When I was growing up I did a lot of hands-on learning, both at school and at home. I still tend to learn best by doing, as a matter of fact. So I was intrigued when I read an article in Waterford Today ("Four Waterford schools take part in Discover Sensors Project"), described an Irish project to use sensors to help students investigate scientific and technology concepts. I think this is a brilliant idea and I'd like to know what other similar projects exist in the U.S.
The Irish pilot program, headed by Discover Science & Engineering (DSE)—a national program dedicated to sparking and supporting interest in science and technology in everyone—also involves the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE), the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA), the Junior Science Support Service (JSSS), and the Education Centre network. That's four different organizations, all dedicated to teaching students about science and technology as effectively as possible.
Last year, I wrote about the need to get more kids interested in science and engineering ("Battling for Young Brains") and I mentioned several projects designed to do just this. EPICS, a program started in 1995 at Purdue University, pairs young engineers with community members for community service projects. Take a look at the list of current projects and members to get a clearer idea of the kinds of work involved. In 1999, EPICS went national, continuing its excellent work.
LEGO introduced its next-generation Mindstorms programmable robotics kit in 2006 and has an entire educational program tailored to various age ranges, starting simple with little kids and expanding to more ambitious projects for high schoolers.
These aren't the only projects out there. If you know of additional ones, please let me know. You can either email me directly or you can scroll to the bottom of the page and post a comment.
Building Stuff at Home
One of the many, many things the Internet has done is to provide an easy way for fellow enthusiasts to congregate and to share what they know. If you like to make things, for instance, here are a couple of excellent Web sites to visit. First, Instructables, a repository of illustrated instructions on how to build all kinds of things, from the practical to the wacky. Second, MAKE magazine, home to excellent DIY projects, many with an electronics theme.
My point, and I do have one, is this: If you want young people to get excited about science and technology, put it into their hands. Let them explore it, play with it, hack it, and tweak it. Teach by example: be enthusiastic about what you do.