A Call From NASA for More Science Superheroes

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — May 16, 2016 2 min read
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If we ever want to get to Mars, more schools need to take a hands-on approach to teaching about science and find ways to make science inspiring, NASA Administrator Charles Boldon told an audience of educators and policymakers at an event run by the Brookings Institution’s Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence last week.

According to U.S. News and World Report, Boldon and Dean Kamen, an inventor and co-director of the science education and advocacy organization, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, said it’s imperative that there’s a cultural shift in attitudes toward science and scientists if the United States ever plans to make it to Mars by the 2030s.

U.S. News and World Report quotes Kamen saying that other countries’ advances in science and space technology could galvanize Americans. The United States does not currently have the technology to send a man to Mars, he said. “I think we are heading for another Sputnik moment,” Kamen said. “We could have a generation of kids worldwide, working together ... on the real challenges the world is going to face.”

Kamen told the crowd that in a culture that idolizes sports figures and entertainers, science might seem like a less interesting or relevant path to some kids. But he said that that can change if kids see role models or “superheroes” in the sciences, like astronauts and inventors.

NASA and other government agencies are newly focused on making sure STEM education starts early. The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act offers states and districts more options about how they use funding for STEM activities than the law it replaced. The White House recently announced an initiative focused on STEM in early childhood. NASA also offered a series of grants last fall focused on STEM education, and is working with a Boston-based public media station and PBS to create a new STEM curriculum called “Bringing the Universe into America’s Classrooms.”

Kamen’s organization ran an international robotics competition in St. Louis earlier this month that drew thousands of participants and aimed to inspire students to get involved in hands-on science projects.

If all of that’s not enough, another potential inducement to help interest more young people in outer space and science might come through a more unconventional path: Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently said that she would open up government files related to extraterrestrials if they did not present a security threat. Maybe all of those reported abductions were just aliens’ attempt at project-based learning.

Photo: Students at the FIRST Robotics Competition in St. Louis. Photo via Cone Communications.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.