8/20/2012 | 3 MINUTE READ

Math and Science in our DNA Increases GDP

Kids who learn using real-world tools have improved math and science test scrores.
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During the last week of June, I attended the National STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Conference in Dallas that is produced by U.S. News & World Report with keynote speakers, moderators, and break out session panel members from business and industry, education, foundations for funding, trade associations, and more.

The most poignant question I heard at the conference came from Rick Stephens, senior V.P., human resources and administration, The Boeing Company. Mr Stephens asked how, as a nation, over the past 50 years, we’ve spent billions of dollars trying to solve the problem in our schools with ever-decreasing test scores in math and science, but we have yet to see a measurable return on that investment. In fact, our national math and science test scores continue to go down.

The problem is not a democrat or a republican issue. It is an American issue. Mr. Stephens calls it a cultural issue, and it is to easy take a look around and agree on that.

I heard many intelligent people at the microphone say they felt that we needed to make math and science “cool” again, and we had to “wow” today’s youth into a desire to explore and do well in math and science. Certainly, there are a number of initiatives that are designed to wow kids. The EdgeFactor Show (edgefactor.com) is an industry-supported effort that expands on the “Modern Marvels” and “How Things Are Made” cable TV shows by adding excitement into videos that demonstrate the process of making things and then how those things are used in the real world.
I met a number of people working on projects that are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) such as the Learning Games Lab at New Mexico State University (LearningGamesLab.org), including MathSnacks.org that presents math problems in a way that provides real-world examples of math problems so that kids learn without really even knowing they are working on a math problem. This Project Based Learning (PBL) is an applied mathematics approach that encourages students to use their critical thinking.

The “real-world” approach to math and science was a main focus of the entire STEM event, and the metrics are demonstrating that kids who learn using real-world tools have improved math and science test scores.

Executives such as Mr. Stephens from Boeing, and many others from some of the largest companies in the United States such as AT&T, Siemens, Lockheed Martin, Dell, NASA, Northrup Grumman, and so on, agree that a real-world approach is not just a “flavor of the month,” but the best approach to allowing today’s generation of young people make a connection with math and science so they might seek a career where they can use the knowledge they’ve learned.

These large employers also agree that working with schools at all levels of the education spectrum helps them solve the problems they encounter where students enter their post-secondary education in math and science, but do not remain in those programs after their freshman year because the curriculum is not real world.

When employers work directly with schools, that helps to bridge the skills gap with potential new hires. Siemens manufactures products here in the U.S. because that puts them closer to great universities that have funding grants from the NSF to do great things with their programs and students.

Siemens works closely with Case Western Reserve University in the Cleveland area, and jointly, they have developed imaging technology that has been useful in improving patient health, first, at the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals in Cleveland and then in hospitals around the world.

Boeing works closely with Duke University, The University of Southern California and 150 other colleges and universities to implement real-world curriculum in engineering school programs for freshmen and also encourages internships in the summer after freshman year. That has led to a graduation rate of 90 percet of incoming freshmen at these schools versus a national rate of less than 40 percent for freshman who enter math and science programs in most colleges.

These are examples of the types of employers that you are competing with when you post an open position you need filled at your company. Are you working closely with middle school and high school administrators, community college, and 4-year programs in your area? Make that part of your recruitment DNA, and your company will be contributing to the U.S. manufacturing GDP for some time to come.