How passion (and 3D printers) can save science education

Back during your days in chemistry class, did you ever have to memorize the order of the elements in Mendeleev’s periodic table? Does your one lasting impression of some long ago biology class consist of your efforts to remember long lists of typological classifications or anatomical features? Does the mere thought of physics give you painful flashbacks of math anxiety, boredom, and confusion? If so, your experiences may mirror what’s wrong more generally with science education as practiced in the U.S.

A 3D printer in action. (Credit: Keith Kissel, released under CC BY 2.0, via Flickr)

A 3D printer in action. (Credit: Keith Kissel, released under CC BY 2.0, via Flickr)

But it doesn’t have to be that way. A brighter future for science and math education might be possible if schools deemphasize rote learning of abstract principles and do more to help students connect their own natural enthusiasms to the science all around them. And tools like 3D printers might represent a hands-on way to do it.

That was perhaps the major message running through a breakfast panel on improving STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education that I hosted on June 27 during the American Library Association (ALA) annual meeting in Las Vegas. The panelists were Linda W. Braun, youth services manager of the Seattle Public Library, and Mark Hatch, CEO of TechShop and author of the book The Maker Movement Manifesto. Read all about it in my post “Passion and 3D printers can reinvent STEM learning” for PLOS Blogs.

The STEM education panel, with me at left beside Linda W. Braun and Mark Hatch. (Photo: Steve Chapman)

The STEM education panel, with me at left beside Linda W. Braun and Mark Hatch. (Photo: Steve Chapman)