WWU professor says science teaching is decades behind tech developments

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 21, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - Despite dramatic advances in technology over the last few decades, science classes don't look much different than they did 40 years ago.

That's a problem when it comes to creating the next generation of scientists, engineers and tech innovators, according to Ed Geary, director of science, mathematics and technology education at Western Washington University.

Geary spoke to a crowd of about 50 people on the future of science learning Friday, March 21, at a forum put on by the Technology Alliance Group for Northwest Washington.

One of Geary's questions to the crowd at Northwood Hall was why learning and teaching science in the majority of U.S. schools and colleges looks so similar now to what it did 20 to 40 years ago, before the Internet, smartphones and tablets were ubiquitous. It's a 20th century system that puts the U.S. behind other countries when it comes to science, technology, engineering and math learning, better known as STEM.

"Our system is perfectly designed to produce the results we have right now," Geary said. "The education system is not transformed."

To improve student STEM success, it might take a systemwide revolution, he said: year-round school, science learning every day, personal learning devices that stay with students throughout their school careers and the ability for students to progress through subjects at their own rate. He thinks the future of education takes a community approach, with professionals in their fields coming to classes as early as middle school to get students interested in science careers.

That's an idea that appealed to Tim Keigley, principal of Ferndale's Windward High School, which the district is hoping to develop as a STEM magnet school. The school is bringing in software engineers, artists and videographers to help teach students and build teachers' knowledge on the subjects.

Meridian School District Superintendent Tom Churchill said he hoped to steal some ideas from the talk and hear what people in science, math and tech industries are interested in and what skills students should have.

"I think that's our responsibility, not to just live in a bubble," he said. "We want to hear from the industry."

Reach Zoe Fraley at 360-756-2803 or zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com.

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