Tuesday, May 8, 2012

SME Education Foundation’s Excellent Example

SME provides "cool" manufacturing site for elementary students.

I’ve posted on here before lamenting the missed opportunities we’ve had the previous few decades to incorporate more incentives to educate a whole new generation of manufacturers.  There are certainly a lot of outside uncontrollable factors that went into the shifting global landscape.  Labor advantages, third-world modernization, take your pick; life does not happen in a vacuum, and that goes for the U.S. manufacturing industry as well.

 However, there are those of us who still believe that we wouldn’t be having the issues of unemployment and brain drain we have today (or at least as large a problem as they are today) had we not invested more in educating our youth the past twenty years. That’s why it’s rather refreshing for me to see the Science, Math, and Engineering Education Foundation, or SMEEF,  spread awareness to students at the elementary level about subjects relating to manufacturing, and doing it through their chief medium of communication nowadays:
 SME recently updated their website, Manufacturing Is Cool, a wonderfully interactive site targeting young students by featuring examples of science and engineering in their everyday life.  It’s broken down into categories like technology, food, entertainment and mechanics.  Each category not only explains how certain products are made, providing YouTube links to illustrate the factory process, but they also allow for students to explore the engineering process itself.

The language is a tad precious (the designers make the classic mistake of assuming hip kid lingo amounts to a lot of alliterations like “snacking solutions, distracting diversions, chatting contraptions”, etc.)  but the site’s concept is a brilliant example of how the internet should be used:  bridging areas of life and industry that on the surface look completely unrelated.  Students can learn how cell phone technology works, then jump with one click to a press release about NASA’s next Mars probe.

There’s a feature on Xerox’s history, as well as how Xerox’s digital printing process translates into successful mass publishing; a genius way to lure more literature-minded students to manufacturing (if this site had been around when I was in elementary school, my career choices might have turned out differently.  Of course the internet wasn’t a “thing” back then, so I probably would’ve just gone back into the living room and watched TV.  Ah, the ambitions of a suburban pre-teen in the 90’s…).  Additionally, the site features social media links, scholarship information, and sponsor links as well.

The site’s subtitle: “Be An Original Thinker!”  summarizes the forward-thinking approach of its designers.  Nowhere here are students lectured on what jobs they should do, or what careers they should be preparing for, or even that they should necessarily be preparing right now anyway.  Instead, SME’s site just tries to reveal the hidden connections in the everyday world, get students to see beyond the colorful shell of a smartphone and be aware of the different kinds of jobs and sectors that converge in order to make that smartphone function.  This way, students are introduced to knowledge concepts through the world around them, and as someone whose taught students before, trust me when I say this kind of approach is phenomenally more successful in results than pushing information on them in the form of traditional subjects, like “study this math lesson or you won’t pass this test we use to say whether you’re smart or not.”

So as the kids say, “Big Ups” to the SME Foundation for meeting students on their playing field with an original and clever educational site.  I encourage  everyone reading to hop onto the link provided (here it is again, in case you missed it, and you just don’t feel like going two paragraphs all the way back, poor thing) and lend them your attention.  You’ll be helping out a terrific educational effort.

Donal Thoms-Cappello is a freelance writer for Rotor Clip Company.

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