How to Get Your Kid Jazzed About Math and Science

Tips from the U.S. Chief of Technology

In an era where cool job titles like “growth hacker” and “scrum master” abound, Megan Smith has everyone beat. She’s the Chief Technical Officer of the U.S.A., which makes her responsible for ensuring Obama has his finger on the pulse of tech trends that shape the nation’s economy and culture. And, no, she has nothing to do with White House IT, so don’t ask.

Even if Smith didn’t spend 11 years Google (which she did) or wasn’t an early alumni of MIT’s Media Lab (which she is), she’d have a serious stake in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education policy because she’s the mother of 10 and 13-year-old boys.

Smith is capable of talking about this stuff on a level that would fry your neurons, but she also has surprisingly practical advice for how parents can get their own kids excited about learning the skills they’ll need to find jobs with our future robot overlords.

There’s a growing drumbeat around STEM education at the elementary level. Given your background, do you see this as a great, big, “Yes!”, or do you view it with more nuance than that?

One thing that’s really important is that the universe doesn’t separate subjects. Parents need to know that they face extraordinary anti-tech and anti-STEM bias around them and they need to overcome that on behalf of their kids. I’ve never met someone who said, “When I was in high school, I didn’t really get reading and writing.” But lots of people have no problem saying, “Yeah, math and science wasn’t really my thing.”

To me, that is a failing on our part in how we’re supporting teachers. Most teachers have to teach in a really retro way. No one in this country would expect children to come to a PE class and have the teacher say, “Ok, everyone sit down and open your books.” Science and math, they’re really interactive and the better way of teaching is project and active learning-based. So, how do you help kids develop muscle memory and grit and curiosity? Science is really discovery — you don’t know the answer. We’re so busy teaching children the facts that have been discovered, we don’t teach them the scientific method.

So, as a parent, what you can do early is just do projects with your kids. It doesn’t have to be a lot of set up — grow plants in your backyard. When you add a garden to an elementary school, it increases the science test scores by a significant amount.

To read the rest of this article, published in Time Magazine, please click here.