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A Role for Design in Science Education

Since late last year, the Obama administration has discussed its dedication to so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. Amidst the budget cuts proposed for next year, it's not clear exactly where the more than $250 million in increased funding for such initiatives will come from—or which programs will receive money. However, until money comes together, there are those that believe science education needs to undergo a dramatic transformation, beginning with its poortrayal as a risky and harrowing endeavor for students.

Over at Fast Company's Design Education blog, Trung Le discusses the importance of spaces for scientific learning and discovery, adding some artistry to the data-driven subject matter.

It's critical to create an environment that promotes rather than hinders the collaborative human dynamic and the collision of mathematics, the sciences and the arts. To promote this collision, spaces should flow into each other to encourage children's natural tendency to explore. Do away the self-contained laboratory and let the lab atmosphere pervade a school's every nook and cranny! We should promote project-based, rather than subject-based, curricula to enable inquiry and discovery. Tinkering and prototyping rather than repetitive experimentation and testing should be the goal.


He calls out spaces such as the AlloSphere at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which allows scientists to interact with their data in a completely different way: to be surrounded by it, as it's projected around them in a dome structure. He also discusses an exhibit called "Science Storms" at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, which includes interactive explorations into the formation of tornadoes and the laws of physics.

I agree, especially with the latter. When I was young, Atlanta had a science museum called SciTrek, which was made up of largely interactive experiences. I made my parents take me there every year. My high school even held its prom there in 1997. Because of poor funding, however, the museum closed and all its exhibits were sold off—meaning that the current crop of Atlanta youngsters aren't getting to learn and play there.

Others have argued that the arts need to be included in science education, transforming the STEM to STEAM. Some version of what Le argues is a necessity. At this point, the connection between what exists in science and math textbooks and happenings in the real world isn't coming across to students. Perhaps, dumping the stodgy laboratory (and the stereotypically boffin-like people who inhabit them) is a good place to start.

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