what I am doing with them, and want to change my focus to inspire them in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects. Of course, I will continue to teach them the language of basic communication, and the academic languages that they need.

The type of project I am looking for would need to be small enough that individual parts could be completed in just one class meeting (30 minutes), but the scope of the project should be large enough to encompass larger periods of time. This could be especially interesting for students who may participate, move away, and return the next year to witness the progress that has been made.

Right now I am looking for inspiration as to what the scope of the project would look like, and what might be involved to get it moving. This could take the form of interacting on web pages, but I would prefer that it have a large hands-on component as well. Ideally, this project will grow to benefit students across the country.

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Closing Statement from Michael Martinell

When I consider the world 50+ years from now, I am awed by the marvels that must surely come. I know that not every scientist does every job, obviously, but unless my students get a chance to experience a taste from the various disciplines how will they ever know which one is for them? Perhaps in 50 years time college graduates will be able to answer basic 4th grade science questions because STEM will gain its rightful place in society.

You have all given me the gift of your insight and experience, and for that I am grateful.

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    Jul 14 2013: I'd give you what inspired me into Civil Engineering, particularly the theory of structures.
    One of my teachers one day came to the class and challenged us to something. He gave us a standard fulls-cap page, a coin that weighed at least 10 gms and two thick books. The rider was to support the coin by the page over the edges of the books at least 4 inches clear off the surface of the table.
    It turned out that this seemingly impossible task can be achieved by just folding the paper like accordion bellow and resting the coin on it.
    This simple demonstration was enough for me to be eternally attracted to the theory of structures which I suppose is at the heart of Civil Engineering.
  • Jul 14 2013: Try to really interact with the students. Let them fall in love with these subjects immediately. But don't do silly activities, sych as ''a math song'' because students'll hate that. So the main aim should be: be interactive with them and do something that is really really excited and not childish
  • Jul 14 2013: First, "STEM" is a lie. The way that these four fields each act by practitioners are not similar. As a scientist, I do things that would be considered daft by engineers, mathematics, and tech-rats. Likewise, their ways of approaching issues can fundamentally differ from my own. This alleged "STEM" is only grouped together as a social convention, with no valid basis in shared methodologies. For example, where do "anthropology", "sociology", or "psychology" fit into "STEM"? As a molecular biologist, I have come across practitioners of all three fields whose design and analytical methods and paradigms are quite consonant with my own. We merely differ in our subject matter (most but not all of the time) and what specific experimental practices we prefer. Yes, people in "anthropology" and "psychology" will do PCR if necessary, and people in "molecular biology" will read case histories, if necessary.

    However, according to the Big Lie of "STEM", my field is somehow more closely tied to building a road than to many of my colleagues within the cognitive and neurosciences.

    "STEM" is a lie. Stop promulgating it.

    Now, if you want to instill an enthusiasm for science, teach the truth about science. When I was in public school, I was lied to, over and over. I was taught that science is a body of knowledge. This is a lie. Science is a cluster of related methods. Science is not a "what", it is a "how". I could do a lot of science with very little to no math involved, depending on the nature of the experiment or survey.
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    Jul 14 2013: Michael, I know that you are looking for a small project but there are small interesting experiments that can draw students towards concepts involving science, technology, engineering and maths.
    Like in order to explain center of gravity and point of application of force there is one fun experiment. Ask a student to sit on a chair in upright manner. Tell her she has to stand up from the chair but
    1. Not moving her head forward and
    2. Not pulling her feet backward.
    Just see the fun then! :)
  • Jul 14 2013: In my head, I have been working on this project for years. I originally thought of it as a semester long project for high school seniors in physics. The project would be to measure the speed of light using 19th century technology. The light source would be the sun, so you would need a method to compensate for the rotation of the earth. That could be as simple as a mirror on a swivel and a volunteer to keep it adjusted.

    From there on, I would hope that the students could come up with ideas. If they need some help, I would suggest using the rotating mirror method. Bounce a beam of light off of a rotating mirror, have it travel as far as practicable, to a stationary mirror which reflects it back to the rotating mirror. The returning light should be visible a small distance from the source mirror. Measure the distance between the source mirror and the returning light, and measure the rotational speed of the rotating mirror, and you can calculate the speed of light.

    I was thinking of putting together a kit to do this, so the construction of each part would take one class period. I was thinking of powering the rotating mirror by using gravity. This would just be a weight pulling a cord that would be guided through pulleys to the stem of the rotating mirror. Keeping the rotation speed constant would require building a governor.

    I hope that explanation is clear enough. It seemed that a project of this kind would involve learning about a lot of physics and engineering just to build the equipment.
  • Jul 14 2013: Try art! The kids learn perspective, balance, abstract, observation, how to research, creativity, etc. etc.
    No computers needed!
    Art is the basis for most of the sciences, including all you have mentioned.
    Ever hear the phrase: A picture is worth a 1000 words? It is very true.
    Supplies needed: A pad of paper & a pencil. None of the students need to be good at drawing, but they would learn how to get their idea(s) across through design. The more a student works on her/his design, the more it grows & is improved on by simple research. Each students design could well span years.
    Just a thought for you!
  • Jul 14 2013: it depends on the kid. Maybe he is interested, but maybe she just needs a general understanding that all educated persons should have.
  • Jul 14 2013: A local chapter from a professional organization may be able to work with you on a project. Here are a few sites from such societies:

    Mechanical engineers: https://www.asme.org/career-education/k-12-students?cm_re=Career%20Education-_-Left%20Navigation-_-K-12%20Students

    Electrical engineers: http://www.ieee.org/education_careers/education/preuniversity/home.html

    Civil engineers: http://www.asce.org/K-12-Outreach/

    Mathematics: http://maa.org/students/middle_high/

    Physics: http://www.aps.org/studentsandeducators/index.cfm
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    Jul 14 2013: Here is one resource a friend of mine has used very happily in her 6th grade class: http://pbskids.org/designsquad/

    If you do an internet search for "engineering for kids," you will find many more.
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      Jul 14 2013: Thank you for the web site.

      Yes, I have done a plethora of internet searches, which is what led me here. I am not looking so much for yet another website to plop the kids in front of in a set and forget mode. The internet certainly has its place in what I am trying to come up, but it is not the star. It almost seems like the internet is replacing the teacher in a didactic role. That is the role that most progressive teachers are trying to get away from because it does not work. The cooperative classroom is the way of the future, and I am trying to figure out how to fit in with this.

      I am toying with the idea of an experiment a day. Something that is enjoyable, promotes conversation, writing, creativity, and the rest. I want to take it further then that though, as I do not want to become a science teacher in disguise. There are plenty of much better qualified individuals for that.

      I am looking for a way to put the mystery, intrigue, motivation, curiosity, and learning into education.
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        Jul 14 2013: The way my friend used this was not to plop kids in front of the computer. She also is a constructivist teacher teaching a cooperative classroom.

        Did you look at the Top Builder challenges?

        I understand what you mean about the computer often being used only to replace direct instruction. Khan Academy is an example. I understand that best practice looks different from that.

        Other programs around which you can organize exciting classroom efforts are Science Olympiad (http://www.soinc.org/) and Odyssey of the Mind (http://odysseyofthemind.com/). These are not about online experiences. But resources are available online that kids can pursue collaboratively in the classroom.