Tag Archives: Intel ISEF

On science and sports

I overheard a few teachers at this year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair lamenting how difficult it was to get their schools to pay science teachers to mentor students and help them in science competitions.

Sports coaches have no problem getting paid, sometimes quite well. One teacher said their high school football couch was paid $10,000, while science teachers received nothing for helping students do independent research, enter competitions, bring pride to their communities and help invent things that push the human race forward.

One man was a retired science teacher and sports coach. He was always paid to be a coach, but his school had trouble recognizing the value of science. After he retired his school continued to ask him to ahead their science competition program.

He had one condition: Pay the science teachers for their work. They refused, and so he remained fully retired. The first year was a disaster without him at the helm.

And so they asked again. And he asked again. And they relented.

No, the science teachers at his school aren’t getting paid what some of the coaches make. But they’re getting paid something. Their contributions finally have some merit in the school board’s eyes.

Can you quickly spot an American here? Hard to say, but many of the other countries’ students are hard to miss.

The Canadian students are dressed in matching red jackets that say Team Canada. Team Canada. Science students.

They stand like Olympians, one united team. They proudly sport Canadian red with their flag on their sleeves.

The Brazilians look like they’re attending the World Cup with their yellow shirts with blue stripes and Brazil emblazoned on the front. They also have yellow and blue soccer-style hooded jackets for when it gets cold.

With more than half the students hailing from the U.S. it would be unwieldily to have a Team USA, but how about a Team Maryland or a Team DC? There is some hope.

I did see a bunch of students wearing Team New York City apparel, and it gave me chills to see their pride in science. But New York City has been embracing science and tech in a way that most of the U.S. isn’t.

Mayor Bloomberg is making a big push into STEM education by both joining Code Year to learn how to program and by partnering with Cornell University to build a new graduate engineering and applied sciences school in New York City. So far the New York City Team is the only U.S team I’ve seen dressed up. Also, I give them bonus points for having chemistry equations as part of their uniforms.

The jackets and the shirts are a nice way to show pride in students, but they’re not a necessity. Paying teachers to work with students like we pay coaches is a real issue.

Are we not being shouted at by politicians about the importance of STEM education and jobs? Aren’t many bemoaning that too many students don’t take enough STEM classes in college?

Actions speak louder than words. In high schools and colleges across the U.S., the football coach is king. When the team is doing well he’s revered, but when the losses mount up, no matter how good a mentor of young men he is, he’s vilified and his time is limited.

There are individual schools from America that take STEM education very seriously, arguably the best in the world. American students usually do well at international high school science fairs.

But we’re also the wealthiest country on Earth and the third largest by
population. We should do well. And appreciation for math and science and wonderment shouldn’t be limited to students who happen to live in the right areas.

I love sports. I continue to try to play sports in my older and fatter age. I got my professional start as a sports writer.

I think high school coaches should be paid for their time. They help make student’s lives better. They help mold young men and women, and students that play sports do better in high school.

We should also pay science teachers and debate coaches and glee coaches and the head of the computer club for their time. Students who are active and engaged with mentors and in their schools also do better.

So, how do we get more American high schools to make science glamorous? If we can do that, more kids will take STEM classes. Making the world a better place is glamorous.

Young boys dream of being on the varsity football team. I’d like them to dream that they were on the science team too.