To the Editor:
As a boy growing up in the United Kingdom, my learning often began once school was dismissed. On any given day, I could be found disassembling machines—stripping lawn mowers down to parts, then rebuilding them with the purpose of improving them (not always successfully). That was the extent of my after-school education, but it helped to shape my in-school outcomes.
The Afterschool Alliance study released in January outlines three achievable outcomes for after-school programming: the development of interest in, the capacity to productively engage with, and the knowledge to value the goals of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics learning activities. However, some of the findings in the report would have us believe that after-school stem education doesn’t affect the education outcomes of students while in school.
The Next Generation Science Standards are a first step in the right direction to improve in-school stem education (“Standards in Science Unveiled,” April 17, 2013). They inspire young people to explore real-world problems and find solutions through inventive thinking and the application of various scientific disciplines, like engineering, while in the classroom.
I agree that we can’t pique students’ interest in class unless we dispel the myth of white lab coats, complex formulas, beakers, and calculations. Students must understand that stem education is exciting and creative—and the key to solving future problems.
I started my foundation in the United Kingdom in 2002 (and later in the United States) to encourage young minds to use their hands as well as their heads to solve problems and pursue engineering as a career. We do this through after-school clubs and engineering workshops, and by providing our Engineering Box to schools so that students can disassemble a vacuum cleaner to learn how the mechanics work.
If we want to excite children and create a culture of students equipped to tackle the problems of the 21st century, learning-through-doing must be the model, not just the example—in or outside the classroom.
Founder and Chief Engineer
The writer founded the James Dyson Foundation in the United States in 2011 to support design and engineering education.
A version of this article appeared in the April 24, 2013 edition of Education Week as Inventor Calls Science Standards a First Step