Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Give Teachers a Chance

Since moving to GiantU, I've been able to help out with the ASM Teacher Camp program. This year, due to scheduled server outages, I was able to help for a larger portion of the week. The program combines time in the classroom with time in the lab. One of the things I noticed this year was the emphasis on how to bring these new concepts to class for as little money as possible.

Many of these teachers, after replacing broken glassware, getting safety gear, and ordering basics, have roughly 1$ per student left to bring demos into class. The equipment budget of a single graduate student in my department pretty much dwarfs their annual budget for 100+ kids. These teachers are amazingly resourceful with what limited money they have. There are apparently hundreds of things you can do with a 3$ box of borax.

This program receives lots of donations from companies, and at the end of the week, the teachers get a goody bag with all sorts of supplies to do these demos, and lists of the cheapest places to find supplies. For some of them, this bag is what makes it possible to bring what they've learned at camp back to their classes at all. Even so, limited supplies mean students will only be able to watch, not do.

So if we really want to get more kids interested in the STEM fields, let's start with giving their teachers a fighting chance. Programs like Donors Choose are a way to reach out to specific classrooms. But if wonks in Washington are really serious about getting more young people interested in science, give their science teachers a fighting chance, and a budget to buy enough supplies for hands-on experiments, not just a few demonstrations.

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