These are my notes from David Thornburg‘s presentation “Science Education from a Technology Leader’s Perspective” at the CoSN 2009 conference in Austin, Texas. He shared this presentation on 11 March 2009.

Isn’t it amazing we’ve gone from looking for cool ballpoint pens at conferences from looking for 1 GB pen drives

Now 3M has a $300 projector using LEDs, 10 lumens, that is the size of your hand
– within 6 months I think we’ll see a 800 lumen LED projector, it will be more than $300 but not much more
– life of LEDs is said to be 10,000 hours, based on our tests it may be more like 20,000 to 30,000 hours

Let’s go back in our “wayback machine”
– my world changed on October 4, 1957 with the launch of Sputnik
– that event really enticed me to get excited about science, engineering, and all this stuff
– without having my excitement captured by Sputnik

Nov 13, 1957 President Eisenhower gave a speech encouraging US to change its schools in fundamental ways, and we DID it

Technology in the old days
– film strips, movies
– machine tools
– soldering irons
– wood lathes
– iron foundry
– printing presses
– real world tools of all kinds
– (personal computers were still many years away)

We need to broaden our minds beyond computers and the Internet when we think of technologies in schools
– many kids don’t have opportunities to go to schools with these rich tools

quotation from “Learning for the 21st Century, Partnership for 21st Century Skills”
– Participating effectively…

some challenges
– shortage of qualified teachers
– learning that science is a vibrant human activity
– cutting back on hands-on science instruction
– science as inquiry and projects
– connecting science to other subjects

need to break down the stove

Great quotation about Science by Joel Stein from Chicago Tribune

Stats on “students taught by teachers with no major or certification in the subject taught, 1999-2000”
– grades 9-12
– physical science: 63%
– chemistry: 61%
– physics 67%

Why is it OK to say you’re not good at math, when it is NOT ok culturally to say you’re not good at reading

Article from the Wichita Eagle: “Filipino teacher experiment a success”
– Feb 8, 2009

Learning that science is a vibrant activity
something to do:
– write down the name of a scientist
– in most cases, the name written down had the following 3 characteristics:
1- white
2- dead
3- male

Newton, Einstein (who was a mathematician primarily), Marie Curie, and…

Leaves out: Mayans and their calendar
– marvelous piece of scientific work done before

George Washington Carver
– eat peanut butter? Thank him!

we live in a world now where Google is a verb


Our oldest daughter went to school in the US, and had never experienced the beauty of mathematics
– then saw a fractal model on my computer

We have been cutting back on hand’s-on science instruction
– we have got to do something about that

Look at San Francisco Bay Area Schools in 2000 (Lawrence Hall of Science study)
– schools in the heart of Silicon Valley
– minutes per week on science, K-5
20% spending 60-180 minutes
64% spending 60 minutes or less
16% no time


If this is the nexus of creativity and technology

Lots of people think 3rd grade is really the critical one for getting kids excited and interested in science
– we’ve got to do something here

When we DO get around to teaching science, we rely on printed books

Problem with science textbooks
– by the time they are published, they are out of date

How do science textbooks get adapted? By infuriating as few people as possible
– so you write the most bland stuff you can get away with

this strips out all the arguments

too often science textbooks presents science as fait accompli

As a child of the October Sky, I was Very, very fortunate
– there were MANY resources being made available in schools and to the public at large
– one was called “Things of Science” for a $5 subscription
– this was my Christmas gift in 1957 from my Dad

this was COOL stuff
– by the time I got to high school I was ready!

Today you can do many of these things are free online
– these are downloadable gadgets or you can run them online
– either flash or java applets

you can start to make observations about the relationships between mass and springs

Other examples: Explore Learning’s Gizmos
– allows teachers to customize their practice for how they want to approach science
– very powerful tools
– these are the kinds of things that give me hope
– example: Napier’s Bones: Quickly Multiply, Wooden Style

– you can download instructionables in PDF format
– kids can post their own diy instructions
– this is powerful stuff

Ohio State Univ study
– Learning Science Facts Doesnt Boost Science Reasoning

– gave science fact tests and science reasoning tests to both Chinese and US students

inquiry is a process by which students ask and answer questions which go so far beyond what our textbooks can do and support, it is phenomenal

example: why is it that the rotation of the moon is exactly synchonized with the earth? (so we just see the one side of the moon)

– photograph of the back side of the moon
– look at the differenes between the photos

in Brazil, projects where kids design and machine their own rocket engines
– these kids are not thinking about subjects in silos (content areas)

Have you ever been to the playground and heard a kid say, “I was reading my science textbook the other day, and read this fascinating thing on page 263….”

We do a staff development on inquiry-based project learning
– example: teachers built a functional wind tunnel to test different nose cone designs

The importance of connecting science to other subjects
– when things are being taught in a vacuum it doesn’t make sense
– science fiction is a lovely connecting point for many kids
– the original Star Trek

Kristina Johnson of John Hopkins Univ: “Today’s problems are more complex… require more cross-disciplinary approaches…”

lots of focus on STEM projects seem to try and strengthen existing stove pipes (content areas) rather than connecting the stove pipes

by the end of sophomore year, 50% of Purdue’s entering engineering students have changed their majors

audience discussion
– many engineering schools lose MATH students not engineering students (kids don’t have the chops for the math courses which are required)


Great slide David is sharing on connections of Math, Science, Technology, and Engineering

they involve creativity/design, world of the ‘made’, scientific method, world of the ‘found’

somewhere kids need to see all of this at once

schools: MSCE

– must go beyond learning ABOUT science, we must DO Science
– we must learn to see the beauty in science, not just in places like literature

it is all about authenticity
– give kids real things to do
– we’ve got authenticity here and beyond

remember the Star Trek tricorder?

PASCO’s Spark

40,000 dead satellites

give kids to play with real tools to solve real problems

any K12 can have their experiment on the ISS, costs 10K per kg

have found more than 2 dozen volcanoes on Io (moon of Jupiter)
– photo of scientist researching this

Who is going to replace here?
– her replacement is in our schools today

Story of Rip Van Winkle
– we have them every night when we go

websites like device (?) and instructables, good to see creative things happening

David’s materials:

Futurework 2020: Futurework 2020 is a contest for students in Middle and High-school to anticipate the new kinds of jobs that will be available in the year 2020 that are not available today. In addition to defining the jobs, students will identify the skills that people will need to get one of these new jobs.

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