Art of Science Learning

I am Peter Economy, and I have for as long as I can remember been a fan and practitioner of both the arts (specifically, the musical arts) and science. Some years ago, I had the very good fortune to be invited by Harvey Seifter to help him write a book on New York’s Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and its unique leadership model. As you may know, one of the things that sets Orpheus apart from most other orchestras is that it has no conductor. Instead, different musicians within the orchestra take on leadership roles depending on their own talents and interests. The book — Leadership Ensemble: Lessons in Collaborative Management from the World’s Only Conductorless Orchestra — went on to be published Times Books, and it was translated into several different languages.

One of my great concerns for this country’s future is the underperformance of our youth when it comes to achievement in math and science. In December 2010, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released the results of its 2009 Program for International Assessment (PISA) test, administered to thousands of 15-year-old students in 65 different countries around the world. The results were not good for the United States. In science, the U.S. ranked 23rd with a score of 502, well below Shanghai, China (575), Finland (554), Hong Kong, China (549), Singapore (542), Japan (539), Korea (538), and New Zealand (532), and just one point above the average score on this subject area of 501.

In math, the U.S. fared even worse, ranking 32rd on the PISA test with a score of 487. This score was 10 points below the average score (497) of the 65 participating countries. Number 1 was again Shanghai, China with a score of 600, followed by Singapore (562), Hong Kong, China (555), Korea (546), Taiwan (543), and Finland (541).

These results underscore the fact that we must find new approaches to educating our youth in math and science — the current approaches are clearly broken. This area, along with improving innovation in our country, will be the primary focuses of my blog posts.

I look forward to posting, and to entering into a conversation with all of you soon.

Comments

  1. #1 Colin
    March 14, 2011

    Is it that the US needs to find a better way to teach them, or is it a societal shift away from caring about them? If society plays math & science as unworthy, then teaching methods will not matter. How are they taught in the other countries?

  2. #2 andrew
    March 16, 2011

    i looked at the OECD website but not too deeply – why Shanghai is counted along with a list of “countries”? i guess i can understand Hong Kong given history, but why Shanghai? is it like China’s test case or something, and the rest of the country isn’t tested at all?

    are there no e.g. US cities with significantly better results than the national average?

    explain please?

  3. #3 Math Homework Answers
    March 16, 2011

    In my opinion, the increase in technology has been both good and bad. I vaguely recall the days of card catalogs but have spend most of my life in a world with instant access to nearly every piece of information one would ever want. There is no need to read through countless books to find the answers you are looking for and why calculate anything math without the help of an electronic device? Unfortunately I think this has made my generation and the ones that follow me to reliant on these tools. We don’t do anything ourselves anymore. It is very unfortunate that things intended for such good purposes are eroding our skills.

  4. #4 Stephanie
    March 16, 2011

    Maybe it’s not so much about our current approaches to science and math education in the US as it is the fact that teachers are driven from the top down to “produce” certain grades. If there are no A’s in your classroom, your teaching methods are also called into question. If you have too many failures, your methods are called into question. Perhaps instead of questioning those who have pursued a college education to become an educator we should be trusting them to do what they were taught and trained to do. Not to mention the fact that it is very telling when students walk into your classroom telling you that they never read their textbook and they don’t study. Admin doesn’t care when you relay this tidbit of proof because they have central office personnel breathing down their necks. And because we are too concerned about a grade instead of the process of learning itself, we water the material down and make it even easier for our youth to slug on through high school. And then there is the complete dichotomy of nothing ever being said to a teacher who has too many As and Bs. Time to up the ante in a class like that! But of course our youth don’t want to be challenged and their parents are also more concerned with the GPA rather than what they have actually learned or if they can think for themselves.

  5. #5 vhurtig
    March 17, 2011

    Peter;

    Have you had a chance to take a look at the approach to this issue at Mike the Mad Biologist? It appears that when poverty is factored in US students actually perform quite well (in most cases outperform other countries) when compared to comparable peers. The problem is not so much an educational issue as it is a socio-economic issue. Of the countries included in the PISA testing the US has by far the highest poverty rate among students.

