Learning 2 Think Like a Child Again

Curiosity is a curious thing: Besides being the powerful, magical force that drives imagination and discovery, children have it in spades -- at least until fourth grade.

After that, social psychologists have found, a phenomenon called the "fourth grade slump" usually sets in, which (brought on by those societal pressures that induce children to begin conforming to the adult world) commences to put the brakes on the many curious and creative thoughts, questions and fantasies that once flooded our subconscious mind earlier in childhood.

Not surprising, experts says, it is often within this window of opportunity leading up to the fourth grade that many of the building blocks are formed for the path or career we will follow in life. This especially holds true in a positive way if the child's interests, strengths and imagination continue to be nurtured.

It is important to keep this in mind not only as we inspire young students toward high-tech careers of tomorrow in science and engineering, but also as we expose all students to the marvels of technology in an attempt to create a more science-literate society.

Perhaps never in our nation's history has it been more important than today that we work with our schools to explore new and exciting ways that help children expand upon their natural curiosity and imagination, especially as we engage them in the wonders of science. Optimally, this continuum should run throughout their school years.

And, in our kids, never before have we had a more captive audience to succeed in this venture. You see, no other generation, from a consumer's standpoint at least, is more steeped and vested in technology (and the convenience it affords) than today's children. From cell phones, iPods and PC's to DVD's and high-speed Internet, high technology is woven into the fabric of their daily lives, even acting sometimes (to the bane of parents) like extra appendages.

So, in many cases, their interest and curiosity about technology is already primed!

In addition, many kids may already know a relative or friend who has benefitted from such scientific and engineering advances as computerized tomography (CT) scanners, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) devices, pacemakers, and artificial organs and limbs.

Even the food we eat, the toothpaste and medicine we use, and the cars and planes that transport us are all made safer and more efficient through science and engineering.

In other words, science and engineering is all around us, immersing and impacting us daily. Now is the time to tap kid's fertile imagination and curiosity into this vibrant font of technology -- starting early in school -- through innovative, exciting ways in education.

It is in this promising milieu that I am launching the upcoming inaugural USA Science and Engineering Festival -- the nation's first major celebration of science and technology of its kind. The Festival, working with K-12 schools and teachers to give kids exciting hands-on interaction with renowned scientists and engineers and their work, is intended to motivate and invigorate the next generation of young technological innovators. The event takes place across the country this October 10-24, culminating in a massive Expo on the National Mall in Washington, DC on Oct 23-24.

The event brings together a wide array of world-class scientists, engineers, biotech entrepreneurs and Nobel Laureates with students, teachers, parents and communities, and involves more than 750 leading science and engineering organizations; more than 1,500 hands-on Expo activities, 75 stage shows, and much more -- all expected to attract more than half a million visitors and participants, nationwide.

Throughout the Festival, more than 40 satellite events held in a wide variety of locations across the nation including Tuscon, AZ, Coning, NY, Columbia, SC, Austin, TX, Clifton, NJ, and Berkeley, CA, will link the event in national celebration.

But most important, the Festival will bring kids from all grade levels face to face with exciting areas and role models in science and engineering, and how these fields impact our everyday life.

What's more, teachers and their students -- through the Festival's Nifty Fifty Program visits to schools -- will not only get to meet leading innovators, but learn first-hand from respected educators and researchers in science and engineering about sure-fire ways to ignite young students' curiosity about technology and math in the classroom. -Experts such as:

-- Paul Fleisher, Science Author and Educator, Virginia Commonwealth University, who will demonstrate the wonders science from an array of topics found in his popular science books for children -- ranging from food webs, ecosystems and evolution to the Big Bang, weather, and even parasites.

-- Glen Whitney, Mathematician, Founder, The Math Factory, who is nationally known for his engaging techniques in mathematics for young learners and for his work to establish the nation's first-ever interactive, hands-on math museum of its kind called the Math Factory.

---- Daisy Pistey-Lyhne, Senior Educator and Policy Liaison, Alliance for Climate Education, who uses a combination of animation, hip-hop music and humor to turn the potentially "dry" subject of climate science into "science that sticks" for young learners.

-- Camsie Matis, Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, National Science Foundation, who will demonstrate her success using rap music and creative writing techniques to teach math.

-- Gary Machlis, Science Advisor, National Park Service, who offers a treasure trove of approaches to excite young learners about nature and the environment.

-- Len Arnetta, Assistant Professor, Science Education, North Carolina State University, whose research into using computer gaming and 3D technology to teach low-income students science and math is gaining traction in classrooms.

The Festival's interactive exhibits and stage shows will also make science come alive in a special of ways, including demonstrating the integral role science plays in everyday aspects of life, such as in music, sports, art and health. (For instance, students will want to be sure to catch presentations like "The Physics of Skateboarding," "The Science of First Responders," "Science Rappers" and how science played an important role in uncovering historic works of art.)

As Paul Fleisher, one of our Nifty Fifty speakers mentioned above, says: "To reach kids and to excite them about science, we have to begin to think like kids ourselves -- to ask the questions they would ask, and to be curious like a child again."

C'mon, let your imagination run wild as you join us in this important and timely venture!