Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Siminsights: Access to Physics

When Rajesh first told me about Siminsights, he used words like collaborative simulation, high quality tools, online education, cognitive mentorship, peer based learning, and the like. But I strongly believe that at the end of the day, Siminsights is really about one thing: Access.

To explain what I mean, I'd like to reference my own thought process when I decided to enter the world of education in lieu of a career in finance or consulting. It was a bold move, driven by my heart rather than my head, but I still had a choice to make: was I going to apply for jobs as a Physics teacher or a Math teacher? I picked Math simply because I knew that students have to take three years of math to graduate high school in California, compared to zero years of Physics. This translates to fewer jobs in Physics education, so although I picked up a credential in Physics in addition to the one I had in math, I was marketing myself mainly as a math teacher. Funnily enough, I was hired to teach math and pioneer a physics program at a charter school in LA, but when the recession hit, the budget for the physics lab was the first thing to be struck off the school's to do list. I ended up teaching no Physics that year or the next.

In that microcosmic situation you have the answer to why most kids in public school have no chance of entering careers in engineering or applied physics. More than 60% of high school students in the US have not taken any physics prior to graduating*. When they enter college, and have to compete with students who have had physics, they can quickly become demotivated because they feel that they have too much ground to make up. The gap seems even wider when you compare these students to those from Asian countries, who take 3-5 years of physics before entering college. I wish it were true that one could make up for that lost ground in college, but the truth is, it happens too rarely. So the problem of physics access is directly related to the problem of young people entering STEM fields, which is really important when you consider the need for qualified STEM graduates to be working on problems in alternative energy, information technology and even poverty reduction.

So that's why I believe that a tool like Siminsights is important. It provides Access to a kid who wouldn't otherwise have it. A kid whose parents can't afford to send her to a private school so she can get the preparation she needs to be an engineer. It's like giving that kid access to a textbook, a lab and a community of physics teachers and professionals in one fell swoop. It narrows the resource gap by making powerful quantitative simulation tools available to people for free. Instead of waiting until college to expose kids to quantitative tools like Matlab, Maple and Mathematica, by which point most of them have lost the will to take math and science, Siminsights provides a fun community-based on ramp to simulation based learning. Instead of costing school districts thousands of dollars in textbook fees, it makes physics education open source. Because all (not just some) of us have a right to learn. And we need to encourage as many people to learn about physics as we can possibly manage. Our society depends on it.


1 comment:

  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7icUBzjlik4&feature=player_detailpage#t=1289s

    Sam Pitroda includes access as one of the top five areas that National Knowledge Commission tracks, in this talk at MIT to celebrate OCW