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Photo of Kathie L. Olsen
Credit: Sam Kittner/kittner.com

Dr. Kathie L. Olsen
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
National Science Foundation

Living "Smart" in a World with Technology
International Technology Educators Association
Annual Conference

March 23, 2006

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact The Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

Thanks for the welcome, and good morning, everyone. I'm delighted and honored to be your speaker. ITEA is a pioneering organization that has helped to put technology education on the map in America and around the world. From the standpoint of deputy director of the National Science Foundation, I join you today as colleague and partner. All of us here today share a common goal: to make America's kids the smartest in the world, and its teachers the best.

[Slide #1: Title Slide]
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This group, more than most, knows that we need fresh ideas to flourish in today's complex, technology-rich, and competitive world. That world is changing rapidly, and technology is often the driving force behind the transformation. To turn the theme of this conference on its head, we need to live "smart" in a world of technology.

"Smart" is good, even great. But it's not enough. We also need enthusiasm and excitement about meeting new challenges in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education (STEM).

[Slide #2: NSF Logo]
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That's why the NSF mission is to look toward the frontier—to identify the most innovative and promising new research and education projects.

[Slide #3: American Competitiveness Initiative]
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We are proud to be part of the President's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) to encourage innovation and to strengthen our nation's ability to compete successfully in a global economy. Adequate preparation of our students in STEM fields is central to this aim. As the President said, we need to "ensure that America's children succeed in life…and that America succeeds in the world."

NSF will play a major role in this ambitious, 10-year, interagency effort. An important component of the NSF task is helping to prepare the nation's technological workforce for the 21st Century, while working with educators to provide America's children with a strong foundation in K-12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

[Slide #4: NSF Facts and Figures]
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We can accomplish this only if we stick by our proven, "bottoms-up" philosophy. The best ideas come from the STEM community. Each year, we get to see over 40,000 of these ideas—which come to us in grant proposals. We engage over 50,000 scientists, engineers and educators in the competitive, merit review of these proposals. We support workshops to tap the extraordinary talent of the community in plotting innovative strategies for research and education directions for the future.

There are three themes that I want to emphasize today because they are particularly relevant to NSF educational activities that concern technology education in all its richness and depth.

[Slide #5: Three Themes for Technology Education]
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  • Integrate technology into K-12 learning
  • Bring research into the classroom
  • Create partnerships for learning

The first theme is the bread and butter of technology education. We need to integrate technology more completely with other K-12 education because no one can have a clear understanding of the 21st Century world without an appreciation of its technological aspects.

Technology should be a thread that runs through the fabric of lessons from the alphabet to algebra.

[Slides #6-7: Not Available]

From the animated film ROBOTS for kids, to the feature film I, ROBOT for bigger kids, we eagerly explore the possibilities that we can already envision on our technology frontier.

[Slide #8: Net Day "Speak Up Day"]
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Three years ago, Julie Evans, the founder of Net Day, launched a project called "Speak Up Day." It's a web-based survey that asks kids and teachers to share their views and attitudes about technology and learning.

It shouldn't surprise us that kids want more and better technology in the schools! And it shouldn't surprise us that they are often way ahead of the rest of us in their use of communications and information technologies. Look for the results for 2005—with responses from over half a million kids—to be released in April.

Of course, technological literacy is about much more than instant messaging, downloading tunes for your IPod or X-box gaming. But the passion kids have for these technologies is an entry point for much more. And they are going to need all the cyber learning they can get. The future is going to be "cyber"—in a big way.

[Slide #9: Cyberinfrastructure Open Road]
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At NSF we are making major investments in cyberinfrastructure, one of our highest priorities. That includes everything from high performance supercomputers to advanced software suites and from next generation networking to new tools for storing, visualizing and analyzing data. Information and communications technologies are revolutionizing every field of science and engineering. In the future, adeptness with these technologies will be standards defining world-class scientists and engineers. We know that today's capabilities are going to seem primitive compared to what's coming down the pike.

[Slide #10: ALICE Study]
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Tools are already available to bring deeper IT learning experiences into K thru 12 classrooms. ALICE is a software package developed at Carnegie-Mellon University with funding from the National Science Foundation. ALICE aims to provide students—from middle schoolers to undergrads—with the best possible first exposure to computer programming. It does this by using simple computer animations. ALICE has the added benefit of including content that appeals specifically to girls, as well as the usual content that boys find appealing.

