Embracing the Future

When thinking of work in the field of science, many students still envision a man in a white coat sitting alone before a rack of test tubes, or someone sitting in cubical, reading endless lines of computer code. That view hardly captures the full range of career opportunities available to students who study and excel in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics---the so-called STEM fields.

These fields include environmental engineers assessing the energy “footprint” of a proposed building; scientists creating new computer models to address the issues of malnutrition and poverty; and NASA engineers working to create a rocket to carry astronauts to Mars. Such exciting---and well paying---career opportunities are available to those who study and excel. STEM professionals who will help shape our future are sitting in today’s classrooms. The more diverse the range of young people attracted to these fields, the greater the likelihood of devising innovative solutions to the challenges we face.

As the fastest growing population in the country, it is clear that Latinos must play a key role in providing the science and technology talent we need, for example, to ensure access to safe supplies of water and food, a clean environment and renewable sources of energy. By the year 2050, Hispanics will constitute almost 24 percent of the workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those numbers starkly highlight the need to get Latino students engaged, and excited about opportunities in science and technology. But what is the best way to teach students about science and technology?

In today’s world, where students use smart phones to communicate with their friends, and interactive online gaming for entertainment, adding technology to the classroom can be a great addition to the traditional textbook. And in fields like science where important new discoveries are published every week, technology helps ensure students have the most up-to-date information.

To help teachers, parents and students find resources to enhance the educational experience, the Verizon Foundation has created Verizon Thinkfinity (www.thinkfinity.org), a free educational website containing thousands of engaging educational resources that make learning more engaging, including K-12 lesson plans, in-class activities and videos that can be found quickly and searched by grade level, keyword or subject.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is one of 11 partners that supply free, exciting content to Verizon Thinkfinity, such as the Power Play lesson plan in which students learn to build machines by connecting various parts so that the machines link a power source with a job that needs to get done.Picture yourself sitting in class as a 6th grade student. Would you rather hear a teacher describe the science of how energy is transformed from one form to another, or would you rather actually build a machine that does that very thing?

In addition to the obvious benefits of increasing student knowledge of energy transformation and increasing the chance the student will become excited about science, the project also develops other important 21st century skills such as critical thinking and decision making. It also helps in the development of important information and communications technology (ICT) skills ranging from basic computer literacy, to using the Internet for research to the creation of spreadsheets, presentations and websites. Students will use these 21st century skills to address the tremendous challenges that our society and our world face today.

Verizon Thinkfinity is also just one example of how technology and the power of ultra-fast broadband Internet can expand learning opportunities for everyone. Just think, through the use of online technology, students in Houston, Texas can virtually visit a museum in New York City, or a cash-strapped science class in rural West Virginia could virtually conduct science experiments despite not having the money to purchase items for each child. The possibilities are endless.

We must continue to invest in the education of young people because knowledge is important to personal, family and community survival as well as to the progress of society. This means helping teachers and schools receive access to the latest knowledge and the best ideas. It also means having that knowledge available to support learning in the community and at home. Though routinely stirring both fear and fascination, science and technology are areas that young Latinos must embrace if they are to make their mark in the 21st century.

Patrick Gaston is President of the Verizon Foundation. Shirley M. Malcom, PhD is Head of Education and Human Resources at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.