I’ve only participated in one science fair, in eighth grade. My partner and I tested the life of various batteries using a camera flash. We got a silver medal – OK, a silver sticker on a certificate – but so did about one-third of the participants, because our middle school was awful. Hopefully, the technology contest proposed by Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) will only have one winner for each medal. Even more hopefully, the second contest will have more actual technology than the first.
Miller, along with Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA), has put forward a resolution calling for a national academic competition administered by the House of Representatives. (Leave your “What do they know about learning?” jokes in the comments.) After three pages describing the necessity of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to the U.S. economy, this is what the two want to see in the competition:
Because of the importance of computer science it would be appropriate to initially challenge students to develop so-called “apps” for mobile, tablet, and computer platforms.
Putting aside the hilarity of “apps” being in quotes – the word is in actual dictionaries, for God’s sake – really? Really? All this talk about STEM and app building is the best contest they could invent? When I was taking courses in public relations, one of our assignments was to dream up an app interface for a client. Had we actually been required to build the app, I guarantee they would have let us outsource the technical work to one of the computer science students – the people who are into STEM already.
Perhaps Miller and Brady’s thinking on this went as follows:
Let’s see. What do high school students like? Well, they like smartphones, right? So let’s have them create cool stuff for their smartphones! That’s pretty science-y! Think of all the immigrants we won’t need!
Here’s a list of online app building programs, several of which promise that you can build an app in minutes. Science-y, indeed.
In fairness, the resolution does call for input from actual STEM practitioners before the final competition rules are set. Still, the possibility that the competition will only attract students who are already planning STEM careers is real. If a student has decided by high school, as I did, that they have neither aptitude nor interest in STEM, no amount of prize money or D.C. internships will change their mind.
Changes to the way schools approach science, math and trades education would go a much longer way to helping kids develop passions for STEM over time, as would changes to the way America tries to keep its high-skilled immigrants in America (such as trying). This is little more than Miller and Brady’s half-hearted attempt to look productive on the STEM issue.