Classes Aim to Spark Interest in Science, Technology

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2011 — From robot­ics engi­neer­ing to gam­ing tech­nol­o­gy, Defense Depart­ment school offi­cials are hop­ing their new, cut­ting-edge cours­es will spark a life­long pas­sion for sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy in their stu­dents.
Under a new sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, engi­neer­ing and math ini­tia­tive, Depart­ment of Defense Edu­ca­tion Activ­i­ty offi­cials will roll out four inno­v­a­tive class­es in a lim­it­ed num­ber of DOD high schools in the fall, with plans for a wider-scale launch to fol­low if the pro­gram proves suc­cess­ful.

The cours­es are robot­ics engi­neer­ing, biotech­nol­o­gy engi­neer­ing, gam­ing tech­nol­o­gy and green tech­nol­o­gy engi­neer­ing.

“We want to give our kids the best oppor­tu­ni­ties pos­si­ble when they leave our orga­ni­za­tion,” said Mark Bignell, DODEA’s chief of arts infor­ma­tion and careers branch. “At least to say, ‘I have the back­ground and I have the desire to go into one of these fields of study that is of nation­al impor­tance.’ ”

Bignell said he’s excit­ed to see this ini­tia­tive come to fruition after a near­ly two-year effort. In 2009, a task group brought togeth­er teach­ers, admin­is­tra­tors and coun­selors from through­out DODEA to revi­tal­ize 60 cours­es. They deter­mined that to make stu­dents more com­pet­i­tive in this job mar­ket, offi­cials need­ed to fill a large gap.

“This was the entire STEM [sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, engi­neer­ing and math] col­lec­tion,” he said.

Since that time, STEM edu­ca­tion has gained trac­tion in the media through high-pro­file efforts such as the president’s “Race to the Top” ini­tia­tive, Bignell not­ed. Offi­cials also have come for­ward and called the lack of poten­tial can­di­dates a nation­al emer­gency. Yet, the fastest grow­ing occu­pa­tions through 2018 are engi­neer­ing and com­put­er and tech­nol­o­gy pro­fes­sions, accord­ing to the Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics.

“We need to put more kids in STEM fields,” Bignell said. “We’re not keep­ing up with engi­neers and sci­en­tists, as they are in oth­er com­pet­i­tive coun­tries.” One of the main goals of DODEA’s STEM ini­tia­tive is to give under­served pop­u­la­tions and females more oppor­tu­ni­ties to get involved in these types of cours­es, Bignell said, not­ing this mir­rors a nation­al goal.

“You have to start very ear­ly,” he said. “Data show that if you haven’t reached a girl in the 6th grade in sci­ence, you’ve lost her; she’s not going to have the inter­est.” Bignell said DODEA’s STEM ini­tia­tive will be a tru­ly col­lab­o­ra­tive effort, caus­ing teach­ers to reach beyond class­room walls to draw from expert knowl­edge with­in the mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ty.

“The whole phi­los­o­phy behind a prop­er STEM edu­ca­tion is an inte­grat­ed approach,” he said. “We have a mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ty with mem­bers who are experts in every one of these fields on prac­ti­cal­ly every one of our bases.”

Teach­ers also will draw on one another’s knowl­edge to help, he not­ed. For exam­ple, a biotech­nol­o­gy engi­neer­ing teacher in Quan­ti­co, Va., and a teacher in Vicen­za, Italy, already have estab­lished a work­ing rela­tion­ship through avenues such as email and an elec­tron­ic black­board, he said. The Quan­ti­co-based teacher has a back­ground in pro­fes­sion­al tech­ni­cal stud­ies, but is lack­ing the biol­o­gy knowl­edge that the Vicen­za-based teacher can pro­vide.

“We’re expect­ing teach­ers to inte­grate and do some true team teach­ing -– even if it’s across the ocean,” Bignell said.

“This is very for­ward-think­ing method­ol­o­gy,” he added. “We’re real­ly try­ing to break down walls and get peo­ple to under­stand that com­mu­ni­ties are the ones that are going to make this pro­gram suc­cess­ful, and it can’t be done when con­fined to class­room alone.”

Cours­es also will remain as flex­i­ble as pos­si­ble to enable teach­ers to tack­le top­ics that may not be with­in their imme­di­ate realm, Bignell said, cit­ing the biotech­nol­o­gy course as an exam­ple. The course can be taught by a math, biol­o­gy, career tech­ni­cal or sci­ence teacher, he explained.

Course con­tent also remains flex­i­ble, he not­ed. For exam­ple, rather than dic­tate the games to cre­ate, gam­ing tech­nol­o­gy course teach­ers have the flex­i­bil­i­ty to decide which game, whether math or prob­lem solv­ing, will best equip their stu­dents with 21st-cen­tu­ry skills.

“Obvi­ous­ly, it won’t just be kids hav­ing war games with each oth­er,” he said.

Course flex­i­bil­i­ty also enables stu­dents to fol­low dif­fer­ent path­ways or career clus­ters, Bignell said. Some stu­dents, for exam­ple, can choose a hands-on track while oth­ers can take on more of an aca­d­e­m­ic approach, set­ting their sights on col­lege readi­ness or a med­ical career field.

While this ini­tia­tive is designed for high school stu­dents, Bignell said, the long-term goal is to stretch the prepa­ra­tion for this type of course work down to pre-kinder­garten stu­dents.

“The way we would do that is by allow­ing our kids the oppor­tu­ni­ty in the future to have a dif­fer­ent kind of rig­or­ous instruc­tion where they work more with a prob­lem-based edu­ca­tion,” he said. “We have to train stu­dents to have that kind of flex­i­bil­i­ty where they can adapt to dif­fer­ent, chang­ing sit­u­a­tions.

“We are going to be exper­i­ment­ing with con­tem­po­rary method­olo­gies that we believe have to be imple­ment­ed in order to give our kids chances of suc­cess in the 21st cen­tu­ry,” he added.

Bignell said he hopes DODEA’s exam­ple will spread to pub­lic schools and pos­i­tive­ly affect mil­i­tary chil­dren attend­ing school there. The major­i­ty of mil­i­tary youth, he not­ed, attend pub­lic schools.

“Edu­ca­tion has to change,” he said. “And the way we edu­cate kids has to change. We’re hop­ing to be a leader and a mod­el if some­one choos­es to look.”

Based par­tial­ly on the avail­able tal­ent pool, offi­cials will chose 11 schools world­wide to ini­tial­ly test the pro­gram, Bignell said. The fol­low­ing cours­es will be avail­able at the high schools list­ed:
— Robot­ics engi­neer­ing: Lak­en­heath High School in Eng­land, Wies­baden High School in Ger­many and Kin­nick High School in Japan;
— Biotech­nol­o­gy engi­neer­ing: Vicen­za High School in Italy and Quan­ti­co High School in Vir­ginia;
— Gam­ing tech­nol­o­gy: Kin­nick High School, Daegu High School in South Korea and Aviano High School in Italy;
— Green tech­nol­o­gy: Kubasa­ki High School in Japan, Baumhold­er High School in Ger­many and Fort Camp­bell High School in Ken­tucky.

“We real­ly have to do some­thing, and I’m real­ly proud we’re step­ping up to the plate,” Bignell said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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