The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
The United States has a serious lack of qualified scientists, engineers and mathematicians to supply the country’s changing workforce, Martha Kanter, the U.S. under secretary for the Department of Education, told a packed house at the College of San Mateo yesterday.
An innovative new program to boost science and math in the classroom called “Mentor Makerspace” kicked off at CSM yesterday. Makerspace is a pilot program that will get under way at 10 Bay Area schools this fall and is the product of the founders of Maker Faire, the annual high-tech event held at the San Mateo County Event Center every spring.
Kanter, the former chancellor at the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, said the country’s education system has been bogged down in an engine of bureaucracy and needs to turn to an engine of innovation.
“We need to make education relevant in the 21st century,” Kanter said. The Makerspace pilot program gives students access to tools, materials and expertise for developing creative projects that offer hands-on learning and real-world science, technology, engineering and mathematics applications.
Menlo School in Atherton is the only San Mateo County school participating in the pilot program. One day, Kanter said, all public schools should have access to the same tools. “It is about learning through doing,” said Ron Galatolo, chancellor of the San Mateo County Community College District. Community colleges, he said, have a mission to boost career and technical training.
Yesterday’s event is part of the U.S. Department of Education’s third annual back-to-school bus tour.
With funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Mentor Makerspace program promotes the collaborative practices of making in high schools and introduces students to tools for advanced manufacturing.
The program’s developers are O’Reilly Media’s Make division, which produces Make Magazine and Maker Faire, and Otherlab, a developer of hardware and software design tools. On hand at yesterday’s event were several science vendors and school teachers who showed their innovative teaching tools and projects completed by students.
Lenore Edman, co-founder of Evil Mad Science in Sunnyvale, showed some of the gadgets she sells so students can learn programming and how to make video games.
“We teach programming with real-world objects,” said Edman, who brings her gadgets to local schools for workshops.
The Nueva School in Hillsborough teaches hands-on science for kindergartners up to high school students. Kim Saxe is the innovation lab director at Nueva and brought some of her student-made projects to yesterday’s event at CSM.
The earlier children are exposed to the sciences, the better, Saxe said.
“Young people can grasp the concepts, too,” she said.
Some of the projects included solar-powered houses and mechanical toys designed and built by Nueva students.
The Mentor Makerspace program has a goal of introducing low-cost makerspaces into 1,000 high schools over the next three years. It will provide information and training for teachers along with software design tools and hardware for use in a school environment.
The first round of 10 pilot schools are located in Northern California. The program aims to encourage and support the development of projects by students who integrate new technologies and express their own creativity. The projects can be shared online and will be exhibited at the annual Maker Faire, which occurs every spring in San Mateo at the Event Center.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his senior leaders are crisscrossing the country from Sept. 12-21, leading a series of events as part of the third annual bus tour reinforcing the message that “education drives America.”
Duncan is scheduled to visit the Sequoia High School campus Wednesday to kick off the bus tour.