  6. #6 Chris
    March 17, 2011

    I would also like to echo vhurtig comment about how this was normed for poverty, and would like to add: access to education. I don’t know if India was included in the list of countries, but I have heard more than once that they were out doing math/science education. Something I thought was silly for a country where over a third of the population was illiterate (almost half of women are illiterate), and actually denied a free education. Say all you want about public education, but 99% of Americans are literate.

  7. #7 Antivaccine
    March 17, 2011

    The problem is the spread of socioeconomic achivement. There are tremendous amounts of schools turning out well educated adults. The problems really arise in the rural and super urban ghetto areas.

    In the very rural areas non existant funding and religous idealogy spoil the soup. In Heavily urban ghetto areas thanx to crime and poverty we have another boat anchor pulling down scores.

    The real issue is challenging the dperessed areas to up the game or simply accept the fact that you can’t have quiet without loud.

  8. #8 NyqOnly
    March 18, 2011

    “why Shanghai is counted along with a list of “countries”?”
    Parts and subsystems of nations can elect to be tested as a distinct entity within PISA, either along with or seperately from the nation as a whole.

  9. #9 Morkelss Desuza
    March 18, 2011

    What are the reasons behind this? There is obvious decline of interest in science and Maths.

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  10. #10 In Hell's Kitchen (NYC)
    March 18, 2011

    our youth are underperforming in every subject (except
    Facebook, twitter, and video games). Just look at the
    numbers of college bound students ending up in remedial
    math/English programs (in all kinds of colleges/universities,
    not just at community colleges).

    At best, our K-12 produces marginally experienced Micro$oft
    Officers.

    My teaching career spans (thus far) only 17 years and I can
    clearly see the decline in the quality of the K-12 product.
    And we ain’t seen nothing yet !

  11. #11 DuaneBidoux
    March 18, 2011

    I believe that there is a whole lot of education theory being used in the US schools that has no support in empirical data.

    I teach a foreign language class and have been informed that I shouldn’t have my kids memorize words because that is “the lowest level on Bloom’s taxonomy.” Also that if I was doing a lot of the pronunciation (to show them how) then it is not “student centered learning.” They are, I was told, supposed to “explore how to pronounce themselves.” I’m being told this by people who have only ever spoken one language since birth (I went from 0 to fluency at a university).

    I’ve seen schools in Europe: from the beginning they do rigourous memorization and the classes are anything but “student centered.”

    What the hell happens to these kids the first time they are in a university intro biology class with 200 other students where they must start learning for the first time how much they will have to memorize and to boot they have a professor that doesn’t (and won’t ever) know they exist?

  12. #12 Brochure Printing
    March 19, 2011

    I was assuming this was more in the model of some recent (like last 5-10 years) Chicago and Milwaukee “purges” where schools performing in the bottom couple percentiles were just closed.
    Still, I stand by my frustration with the teacher’s union. They’re one of the most powerful unions in any industry, in that almost all teachers are part of the AFT or an affiliated union. And they are quite calloused about putting the well-being of teachers ahead of the well-being of students. I used to work in public education policy in Milwaukee, and the teacher’s union there was a constant obstacle to making any improvements of any kind.

  13. #13 dış cephe kaplama
    March 19, 2011

    What are the reasons behind this? :/

  14. #14 Orjin krem
    March 19, 2011

    I used to work in public education policy in Milwaukee, and the teacher’s union there was a constant obstacle to making any improvements of any kind.

  15. #15 Peter Economy
    March 19, 2011

    According to a recent article in our local newspaper, a recent survey conducted by the San Diego Software Industry Council found that there are currently about 6,000 information-technology job openings in San Diego County. In addition, according to Connect, there are about 2,000 current job openings in mechanical and electrical engineering. That’s a total of 8,000 open technology jobs here in San Diego County. There is currently no one available to fill these jobs — even as our economy is still in the tank, and unemployment is still relatively high. We need to close this gap.

