I have a BS in physics and a PhD in astronomy. I spend my days (and often my nights!) studying small stars. I love what I do, and I get excited about all kinds of science and technology. I was lucky enough to qualify for a great enrichment program in my public elementary school that took me out of regular classes once a week to do hands-on learning activities and problem-solving exercises. As far as I was concerned, it was fun. Only in looking back do I realize how important it was to my education and to teaching me to think. At the time, I was mostly concerned with playing sports with the neighborhood kids in my small rural hometown. I recognized in middle school that I liked science and math, but didn’t have particularly exciting science or math classes through high school.
Things changed when I got to college, with excellent science and math courses that made going to class interesting, challenging, and exciting. At the same time, I started to learn more about the world. I traveled, met people from different cultures, races, religions, and backgrounds. But my physics classes were 95% male, and 95% white (myself included). After starting to see how diverse the world is, and how important that diversity is to learning, that just didn’t sit well. I participated in a program to help middle school students from low-income public schools with science fair projects. It was a start, and it felt important, but even then I realized that particular model wasn’t sustainable. But I put the idea of it in my back pocket.
My desire for social justice and for service led me to join the Peace Corps after college, and I headed to Guyana in South America for two years to be a science teacher at a low-performing secondary school. My school didn’t have much in the way of textbooks or worksheets, but thanks for the World Bank, it did have a new science lab. I developed a love of teaching science, and I could do it in a hands-on way. In fact, I pretty much had to. Many of these students weren’t especially interested in learning science, so I had to get their attention. Demonstrations and hands-on activities quickly became my primary teaching methods. How else would you even do it?
I started graduate school after the Peace Corps, and again found my colleagues to be predominately white males. And guess what, it still didn’t feel right. So in addition to my research and classes, I worked with a program to increase diversity in the sciences, and worked for a year in the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity. These programs are great, but they were working with college students, and it was obvious to me that if it wasn’t nurtured during adolescence, a child’s natural inquisitiveness about the world likely wouldn’t survive until college. So several of TL’s co-founders spend many evenings sitting around and talking about what we could do. We found STEM to be exciting and interesting, and thought that those classes should be exciting and interesting, too. We knew that our programs had to be part of the regular curriculum, and not something students had to opt into, since preconceived notions would interfere. We wanted to work with the students who wouldn’t otherwise have great learning opportunities. And we knew we wanted to present science, math, and engineering in such a way that the students wanted to learn. So we started Technically Learning to do all those things. We’ve been developing curriculum, training teachers, and getting students excited about STEM ever since.