Human Relationship: An Engineering Design Solution

What makes STEM so great is that it really is how science should be taught.  It is the missing relevance that kids are craving when they say that they hate science or that science is boring.  I just really hate the misunderstood buzz word aspect, but it actually is a great concept.  So let’s let “STEM” die a bloody, horrible death.  Make it go away.  I call for a revolution!  A name change.  My suggestion?  Let’s just call it “the correct way to teach science.”

In an earlier post of mine, I proposed the problem with “STEM” as being a mere word/phrase of jargon that has lost its meaning.  But, through the opportunity of leading the national Project Lead the Way program (PLTW) at my current school, I now propose a solution.  Because that’s just what we scientists and engineers do.  We see a problem and we fix it.

Let’s begin by using PLTW’s engineering design process of (out ru1-design-process-27-638ight) stating the problem and proposing a design brief:

Problem:  People are not listening to and/or embodying environmental conservation messages, and don’t seem to care about the Earth on which they live.  I’ve meditated on this thing for quite some time and I’m left begging the question:  How can we REALLY expect people to care for the environment when they don’t even care for each other?  Thus, the root of the problem.

Design Brief:  In order to get individuals/society to take more pro-active steps in caring for the environment, we must ourselves first take pro-active measures to restore the the bond of human connection by showing true interest in the dignity of each individual human person.  To start off with, in order to build human relationships we can by infiltrate the public education sector.  We must institute a science teaching revolution in order to find the perfect way to teach science, and achieve this much sought out concept of harmony.

Developing a Solution:  As a means to beginning this “science teaching revolution,” I propose we take a look at two main areas:  urban ecology and capacity building.  We must continually seek to find more of the most effective ways to improve human relationships through community partnerships, particularly as it pertains to schools using the land around them to maximum effectiveness in teaching state/national science standards. I’m generating a concept in my head of schools and community partners (both individuals and businesses) that have a truly authentic and fluid relationship with each other, as opposed to a so-called one time field trip.

There are several outstanding models running through my head of in situ work that have such a dynamically fluid, capacity building partnership.  Two of these (Proyecto Titi: Preserving Colombia’s Wildlife and Save the Elephant’s Elephant Beehive Fences) I’ve gotten to know real well during my time as an educator at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and another  (Kibale Wood Fuel Project) I learned about during my time at Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens.  What makes these models so great is the attention to detail in their capacity building efforts within their respective communities.  These programs take a real look at and understand how/why their people live the way they do, and don’t just seek to tell people they have to change their habits (because what they’re currently doing is wrong/bad/immoral).  Instead, they get to know the people, teach them about their local wildlife and their significance/niches, and seek to find real working solutions that seek the needs of their residents.20131025104714-unite-photos

Not too long ago, I stumbled upon another organization who took similar approaches to those mentioned above, except moreso through the viewpoint of formal educational curriculum.  UNITE for the Environment is a program operated by North Carolina Zoo in East Africa that helps local schools form partnerships.  The model for their program isn’t to be a resource that merely “provides” sources for teachers to use, but instead to be a resource that asks what schools need for them to effectively to their job and teach their students what needs to be taught.

UNITE for the Environment is a conservation project of North Carolina Zoo based in Bigodi, Uganda. Bigodi is located adjacent to Kibale National Park, an important site for a number of primate species, including chimpanzees. This program involves working closely with teachers and other community members to enhance knowledge about environmental issues and sustainable practices, improve teaching methods, and encourage adoption of sustainable activities that improve local livelihoods and reduce the impact of the community on the environment and national park. The current program consists of teacher trainings, student field trips, work with teachers on community service projects and with students through wildlife clubs as well as an extensive evaluation protocol.

Watch this video to really see what makes it so great.

All of these models are great and wonderful and encouraging, but there’s just one (semi-) problem… they are all in situ programs in countries that are not the United States.  The problem really being that we cannot neglect such purposeful, meaningful relationships in our own country.  My wish is that these programs continue their work in South America and Africa, and that they inspire other similar programs in other countries… including the U.S.

infiltrationThe solution I propose is an “infiltration” of the public education sector by zoos, aquariums, other conservation organizations, and even local businesses to help build better capacity within our schools and provide teachers the tools they need to do their job.  As it is currently in classrooms around the USA, budgets are tight and teachers are already purchasing classroom supplies with their own money.
As a result, students suffer… they suffer due to lack of supplies, as well potentially not even getting a single field trip.  The current crisis in education is not due to lack of “good” schools or “good” teachers, but moreso a lack of effective teaching supplies/materials.  Through my experience of of #teacherlife, thus far, I can see the improvement that our education system has undergone… teachers and schools are doing their best.  Unfortunately, though, inadequate funding can ruin even the best of plans.  That is where business partners come in; they should be aware of issues like this and help provide the school’s with what is lacking.  The solution I propose calls on conservation organizations to help lead the charge to bring the quality capacity building that is happening overseas to the United States, too.

(Constructing & Testing) Prototypes:  During my interweb musings, I have found of at least two facilities in the U.S. that may be on the road to helping us bring that “quality capacity building” home and begin to heal fractured human relationships and re-connect humans.  The first I know of, though I can not at the moment find anything on the internet to link to) is Jacksonville Zoo in North Florida and the other is Lincoln Park Zoo.

Both have programs (mostly for teens) that are focused on sustainability and urban ecology, however LPZ’s initiative goes into greater detail and forms that relationship between themselves and schools by hosting a yearly science fair at their Zoo.  Further evaluation is required, however their model has the appearance for authentic fluidity as it involves multiple visits of Zoo personnel to the schools as well as multiple visits by students to the Zoo to complete their work.

Either way, the groudwork is already laid, now let’s get to work and start this SCIENCE TEACHING REVOLUTION!

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