[Slide #11: Not Available ]

Carnegie-Mellon just announced that they will be working with Entertainment Arts—the creators of the super-popular SIMS computer game—to make the ALICE animations more lively, realistic and exciting. By the way, you can download this free tool from the Internet.

[Slide #12: ITEST Project Map]
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Because every discipline is enriched by information technology, there are myriad ways to integrate IT into the study of science and math, and link it to other technologies to provide students with rich content. The NSF ITEST program does just that. ITEST—which stands for "Information Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers"—provides opportunities for students and teachers in grades seven to twelve to learn about, experience, and use information technologies in the context of STEM. Here's an example.

[Slide #13: ITEST SPIRIT: Silicon Prairie Initiative on Robotics in IT]
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The Silicon Prairie Initiative on Robotics in IT—or SPIRIT—is a collaboration between the University of Nebraska and Omaha Public Schools. The SPIRIT research team is adapting a college level learning platform based on TekBots™ (like robots) for use in middle schools. These simple robots provide opportunities for problem-based instructional activities that offer hands-on experience and build design simulation skills.

The creativity and variety of ITEST projects is breathtaking. They range from Crime Scene Information Technology to Marine Biotechnology and Bioinformatics. One program called "Build IT: Girls Building Information Technology Through Design" is designed to make IT more appealing to girls.

There are now ITEST projects in place throughout the nation. To insure that the programs don't become isolated success stories, the NSF-funded National ITEST Learning Resource Center collaborates with ITEST Projects across the United States to achieve program goals. The Center leverages the combined achievements of the ITEST projects into new knowledge about what works. The results will help inform and guide educators in planning, implementing and evaluating IT enriched STEM initiatives.

[Slide #14: Three Themes for Technology Education, Second Emphasized]
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When talk turns to innovation, people often quote hockey-great Wayne Gretzky. He said, "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been." Paraphrasing Gretzky in our educational context, I would say "teach to where the kids are going to be, not to where they have been." That means bringing research—and the technology that makes it possible—into the classroom. That's the second theme I want to emphasize.

One of NSF's working principles is that progress in discovery and learning is greatest when education and research are integrated. That premise lies behind an NSF program called Research Experiences for Teachers (RET). The RET program aims to introduce teachers to the excitement of research and then translate it into classroom activities.

[Slide #15: Bringing Innovative Design into Urban High Schools]
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One RET site, at the University of Pittsburgh, guides teachers through the hands-on experience of designing and creating a prototype of their very own "invention." They follow real systems engineering approaches used to design and analyze systems, and to develop new products. The teachers then use their experience to create design and prototyping activities to engage their students. One of the features of the Pittsburgh project is that it targets two high schools in the Pittsburgh Public School System where the need and challenge for improvement is greatest.

[Slide #16: RET University of Arizona, Advanced Materials Processing and Analysis]
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At the University of Arizona, teachers participating in the RET program receive instruction on the scanning electron microscope. They then join active research teams working on problems in advanced materials processing and analysis, where they can contribute immediately to their research groups. A portion of their time is also spent designing ways to transfer their experience to the classroom.

[Slide #17: GK-12 Sensors!]
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Another avenue for introducing frontier research into the classroom is the NSF GK-12 Graduate Fellowships program. GK-12 is a win-win activity that pairs graduate students with teachers in the classroom. Graduate students learn teaching and mentoring skills from master teachers and work closely with students. Teachers learn about frontier research from the graduate students. Middle and high school students get the best of both worlds.

[Slide #18: GK-12 Sensors! Participating Secondary Schools]
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The GK-12 Sensors! Program at the University of Maine, for example, brings sensor research and engineering to high school and middle school students in central Maine. This program, which began in one high school, has spread to thirteen—and more are clamoring to participate.

[Slide #19: Three Themes for Technology Education, Third Emphasized]
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That brings me to my third and final theme. Every example I have mentioned today involves partnerships—between K-12 teachers and researchers, between students and teachers, between university researchers and engineering departments, and many more. These partnerships are what help us to bridge the gaps between disciplines, between institutional barriers, and between old and new practices.

We need to keep an eye open to new forms of partnership—where government, academia, schools, and industry may all play a role. K-12 educators in particular need to look keenly for local partnership opportunities—with museums, community colleges, universities, industry and other community resources.

