Friday, November 4, 2011

eductional ramblings

I was reading the NYT article on STEM education and the attrition rates associated with them. I guess they got a hold of engineering students to discuss this. They said things like classes were hard, theory driven, not practical, and wasn't until senior year when things got made or designed. Good news, folks. Such is the state in most fields where math is applied. The problem for students is that they have to do the hard work before they can get to the fun stuff.

In a disappointing turn of education, some educators try to only have fun by teaching kids cool stuff, then afterwards explaining what it means and why it works. This type of education is what you do in high school. Its called the "make it fun" principle. It is a functional distraction. It serves a purpose but is not in and of itself a framework for education. It may be considered a tool.

But the goal of education is not to make learning fun. The goal is to enhance curiosity. By making it fun we hope to get kids passionate, a level of built in motivation, to learn about what they are interested in. The other goal is to help students teach themselves. When they are motivated and passionate they will be curious.

Benefit of practicality
The other issue is how "slow" professors in college are adapting to these quickly bored/discouraged students. I find it great that professors are incorporating more application into their classes.  It is always important to stop and smell the roses, evaluate where you are, what you have learned, how it applies, and build.

This is actually my talking point in atmospheric sciences at least as far as it concerns forecasting (the practical application). if you will ever be involved in forecasting, you should probably be doing that activity on a rigorous schedule both in and out of class. Paging the 10,000 hours concept. If you want to get good, you need to have experience with the real weather to compare with theory. Without this background, then all of the conceptual models remain exactly that...idealized reconstructions that you will never observe in isolation. It is why meteorology textbooks have lots of maps and examples in them!

And yet the folks who write the great books with maps and examples, don't actually teach forecasting. They leave it for the students to learn on their own...a legacy of the boomer generation. It is how they learned. A educational generational divide. And it needs to be overcome.

More More More
Another aspect the article touched on was the production rate of scientists and engineers saying it would not meet some random number. better look around for all the scientists and engineers that are out there in other fields because when they graduated there were no jobs. Move on and adapt. Think its a mystery why they do that? Engineers get a hard lesson in economics (a necessary skill in engineering) in their senior year. After all, you can't make stuff that loses money. So is it any wonder that engineers go into finance where the math is essentially simpler and they can make more money instead of being unemployed?