The United States ranks 52nd in science and mathematics education, 27th in number of graduates in STEM fields, and of those, two-thirds receiving PhDs are not citizens. Today's science education is broken.
At the moment, the solution isn't coming from schools, but rather from startups. Science is too expensive for school district budgets, but large companies are able to mass-market solutions to student needs at low cost to schools. It's a win-win situation for everyone: startups make profits, students learn science, and schools save money. Even public school teachers are recognizing--and embracing--this trend; Incubators and grants are catching onto this potential market as well. Here is a look at the companies that are changing science education for posterity.
Picmonic: Changing Test Taking for College Students
A relatively new EdTech startup, Picmonic, has picked up lots of attention from both investors and students. Picmonic works around the idea that "A picture is worth a thousand words." College students create and share visuals (videos, images, diagrams) representing different concepts to prepare college students for final exams and standardized tests. The idea is quickly catching on because most students would, of course, prefer to study from memorable diagrams and videos than by reading blocks of text from an expensive text book. Similarly, the product outpaces any paid test-prep course and the student learns in a more engaging manner, but tailored to their learning style. This is actually part of a larger revolution in peer-to-peer markets of educational materials.
Live, Love, Lab: Helping High School Students Gain Real World Experience
Live, Love, Lab (LLL) is a recently founded startup that works to guide secondary school students from designing innovative research to funding their work in a host lab. LLL encourages innovation and critical thinking through a novel online application combining e-coursework and crowdfunding to power student research. They are currently running a proof-of-concept pilot program with students in Arizona. This program is meant to breed the most elite STEM students--the kinds of kids we see winning science fairs and on the news for their discoveries in labs. It's about taking hands-on experience to a new level: empowering students to stop copying old experiments in antiquated school labs and start creating new experiments in state-of-the-art research institutions.
BirdBrain Science: Making Curriculums More Exciting for K-12th Grade Students
"It's sort of like an online science textbook written at multiple reading levels." BirdBrain Science explains itself as a way of marketing science at various literacy levels to students in all different grades from Kindergarten through 12th grade. The primarily textually-based information follows the Common Core Standards, but it's easy to see how this information would be more interesting for students as concepts traditionally written in complicated jargon in textbooks come to life in animated, simplistic analogies. It's engaging and educational -- a balance that every curriculum should strive for.
Concord Consortium: Applying K-12th Grade Curriculums Beyond the Classroom
Although it is a nonprofit, the research organization Concord Consortiumhas arguably created more STEM digital learning products than any other single company or association. Products such as Molecular Workbench and Constructive Chemistry bring laboratory-level science to students through incredibly web-based simulations -- and, most of the products are free! Concord Consortium has removed the financial barriers of working in a physical laboratory by giving every student a free, boundless cyber-lab bench to explore scientific curiosities. Considering there is no cost to using these products, the real question is why Concord Consortium programs haven't been integrated into most -- if not all -- school science curricula.
Mosa Mack Animations: Supplementing Middle School Curriculums
Mosa Mack: Science Detective is a web-based series of short, animated science mysteries designed to inspire 4th - 8th graders. By encouraging critical thinking and curiosity, Mosa Mack Animations' curriculum received the 2014 SIIA Innovation Incubator Educator's Choice Award. This is addressing a problem that plagues education: in the words of Roger Lewin, "Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve." Mosa Mack encourages students to solve problems, and think uniquely, creatively, and critically.
Mystery Science: Making Sense of K-6th Grade Science
If hot air rises, why is there snow on top of mountains? Young students plague elementary school teachers with random but creative questions, pressuring teachers to be superheroes with infinite knowledge. The solution is Mystery Science: a series of videos answering simple science questions intended to inspire elementary school students. The innocence of youthful curiosity is something that needs to be nurtured and Mystery Science is the answer to young scientists' barrage of questions.
Spark Open Research: Enabling Student Research
Spark Open Research LLC, "allows any student, anywhere to participate in cutting-edge research." The goal of Spark is to build off the model of MOOCs (Massively Open Online Course) like edX and Coursera and create MOORs: massive open online research. From a business perspective, the idea is brilliant: schools can enroll in the program, students can engage in research challenges, and businesses can rely on citizen scientists. Students are able to explore science in a hands-on, discovery-based process while possibly making early connections with companies seeking STEM talent. It's perfectly suited for the student who isn't ready to dive completely into lab research, but wants to dabble in some professional scientific work.
Just because school budgets can support intensive and immersive science programs, doesn't mean we should abandon the innovators of tomorrow. In the words of Peter Thiel:"Doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to 0, adding more of something familiar. But every time we create something new, we go from 0 to 1. The act of creation is singular, as is the moment of creation, and the result is something fresh and strange."
What we need are new ideas, which means we need scientists. The key to training the next generation of idea-generators is an education in hands-on, curiosity-intensive STEM education, and the only economically viable source for this: EdTech startups.