The Conference Issue of the CEFPI Educational Facility Planner magazine is out.   The conference was in Nashville last October and an article about our Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) presentation has been included in the magazine.  The article, authored by Todd VandenBurg and myself, presents a comprehensive overview of our approach to STEM education and facility design.

At our actual presentation, Todd and I included two interactive learning opportunities.  For one of them we placed pieces of tape on the floor at precise locations.  Each piece of tape was labeled with the longitude of the location, down to fractions of a second.  We placed three sets of markers and asked the audience to work in groups of three.  The assignment was to measure the distances between the tape and calculate the diameter of the earth at that latitude.   To my surprise, this assignment baffled our audience of architects and educators.  The lesson was this – very few adults in our society understand that longitude is composed of 360 degrees, each of which has 60 minutes, and each of those has 60 seconds.  Had our audience comprehended that basic geodesy they could have solved the problem we posed in a minute or less.  The rest is arithmetic.

How can it be that these professionals who have Bachelors and Masters degrees from recognized institutions of higher learning are so illiterate when it comes to something as basic as how we determine our position on the Earth?  I believe the answer is that we, as a society, have done a poor job teaching science, and that we have done an equally poor job convincing students that it’s worth knowing.  I hope that the renewed enthusiasm for STEM education will change this trend, and that if I conduct this exercise in a few years with a group of STEM graduates, they would wonder why I even thought this was challenging.