We know that all learning does not take place in the classroom. According to Eric Jolly, CEO and President of the Science Museum of Minnesota, only 8-12% of our kids time is spent in formal education while 42% of their times is spent in out of school activities. They are learning then too! Informal education—through the Internet and on TV, in libraries and science and technology museums, zoos and aquaria—can have an enormous educational impact. They can be a rich source of creative partnerships.

[Slide #20: CYBERCHASE]
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NSF has a strong commitment to supporting high quality informal education, and a history of successful partnerships—from IMAX films to the Discovery Channel to WGBH and Public Broadcasting.

An example is CyberChase—an Emmy award winning TV show for kids 8 to 12. There is also a CyberChase Internet site jam packed with activities. One thing hasn't changed—CyberChase still pits the bad guys against the good guys, who want to keep cyberspace secure!

NSF also provides support for science and technology museums. 120 million people visit U.S. science and technology museums each year. In 2001, 30 percent of the respondents to an NSF survey said they had visited a science and technology museum in the last 12 months.

[Slide #21: "It's a Nano World" Cell Sorter]
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This exhibit, titled "It's a Nano World," has been traveling to science and technology museums across the country. The exhibit first opened at Epcot, where it attracted 800,000 visitors. The Nanobiotechnology Center at Cornell, a National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center, together with its multiple partners, developed the exhibit.

The design team interviewed young children to understand what views they had of the nano world. They discovered that the smallest thing the kids could think of was typically the smallest thing that they could see with the naked eye. So the exhibition puts a heavy emphasis on size and scale.

Now I'm going to show you a short video of some kids who are just seeing "It's a Nano World" for the first time.

[Slide #22: Children at "It's a Nano World" Exhibit]
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That certainly reminds us why we are here!

We know that nanotechnology promises big changes for the future. We need to be sure that kids are introduced to the basics of nanotechnology early on, so they will be able to assess this new technology when they become the future leaders of America.

[Slide #23: NSF logo]
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I've only scratched the surface of NSF programs that are relevant to technology education. Many NSF Science and Technology Centers, and Engineering Research Centers, have K-12 outreach programs. Each NSF Directorate also supports educational outreach activities for K-12.

In our current budget proposal, we have outlined a new educational focus, Discovery Research K-12, to support research, development, and evaluation activities to improve STEM learning and teaching beyond current levels. Above all, DRK-12, as it is called, is designed to encourage innovation in education.

[Slide #24: Maglev]
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You may wonder why you're looking at a picture of a Maglev train.
I've decided to use it to introduce another short video. This video features the new Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit—supported by NSF— that recently opened at the Boston Museum of Science. I'm told that the idea for the maglev that appears in the exhibit was hatched at an ITEA Conference! You are having an impact just by attending these conferences and sharing ideas!

Here's the video. I want you to listen carefully to what George Lucas says about technology and learning.

[Slide #25: "Star Wars" Exhibit]
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[Slide #26: National Academy of Engineering Diagram]
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I've nearly reached the end of my remarks to you, and I want to get serious for a moment. You will recognize this figure. It's taken from the National Academy of Engineering's study, Technically Speaking,1 funded in part by NSF. This study was one of the catalysts that helped draw the attention of policy makers and the public to the importance of technology education. Another was the ITEA project, Technology for All Americans—which, I'm proud to say, NSF helped to sponsor.

One of the lessons that Technically Speaking has taught us, and that this diagram illustrates, is that technology education involves learning ways of thinking and acting that go beyond the accumulation of foundational knowledge in science and mathematics and the development of technical skills. For the most part, this means exploring new territory in K-12 instructional practice, content, and professional development. This is a huge endeavor. I know that this group has picked up the gauntlet. I am confident that the world will be eternally grateful to all of you for your efforts!

[Slide #27: Roosevelt Quote]
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Someone once said, "You can't wring your hands and roll up your sleeves at the same time." As we work to make America's kids the smartest and our teachers the best, we are all learning new ways of thinking and acting. We have a long road ahead. That's our challenge.

But there is an enormous reservoir of energy and excitement about technology—among students, teachers, engineers, and technologists. That's our opportunity.

So let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.

1 Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More About Technology; National Academy of Engineer, National Research Council; National Academy Press, 2002.
Return to speech.



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