By Allison BarrowAugust 16, 2007
FORT MONMOUTH, N.J. - July 20, 1969, the United States proved itself to be on the fast track to leading the world in science and engineering innovation by successfully sending the first man to the moon.
Now, almost 40 years later, the United States is beginning to fall behind in S&E, while nations from Europe and East Asia are perfecting their S&E education and increasing funds for the field, reports the Task Force on the Future of American Innovation. They say, federal funding for S&E, as well as research and development, in the United States has declined significantly over the past 30 years.
The Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center is doing its part to keep up with the rapid growth of foreign scientific innovation by engaging the community to motivate its youth in science and math education. CERDEC contributes to the effort by sponsoring annual math and science summer camps at Fort Monmouth.
CERDEC needed an accredited educator to lead the program with the talent to make children enjoy learning; they found these qualities in educator Mark A. Peters, said Suzanne Kelsey, CERDEC headquarters branch operations chief.
Peters has been with the camp for five years, starting as an instructor and is now the head education coordinator of the program. He received his teaching degree from Monmouth University and recently retired from 14 years of educating in the Colts Neck, Lakewood and Wall School Districts.
The math and science summer camps are aimed at grades kindergarten through eighth, teaching children the science and math curriculum of their upcoming grade level. Students get a head start in the S&E field, to increase their intelligence and spark an interest in the subject, said Peters.
Aca,!A"The campAca,!a,,cs going to help me learn by teaching me the stuff I need to know for class next year,Aca,!A? said an incoming third grade student from Brick Midstreams Elementary.
The plan of the program is that children will continually return to the camp summer after summer to allow camp administrators to track each studentAca,!a,,cs progress through their report cards. Thus, once the student enters high school, they will already have an aptitude in math and science and hopefully study it in college and beyond.
Aca,!A"No one wants to do math and science in college; itAca,!a,,cs so hard. So there are no science teachers, there are no math teachers,Aca,!A? said Peters. Aca,!A"Our scores, if you compare them to Japan, China, or Europe are so far below them that itAca,!a,,cs not even funny.Aca,!A?
Peters has already witnessed great progress and an increase in the studentsAca,!a,,c confidence. Aca,!A"I see them growing each year. I see them asking better questions and getting more involved,Aca,!A? said Peters.
Aca,!A"I think that Mark is bringing new ideas to the program and the children seem to be rising to the challenge,Aca,!A? said Yolanda D. Henry, a program assistant for the CERDEC Outreach Program Office who has worked with the camp for six years.
Peters says his number one teaching skill is motivation. Aca,!A"I get excited about everything so it pumps the students upAca,!A| Kids want to learn, they want to have fun with science. I have never known a child not to get excited in science,Aca,!A? said Peters. Aca,!A"You never fail science; you work at it until you get it right.Aca,!A?
A flaw in the camp, Peters says, is that he only has one week with the students. For this reason the campAca,!a,,cs curriculum is very flexible and applies differential learning to make sure all the students get the most they can from the camp. An experienced educator, Peters draws up the curriculum himself with the students in mind.
Aca,!A"I say to myself, Aca,!Eoewhat did I hate when I was ten'Aca,!a,,c, Aca,!Eoewhat did I hate when I was eleven'Aca,!a,,c Well, I hated teachers that were no fun. I hated teachers that made us do unnecessary work. So in the classroom I try to remember all the things I hated and make sure I donAca,!a,,ct do them,Aca,!A? said Peters.
The students respond well to PetersAca,!a,,cteaching techniques.
Aca,!A"HeAca,!a,,cs very funny. He always gets our spirits up; heAca,!a,,cs a very good teacher,Aca,!A? said an incoming third grade student from St. DominicAca,!a,,cs Elementary.
Aca,!A"He never really gets upset with us and always tries to get us to want to learn and it works,Aca,!A? said an incoming fourth grade student from Brick Midstreams Elementary.
Aca,!A"Every day I learn something different from the children. I learn sympathy. I learn compassion. I learn friendship. I learn love. Most of all from the kids, IAca,!a,,cve learned that learning can be fun and most kids do want to learn, they want to do well, they want to make their parents proud, they just donAca,!a,,ct know how to do it,Aca,!A? said Peters. Aca,!A"Most teachers talk to kids like they are kids. You canAca,!a,,ct. You have to talk to kids like adults. You have to treat them with respect and thatAca,!a,,cs one thing I learned a long time ago.Aca,!A?
CERDEC has been sponsoring the camps for at least 12 years now and intends to continue, said Kelsey. Aca,!A"The camp is important because it gives children a sense that math and science can be fun. The counselors make learning a game for the kids and by doing that they get them more interested,Aca,!A? she said.
Peters hopes to stick with the camps and is confident in his studentsAca,!a,,c growth. The future of S&E in the United States depends on the children of today, and every little bit of effort helps, he said.
Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cm here for one reason, to let these kids have a great time and be inspired by science. If I can inspire one child, in each of these groups, I did my job,Aca,!A? said Peters.