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Don't Fail Me: Education in America - Educator and Parent Guide

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Don't Fail Me: Education in America" examines the state of math and science education in America
  • American students rank 17th in science and 25th in math when compared to other industrialized nations.
  • CNN anchor and special correspondent Soledad O'Brien follows three students from different regions as they compete in the FIRST robotic competition
  • Use this educator's and parent's guide to examine the issues surrounding how and what we teach American students
  • The guide includes before-viewing and post-viewing questions and learning activities

Educators and Parents: This Educator and Parent Guide is provided for teachers and parents to use as a catalyst for discussion and learning, if they choose to watch this program with their students. CNN provides Educator and Parent Guides for all of its "In America" programming.

(CNN Student News) -- Watch or record "Don't Fail Me: Education in America" when it airs on CNN on Saturday, May 21 at 8:00 p.m. ET. By recording the documentary, you agree that you will use the program for educational viewing purposes for a one-year period only. No other rights of any kind or nature whatsoever are granted, including, without limitation, any rights to sell, publish, distribute, post online or distribute in any other medium or forum, or use for any commercial or promotional purpose.

Program Description: In "Don't Fail Me: Education in America", we learn that at this very moment, America's future is at stake. "If we don't generate the next group of innovators, scientists, engineers, and problem solvers," inventor Dean Kamen warns, "our standard of living, our quality of life, our security, will plummet!" American students rank 17th in science and 25th in math when compared to other industrialized nations. They don't have the skills to take on the high tech jobs of the future. This is because of how and what we teach American kids. It is also because of a culture that values sports and celebrities above all. The United States needs to change the way students are taught math and science, and children need to be encouraged and inspired to take the toughest classes in those subjects. There is a nationwide competition designed to motivate high school students to take those classes, push themselves, and learn more. Students Maria Castro, Brian Whited and Shaan Patel are actively involved in it. But is it too late for them? Is it too late for us?

Recommended grades: 7-12

Subject Areas: Science, Mathematics, Education

Before-viewing Discussion Questions: Use these questions to promote discussion before viewing the program.

1. What do you think is the goal of a free public education for every child? What do you think might be some of the benefits and costs of providing free public education?

2. In your opinion, who are the major stakeholders in the American education system? What role do you think that each of these stakeholders plays in the education of America's youth?

3. Why do you think that some educators and policy makers are concerned with American students' performance in math and science? In your opinion, what, if anything, should be done to encourage students to take more math and science courses? What factors do you think might play a role in a student's math and science performance?

4. In your opinion, what should schools be doing to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow? Do you think that your school does enough to prepare you for the future? Why or why not? What do you think that students your age should be doing to prepare themselves for future jobs?

Post-Viewing Discussion Questions: Use these questions to facilitate discussion and critical thinking after watching "Don't Fail Me: Education in America."

1. Who are the three students featured in the documentary? Why do you think that these students were chosen for this program? Do you think that these students are good representatives of typical American students? Why or why not?

2. According to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, how many "high wage, high skilled jobs" exist in America today? Why does he think that these jobs are not being filled by Americans? Do you think America's youth will be ready to fill these types of jobs when they complete their education? Why or why not?

3. What does Dean Kaman say in the program about what may happen if the United States does not improve its performance in math and science? What is your opinion of his assessment? What do you think that the American education system can do to improve students' math and science performance? What do you think that students and parents can do to improve students' performance in these subject areas?

4. What is the purpose of the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) competition? Why do you think that Kaman chose to create a robotics competition rather than science fair? In your opinion, what might be the advantages and disadvantages of having students participate in each of these kinds of programs?

4. How are the schools attended by the students featured in the documentary characterized? How are these schools similar to yours? In what ways are they different?

5. What percent of students at Maria's school does not pass statewide tests in math and reading? What concerns does Maria raise regarding her education? How does she address these concerns?

6. What challenges do the students face while participating in the FIRST competition? What skills do you think these student competitors might need? In your opinion, what impact, if any, might students' experiences through FIRST have on their lives?

7. What issues does former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen raise in the program regarding state tests and the No Child Left Behind Act? According to Gov. Bredesen, how did Tennessee and several other states address these issues? What does Secretary Duncan say about states and their test scores? What is your reaction to the allegation that some states have been misrepresenting their test scores to students and families?

