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Learning by Doing

I was recently reminded by two disparate sources about the need to make education relevant. The first reminder came at a presentation at Oceanit by Sir Harold Kroto, a Nobel Laureate and nanotechnology expert. The second came from Ron Taketa, who is the Financial Secretary and Business Representative for the Hawaii Carpenters Union.

Kroto was part of a group of scientists who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1996 for their work in discovering the Buckminsterfullerene carbon molecule. The “Bucky” molecule is made up of 60 atoms and looks like a soccer ball. Kroto has been doing educational workshops around the world, to teach children about science, through activities such as constructing “buckyballs.” He even did one in partnership with the famed Manchester United soccer team. You can find out more about his educational efforts and get resources at: www.vega.org.uk.

In his talk, Kroto mentioned that one of his first toys was a Meccano set (an engineering toy similar to an erector set) and that he built his first radio himself. Kroto says kids today have mobile phones but don’t know what goes on inside of them or how they work. “I think we’ve disconnected our kids by the sheer fantastic technology,” he says. A clip of Kroto's talk can be viewed on Oceanit's Web site at www.oceanit.com.

photo: Wes Funai

It’s not just technology causing that disconnect. At a forum in October to unveil the “Hawaii Construction Workforce Action Plan,” the Hawaii Carpenters Union’s Taketa said the No. 1 problem in recruitment of qualified workers for the construction trades these days is the influx of Generation Y into workforce. He characterizes these young workers as self-confident and into instant gratification, partially due to parenting and a system that, in his words, “teaches to the test.”

Taketa says kids are starting to discount careers in the construction trades as early as elementary school. He proposed a speakers bureau to talk to 5th and 6th graders twice a year about careers in the industry. The union also has free building kits it can make available to teachers.

While the Internet has made both parenting and educational resources more available, in the end, it still comes down to what happens in each child’s home and classroom. These interactions create motivation and relevance, or the lack thereof.

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