Academy of Applied Science

A National Young Inventors' Center: The Time is Right
by Don Kelly, CEO

-- 82% of America's high school seniors lack proficiency in science.
-- 71% of America's 4th graders lack proficiency in science.
-- 68% of America's 8th graders lack proficiency in science.
-- In advanced math competition US students were outperformed by peers in fourteen of sixteen countries.

As 2001 was drawing to a close, a press release hit front pages all across America. As if the media had not carried enough disturbing reports, that item delivered a shock for those of us in the education arenaand for parents throughout the land. The bad news was revealed in the most recent report from the "National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Science Test." Given the substance of this report, the word "Progress" seemed out of place.

The report revealed the statistics cited above, which are alarming enough, but the performance is worse today than earlier results. Comment-ing on the latest test results, US Department of Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige lamented:
"If our graduates know less about science than their predecessors four years ago, then our hopes for a strong 21st century workforce are dimming just when we need them to improve most."

The evidence of poor academic preparation is apparent at the college level as well as the workplace. High school graduates arrive at universities or corporate jobs unprepared to address sophisticated coursework requirements or work assignments. They must take special, and costly, preparatory coursework to make up the deficit. Is this true internationally, as well? Apparently not.
Last year, the National Science Board announced in Science and Engineering Indicators 2000 that American student performance in international math and science competitions continues to be dismal. Summarizing the results of international testing, the NSB notes that America's high school seniors are being "outperformed in science and math by their peers in 11 of 21 countries." In advanced math competition the news is worse: "US students were outperformed by peers in 14 of 16 countries."

Because of America's education deficit, US technology-based companies increasingly turn to foreign-schooled recruits, and rely on work visa caps being lifted to levels as high as 200,000 each year to cover the gap. The NSB suggests that this gap is worsening. Science and engineering jobs are increasing at a rate more than four times all other US occupations, just as current S&E degree holders are predicted to retire at startling levels.

For those of us who hold the highest of hopes for our childrenor for the talents of new recruits in the workplacethis is nothing less than disheartening. But, for those of us who have accepted as our life's work the nurturing of tomorrow's thoughtful problem-solvers, this is nothing less than a grand opportunity-a call to action.

Teaching students in a way that fosters cognitive growth and stimulates their critical thinking and problem-solving skills will address many of the problems of public education and prepare students for an increasingly complex world. We believe this can be accomplished through a nationally deployed Young Inventors' Program" (YIP)-the Academy's award-winning K-8 program that has been active in New Hampshire since 1987. But, we're doing more than simply talk about our beliefs, we're acting on them. We already have some impressive allies.

The United Inventors Association has tossed its hat into the ring. No one values inventive thinking more than that inspiring bunch, and the UIA's robust network will add tremendously to our reach. The Academy's own coast-to-coast-and-beyond network of science educators tied together under the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium umbrella is another program expansion asset.
By no means the least of our early allies in building a NYIC is the Smithsonian Institution's Lemelson Center with which we have a formal partnership agreement. We are elated to have their energetic and innovative staff in our court.

Acknowledging that other invention programs for youngsters currently exist around the country, we are open to other alliances and partnerships as we seek to establish a unified resource.

So, just what will the NYIC be?

The proposed NYIC will be a national resource in support of education initiatives involving the development of higher order thinking skills, critical/creative thinking and problem solving. Existing both virtually and as brick and mortar facilities, the NYIC will coordinate all such activities. It will serve as a depository of best practices in the field and host a rich network of skilled educators who will draw upon a wealth of shared ideas and offer their own rich experience in trainer workshops all across the nation.

Parents and children, as well as educators, will find valuable and stimulating information at the NYIC, which will be the channel through which inventive young people across America can find, direct and accelerate their own practical ingenuity through hands-on experimentation and discovery.

America's schoolchildren will learn the value of technology and inventive thinking with respect to real world problems. They will be encouraged to explore their own talents in this area. Eventually millions of young people will emerge from their classrooms with significantly enhanced levels of critical and creative thinking skills and problem-solving abilities.

As with any initiative of this nature, the need for enabling resources and fiscal partnerships must be faced early on. The National Young Inventors' Center will demand an army of passionate volunteers, donated equipment and materials. Clearly, this is a grand opportunity for one or more philanthropic sources wishing to be supportive of, and of course, to add their corporate brand(s) to this remarkable national undertaking.

Adequately funded, the NYIC and the powerful Young Inventors' Program" are certain to make a positive difference by inspiring broader interest in science and technology, and they will fuel the "inventive power" of America. The NYIC project is well on its way. Contact us today if you'd like to come along. It's going to be a fantastic ride.

As you read this, the President and the US Congress will have acted on legislation developed to address problems revealed in the recently announced NAEP testing results. This legislation will have mandated such tests to establish performance benchmarks for schools receiving federal funds, and will have released many billions of dollars in pursuit of improved results.

Activities coordinated through the NYIC will be entirely compatible with such government action, but will have a decidedly different focus. We want to spark the students' interest in science and technology, and arm them with the capacity to think creatively in solving the problems they will encounter throughout their lives. Improved performance is sure to follow.