President Obama hosted the fourth White House Science Fair this week as part of the administration’s continued efforts to promote STEM education. The White House also made several announcements concerning new and ongoing initiatives in this area.
In his opening remarks, Obama told participating students, “Our job is to make sure you have everything you need to continue on this path of discovery and experimentation and innovation. ...That’s why we decided to organize these science fairs.”
This year’s science fair featured a focus on girls and women excelling in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The efforts Obama announced at the May 27 fair include:
- A new $35 million Department of Education competition to support the president’s goal to train 100,000 excellent STEM teachers over the next decade, through a new round of the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant competition;
- An expansion of STEM AmeriCorps to provide 18,000 low-income students with summer STEM learning opportunities; and,
- A national STEM mentoring effort, including new steps by companies and nonprofits to increase students’ connectedness to STEM education, and to keep youth engaged in STEM learning outside the classroom.
With regard to this last item, US2020, which strives to mobilize one million STEM mentors annually by 2020, just announced that Chevron and Discovery Communications join as its newest partners. Additionally, the New York Academy of Sciences and its partners are launching the Global STEM Alliance to connect students from around the world.
This year’s science fair featured more than 100 students from over 30 states and represented more than 40 different STEM competitions held across the nation. The exhibits included everything from a high school student’s genomic data collection—used to uncover a common genetic mutation—to a 12-year-old’s presentation of a prototype “sandless” sandbag he created that can better protect flood zones, like his own Florida community.
The attendees weren’t limited to students. Several government officials and members of Congress are also attended the event, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and John P. Holdren, the assistant to the president for science and technology, as well as Bill Nye the Science Guy and Kri Byron of the TV show, Mythbusters.
Reiterating a line he’s used before, Obama said that STEM education and innovation should be given the same amount of attention as any sports teams, which are also often congratulated at White House visits.
“What’s happening here is more important,” he said, when referring to the science fair. “As a society, we have to celebrate outstanding work by young people in science at least as much as we do Superbowl winners...They’re what’s going to transform our society.”
Photo: President Barack Obama holds a model used to show how polymers expand, as he learns how sandless sandbags work that are the invention of Peyton Robertson, 12, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., while touring the 2014 White House Science Fair exhibits on display in the State Dining Room of the White House on Tuesday. Robertson designed a new kind of sandbag to protect against flooding from hurricanes and other disasters.--Susan Walsh/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.