'Cool' science (and math)

President Obama promised a national science fair to spotlight young inventors and show young students how “cool science can be.” It’s part of his Educate To Innovate campaign:  Sesame Street’s Elmo and Big Bird, corporations, companies, video game programmers and scientists have pledged to promote science, technology, engineering and math learning.

Most activities will be outside the classroom, notes the New York Times. Science Channel has pledged to devote two hours of afternoon programming to commercial-free science shows aimed at middle schoolers. The MacArthur Foundation and partners will offer prizes for new video games that teach science and math.

Sounds like fun. But will it help students master difficult subjects, such as math?

Critics said the effort will flop if there’s no plan to improve the curriculum and the ability of teachers to teach it. “It has nothing to do with the day-to-day teaching,” Mark Schneider of the American Institutes for Research told the Times.

I fear the gee-whiz emphasis will undercut the need to teach students the basics so they can go on higher-level studies that will enable them to be innovators.

In Curriculum Matters’ STEM initiative story, Sean Cavanagh challenges Obama’s claim that the U.S. is behind other countries in math and science. It depends on what test you look at.

By the way, a new study has found No Child Left Behind increased math scores, especially for low-scoring groups, but had no effect on reading scores.

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