It is difficult to comprehend that the United States has lost
its leadership in science and technology. Repeated studies and
surveys by educational organizations keep reminding us that
students in foreign countries possess substantially greater
math and science skills.
In surveys of 175,000 students worldwide, the United States
ranked almost at the bottom in math and science
Where Has American Ingenuity Gone?
It is particularly difficult to understand how we lost our
leadership when we consider that American ingenuity produced the
first ones of such products as refrigerators, elevators, steam
engines (railroads), automobiles, telephones, aircraft,
television, and countless other consumer products that raised the
American standard of living far above that of any other country.
Such American ingenuity was practiced more by tinkerers in their
garages and basements than through organized research sponsored
by government and industry.
What has happened to those imaginative tinkerers who labored
patiently to understand the laws of nature and used the knowledge
that they gained to create improvements in our living standards?
Have our current generations produced insufficient numbers of
tinkerers—those with curiosity, imagination and drive—to enable
us to maintain our leadership?
Reasons For Not Entering Math and Science
We do not have conclusive answers to those questions, but
discussions among educators center about the following:
Math & Sciences Lack Appeal (Aren’t Sexy)
- Students spend considerable time each week watching
television. Perhaps television is robbing them of the time
needed to engage in serious studies of the maths and sciences.
It is easier on a student’s mind to be entertained through
television than labor over problems to be worked out in math,
science and technology.
- It is also not likely to fire the imaginations of those
who have successfully completed their math, science and tech
courses, to go on and do bigger things with what they learned,
if they spend a large amount of their time watching
television, videos, and the like.
Enrollments of science and technology/engineering students
have dropped drastically in recent times. These disciplines
had special stature and were usually looked upon as glamour
fields in which the men and women were regarded as having
outstanding minds, and students competed vigorously to gain
entrance to these disciplines. Why do current students lack
the drive to enter these fields?
Math and Sciences are too Difficult
Students are often discouraged, even at an early age, from
pursuing math and science if they receive poor grades in those
subjects. Poor grades often result from inadequate textbooks
and class lectures that fail to help students grasp the
essential concepts. As a consequence, students become “turned
off,” and they dismiss the maths and science subjects with
such fashionable announcements as “that’s not for me”; “not my
thing”; “too much work, no fun”; “who needs all this?”
Textbooks are rarely written for the level that students can
grasp readily. They are usually written by professionals who
have an insight in the subject matter that is not shared by
students. Explanations are often written in an abstract manner
with involved concepts which leave students confused when
trying to understand the principles to be learned. The
explanations offered are not sufficiently detailed and
extensive to take into account the wide range of applications
and different aspect of the principles being studied.
Teachers in math and science, although knowledgeable, often
themselves lack the skills to convey an understanding of the
difficult concepts to students and clarify the contents of the
texts. There is also a severe shortage of math and science
teachers for elementary and high school levels. A young
student can become easily and permanently discouraged by a
poor teacher in math or science.
Math and science can usually be learned only by doing
exercises in which problems are solved. It is here in problem
solving, where students often become discouraged by not being
able to solve the problems they are expected to tackle. It is
not uncommon for students to spend hours reading and
rereading pages in their textbook that apply to a problem to
be solved, and still not be able to solve the problem.
- Parents who should provide inspiration to their children
may fail to do so. Often they do not instill in their children
a desire to excel in their studies and to strive for
scholastic achievement. They do not provide enough guidance or
spend sufficient time with their children to generate real
interest and enthusiasm about math and the
- Whereas parents have often become busy with their own
careers and daily responsibilities, they nevertheless need to
find the time to do more in getting their children away from
in front of the television and into more productive learning
Differences between Math, Science, and Engineering
There are no standard definitions for the terms math, science, and
engineering or technology.
Simply put, however, mathematics is a tool used by scientists to
discover and understand physical principles or relationships that
are often expressed in rather abstract form. Engineers or
technologists design and construct equipment that make practical use
of these principles for the benefit of mankind, taking into account
practical cost factors, too.
For example, Einstein, working as a scientist, discovered physical
relationships governing the universe by using mathematics. He
expressed these relationships in such abstract forms that for many
years only a few of his colleagues could understand them. Making
practical use of these principles and relationships, engineers and
technologists then designed and constructed the physi-cal equipment,
such as space exploration vehicles and communication satellites that
make low-cost telephone service possible.
What we can and cannot do
In searching for the answer to the question, “how can we attract
more students to math and the sciences?” we can assume that we will
probably not be able to persuade students to reduce their TV viewing
time, nor will we be able to modify the habits and behavior of
parents within a reasonable time.
It is equally improbable that we can quickly create a new generation
of teachers who possess all those qualities that will generate new
student interests to enter math and the sciences.
It is also unlikely that improved textbooks will appear on the
horizon to meet the requirements. Numerous texts are continuously
written in each subject, with each text intended to be the answer to
students’ (and teachers’) prayers, but never quite achieving that.
Until these rather long-range issues can be resolved, however, there
are some steps we can take for the near future:
Students can be helped toward greater progress by including in
their learning diet, a generous amount of illustrations on how
problems related to selected topics are solved. If such
illustrations provide detailed explanations on how to approach given
problems and how to think through the various steps involved in the
solutions, students can grasp the subject matter quicker and easier.
Through the illustrations students gain a deep understanding of how
to solve problems in a given subject. This results in achieving
better grades at school and improved performance when the students
practice their professions later on.
Once a student is able to solve assigned problems within a
reasonable period of time, he/ she will not need to agonize, often
for hours, over how to find the solution to a single problem. The
student will then gain self-confidence and actually enjoy math and
science. The key is learning how to solve problems.
In recognizing these conditions, various problem solving study
guides have been developed in the form of books, videos, and
computer software. Books are preferred by many because they contain
greater detail, and it is easier to study and learn complex material
from a printed page. Some selected study guide books are filled with
numerous worked-out examples that are much more in-depth and
tutorial than those found in a textbook.
These study guides take the student “by the hand” and guide him or
her step-by-step through intricate problem solutions. Such books
help students save a large amount of time and a great deal of
frustration from being unable to solve assigned problems. Study
guides are available at bookstores in almost every math and
science/engineering subject, as well as for other fields of