  16. #16 Peter Economy
    March 19, 2011

    vhurtig: I will check into Mike the Mad Biologist’s logic. I agree that PART of the problem is socioeconomic, but I think more because of coming from cultures that don’t put a high value on getting a college degree (much less a high school degree), not because of a lack of access to learning opportunities. I know here in San Diego that the public schools in high-income parts of town get significantly LESS $$$ per student than do the public schools in low-income parts of town.

  17. #17 Uberjuju
    March 20, 2011

    There is currently no one available to fill these jobs

    How are they bring advertised? There’s a game played by many companies where they put up a laundry list of skills that, seriously, would be impossible to amass true expertise in under 25 years, but then offer entry level salaries. They do this, in part, so they can say, “See? No qualified candidates. We need more H1-B visas!”

    There was a web site with great examples. One asked for something like 10 years Java experience and Java had only been around for 5-6 years.

    Did the survey use the jobs as advertised? Some companies will place ads just to look good- like they are chugging away and are hiring left and right. I’m just sayin’ you need to be careful about surveys like this.

    As for society’s part, just look at the media. Smart people, with rare exceptions, are *still* held up for ridicule and depicted as misfits. It’s why I rail against people referring to themselves as geeks and nerds and dorks (some people really need to learn the origin of that last one). They are only distancing themselves from the rest of the world.

  18. #18 Sigfrid Iannacone
    March 21, 2011

    Same thing happened to me. (with school that is) In my later years of high school I couldn’t keep my mind on work no matter how hard I tried. I just wanted to enjoy life, get a girlfriend and spend time with friends. But I didn’t and I kept trying to focus and I felt like a failure for not having such simple joys in life. I then became depressed and couldn’t focus anyway. The best thing to do is to just not dwell on it. Move on and try harder the next day. Also don’t start school feeling like crap, you wont be motivated to do anything. Go have fun and raise your mood, before school starts so that when you get back you can be focused.
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  19. #19 person
    March 22, 2011

    Maybe we should consider teaching children about science. Instead of attempting to brainwash them with pseudo-scientific concepts like Darwinism. Most children are bright enough to see a fairy-tale for what it is and do not like to be indoctrinated. It also hurts when a student raises his hand and asks a question about a particular hypothesis and the teacher has no idea how to answer. Many problems arise when reason is replaced with mythology and these problems will continue as long as biologists cling to their cult.

  20. #20 moliva
    March 24, 2011

    vhurtig: I will check into Mike the Mad Biologist’s logic. I agree that PART of the problem is socioeconomic, but I think more because of coming from cultures that don’t put a high value on getting a college degree (much less a high school degree), not because of a lack of access to learning opportunities. I know here in San Diego that the public schools in high-income parts of town get significantly LESS $$$ per student than do the public schools in low-income parts of town.

  21. #21 Sageev Oore
    April 26, 2011

    Check out the JUMP programme by John Mighton (Fields Institute, University of Toronto). I have no vested interest, but as a prof myself in a math & CS dept, these ideas– which do get implemented here and there despite resistance by pedagogues– clearly blow most elementary math curricula out of the water. A math curriculum designed by someone who both understands the math, understands kids, and above all is interested in actually having kids do really well (as opposed to validating his ideas about how to educate them).

    E.g. see

    http://www.amazon.com/End-Ignorance-Multiplying-Human-Potential/dp/0676979629/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_2

  22. #22 my slimmer
    May 2, 2012

    The problem is the spread of socioeconomic achivement. There are tremendous amounts of schools turning out well educated adults. The problems really arise in the rural and super urban ghetto areas.

    In the very rural areas non existant funding and religous idealogy spoil the soup. In Heavily urban ghetto areas thanx to crime and poverty we have another boat anchor pulling down scores.

    The real issue is challenging the dperessed areas to up the game or simply accept the fact that you can’t have quiet without loud.

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