By Steve Lane
Advancements in science and technology have fundamentally altered our lives. The pace of technological development within the past half century is staggering. If you want proof just ask any current high school student where they would use a “card catalog,” or what a “floppy disk” is and why it’s used as the “save” icon in Word. Science and technology represent powerful tools capable of positively impacting our lives; just ask anyone who has misplaced an important floppy disk or had the misfortune of using a card catalog. Integrating new technology into the classroom and encouraging STEM education can provide a framework for training young minds to think critically, to understand complex processes, and perhaps most importantly, to better convey that same information onto others.
This past summer I had the opportunity to work with science students at Connelly High School in Houston, thanks to AAPS. These students, under the instruction of their teacher David Conover, were developing a simulation using the popular video game Minecraft and a few other tools in order to model human infections. Their goal was to create an interactive game that could be used as a teaching tool for other students. My job was to help provide insight into one of the diseases, explain current treatment regimens, and lend a few ideas on how to electronically model the infection. In the game, users travel through the human body to fight the infection, all while learning about the disease through in-game prompts. Upon seeing their progress shortly after our first Skype meeting, it was clear I had no business trying to help them with any of the technical aspects of their game; I cannot wait to play the finished product.
Projects like these, that take scientific and technological concepts from the classroom and apply them abstractly, are essential for STEM education since it is in the application of knowledge that the real benefits of science education reside. Additionally, developing technical expertise at a young age, while at the same time teaching students to apply knowledge and to hone critical thinking skills, is of paramount importance due to our ever-increasing dependence on technology. The U.S. presidential debates this past September provide just one example of the paucity of basic scientific knowledge and critical thinking skills even among political leaders. Such disconnect between scientific reason and leadership can have dire consequences. Carl Sagan perhaps said it best: “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows about science and technology.”
STEM experts should be encouraged to participate in outreach efforts like these in hopes of better training young students, in order to encourage sound scientific thought, expose young minds to new ideas, and help foster the development of their own. Training the next generation of scientists is the best way to ensure continued scientific and technological development, and grants through the AAPS Foundation are a great example of training tomorrow’s scientists. Give today to fund tomorrow.