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Eat Your Carrots and You Get a Dollar

Oh, how the times have changed! When I was in high school (which was not all that long ago), it was just expected that kids who were smart (and many who weren't) would take Advanced Placement (AP) classes and then go on to take the corresponding test at the end of the course in hopes of receiving a 3 or above to achieve college credit. But it seems that kids these days just aren't all that motivated anymore to do this — even if it means saving thousands of dollars and countless (usually very dull) hours on a college class that they could test out of in a couple of hours.

What could possibly be the remedy to this mass apathy by America's youth?! Well, it would be the National Math and Science Initiative or in simpler terms — paying kids to take tests and get good grades. According to an article today in the Wall Street Journal, Exxon Mobil contributed a whopping $125 million to launch the program that will create incentives for kids to take AP test in an effort to increase the interest in math and science courses.

The nonprofit initiative hopes to have the program up and running in 150 school districts in 20 states within five years, and seeks to add an additional 50,000 students to the 400,000 in math and science, and 300,000 in English already passing the AP tests.

While it would have been great to be paid to take those tests that I loathed so much during high school (what kid wouldn't want the cash?), this doesn't seem to me to be the solution to America falling behind in these subjects. Personally, I love science. Math, not so much. But creating programs that would challenge kids and create interest in these subjects seems like a much better idea to me than just paying them off. I just don't think our current business leaders should be teaching tomorrow's leaders that they could buy their way out of any problem. Companies like Exxon could be putting that money toward paying teachers more or getting better books or improving the science lab in schools around the country. Schools could use SecondLife as a way of bringing students closer to scientists that are actually in the field or engage kids in math by letting them manipulate the real-time numbers on Google Finance.

What programs would you create (that don't involve bribery) as a means of getting kids more involved in science and math?

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  • Linda Ferguson

    Curriculum differs in so many ways. Here in Ontario, I have watched the first kids grow up through the "new" math curriculum in excellent schools. A remarkable number of them are interested in math and in science (and in the arts!). I believe the people who developed the new curriculum for elementary schools ten or fifteen years ago are only now beginning to see the fruits of that work.

    An approach to science and math teaching that begins with making a connection with the kids (and then takes the kids to the material) has been shown over and over again to be effective. It's still not the norm in secondary teaching. The next step is to locate the places where such an approach is in place and use available resources to replicate not just the programs but the attitudes and teaching skills that are making it work.

  • TechTeach

    It's a brave new world and unfornately most schools don't get it or can't "afford" it. We need a better instructional approach. Teachers are working hard to keep up but the techology that's available and the general support system isn't there. We have come to see our schools as places to park the kids while we make a living... and that's something we are going to pay for.

  • bug_girl

    FYI, many colleges Don't accept AP credit, because we've found that while the kid can pass the test, they haven't mastered the material.

    This usually results in my getting lots of angry phone calls after freshman orientation :(

  • Chris Wilson

    I think this apathy towards education stems from our ability to find answers with the click of a button. The desire to learn and the secret passion that happens inside one's self when they discover the power of learning has been erased with the mindset that you only need to know what you need to get by. If something comes up that you don't have the answer to then a few clicks and you will find it later.

    Don't get me wrong, I love our technology driven society. It makes learning fast paced and beneficial for those of us who thrive on knowledge, but we must remember kids are starting day one in this fast paced society.

  • fas95

    Paying students alone will not solve the problem. You have to develop an interest in the subject.

    Look at the interest in science due to CSI. Now, look at the number of high schools that have a science class based upon the CSI theme.

    For math, I think the best thing to do is to have a class on investing in the stock market. Multiple colleges have a course like this and look at the number of investment clubs. Not only would this teach math -- it would also give them a taste of economics.

  • Ron Graham

    "smartkid" above is full of beans. And evidently not a teacher nor in contact with any.

    To teach on the secondary level, you must have a minimum number of credits in that discipline. They call that characteristic "highly qualified."

    I've been an engineer for over 15 years, and I have a doctorate. And now I teach math in a high school. Take three guesses as to which crowd (engineers and math teachers) knows its subject material better.

    If the education system is broken in this country, it's because of folks like "smartkid" who don't do their homework. :-)

  • smartkid

    The education system is broken in this country. Teachers don't have to actually know anything about their subjects they just have to collect "education degrees" and then teach the test.

    Agreed with the person who said the intrinsic rewards for learning are the most important ones and the lousy factory-style school system bleeds it out of kids from the day they start kindergarden.

    The Exxon money would be better spent overhauling the education system that puts the lunatics in charge of the assylum.

  • Geralyn Walkes

    I am from the Caribbean where we experience the same problem of children, and even university graduates displaying apathy to learning and generally doing anything that takes mental effort. I suspect this is a growing problem in the West. Isn't it ironic that in this technological age children are really less educated than their parents? Is is a math/science problem or the fact that these sciences do not allow for much leeway in assessing right and wrong answers? Are children in your system "passing" the qualitative (subjective) subjects while really knowing little? But maybe technology is the cause of the problem: too much technology starves young brains of the challenge to improve cognitive skills and the pleasure of acquiring the skill being the reward. The answer? Let children learn the old-fashioned way: the three "r's" and basic learning tools that do not do the work for you.

    And don't get me started on the parenting problem. At university, management 101 I had to learn the difference between the problem, the symptom, and the cause. Poorly developed learning skills is the problem, lack of interest in specific subjects is the symptom.

  • Wally Bock

    Perhaps because money is countable and because Adam Smith was every so persuasive, we often act as though monetary incentives are the only incentives. Most of the kids I knew (this was long ago) who got into math or science or engineering were attracted by the intrinsic rewards. They found the topics interesting and stimulating.