8. What reforms did former Governor Bredesen and the state of Tennessee implement in order to improve the math and science curriculum? Why do you think that Tennessee focused on these subject areas? What is your opinion of the reforms mentioned in the program? In your opinion, what impact, if any, might these reforms have on Brian Whited's school?

9. What examples do you see in this program that supports the claim that students shy away from math? Why do you think that students drop out of or don't take more difficult math courses? What long-term impact, if any, do you think that this situation might have on the American workforce? Why do you think that the students featured in the documentary prefer to take more challenging courses?

10. According to the program: What percent of the U.S. population is Asian? What percent of engineering graduates is Asian? To what does Shaan Patel attribute this statistic? What is your reaction to his assessment?

11. Why do you think that the documentary is titled "Don't Fail Me"? Do you think that this is an appropriate title? Why or why not? What examples can you think of, both from the program and your life, where educators, parents, lawmakers and students themselves may have "failed" students? What advice would you offer each of these groups to better prepare today's students for their lives as adults?

Media Literacy Question

What were some of the different perspectives presented in this program? Do you think that telling the stories of these three students was an effective way to present the issues surrounding science education in the U.S.? Explain. If you were producing a documentary on your education, whose perspectives would you include, and why?

Learning Activities

Generating student interest in math and science

Xerox CEO Ursula Burns told CNN, "You need people to show the way. And just like the way we can see Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, why can't they see people like engineers like me, why can't they see us, regular people doing a good thing?" As part of your discussion, have your students react to Burns' statement. Then, have students respond to these questions:

• Why do you think that many actors, musicians and athletes become famous, while few present-day engineers, scientists and inventors are well-known?

• Why do you think that many young people aspire to be athletes, musicians and actors? What do you think might be some benefits and challenges for young people who want to enter these professions? What might be some benefits and challenges for students who choose career paths that involve math, science or engineering?

• Are you aware of career opportunities in math, science and engineering? Do you think most of the students you know are aware of these opportunities? How would you suggest a way to promote interest in these careers among you and your friends?

Next, divide the class into small groups. Challenge each group to come up with a proposal for a TV or Web-based show that would generate interest or inspire careers in science, math, or engineering. Point out that some popular TV shows including "CSI", "Mythbusters" and "Bill Nye the Science Guy" both entertain and generate interest in science by using or explaining scientific principles in different ways. Tell students that they may choose to propose a reality show, a sitcom, a drama or any other format that would appeal to middle or high school students as long as it uses math or science-based characters or principles to inspire interest. Assist groups as they search the Internet for videos and websites that demonstrate scientific and mathematic concepts to help them get ideas and produce their show concepts.

Have each group present its show proposal. Have the rest of the class evaluate each concept. Which one(s) do students think would get their audience most interested in science, math and engineering? Why? What other ideas do students have for making science as popular as sports, music, or entertainment for an audience of their peers?

Pursuing Careers in Science, Technology, Math and Engineering

Direct students to conduct research to learn more about careers in different fields of science, technology, math and engineering, and share their findings. Discuss: What are the job opportunities for students who are interested in these areas? How do their salaries compare to those in other career fields? Ask a career counselor or a professional in one of these fields to visit your class and answer questions about ways that students could position themselves for careers in the sciences. After the discussion, help the students who are interested in these careers solicit support from parents, the school and the community to achieve their goals.

Curriculum Connections

Science

CONTENT STANDARD F: SCIENCE IN PERSONAL AND SOCIAL PERSPECTIVES

As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of science and technology in local, national, and global challenges

CONTENT STANDARD G: HISTORY AND NATURE OF SCIENCE

As a result of activities in grades 5-12, all students should develop understanding of

• Science as a human endeavor
• Nature of scientific knowledge

The National Science Education Standards (http://books.nap.edu/html/nses/pdf/index.html ) are published by the National Academies Press (http://www.nap.edu).

Social Studies

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: The Themes of Social Studies
3. PEOPLE, PLACES, AND ENVIRONMENTS

Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of people, places, and environments.

5. INDIVIDUALS, GROUPS, AND INSTITUTIONS

Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions.

6. POWER, AUTHORITY, AND GOVERNANCE

Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create, interact with, and change structures of power, authority, and governance.

The National Curriculum Standards for the Social Studies are produced by the National Council for the Social Studies.

 
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