In Pursuit of Quality Education and Training

I’ve been working in education for over a decade. I’ve worked as a private tutor, a classroom tutor, a museum volunteer, at a public school, and a private tutor for homeschoolers. I’ve seen students with a range of aptitudes and all level of parent involvement. I admit it, as an educator, I enjoy the kids that want an education more than those that just “deal with it because they have to”. Those that want to learn for the sake of learning will go to any lengths to stuff their head full of knowledge. It’s kind of exciting to help them along the way.

I should know, I’m one of those insane devotees. 

It’s a joy to work with these internally motivated people in all walks and stages of life. Even being near them gives you energy that you may not have walked into the room with. It’s amazing. But, people make a mistake going in: They expect these students to be life-long learners in everything at the same time. That’s just not the case. Some people are only internally motivated for certain things that pertain to them, and others gobble up all the knowledge they can feast on.

Quality educations for these varying levels of needs, desires, and interests is difficult. For example, two of the students I work with now, M and A, are different as can be. M is the type that wants to stuff his head full of facts (as long as they aren’t boring), while A only wants things related to his interests and current activities. We would love to give them the best of everything.

But we must all bow to economics. 

In a moving speech by a courageous teen, named Dannah Wilson, I was reminded of Insanitek’s role in the world. Yes, we focus on science. Yes, we work with scientists and the public alike. And yes, we teach science courses and skill. But, we are not a rich company. Our money comes from our clients that pay for a service. We get nothing from the government, no grants, no scholarships, no investors. It’s all free market here.

Thomas R. Odhiambo, a force to be reckoned with in zoology and politics. He did more for African farmers than anyone. (And he was one of my personal inspirations.)

And yet, we teach our students to make the most of it. Up on our walls there are pictures of the greats and not so well knowns in science: Hero of Alexander, Lise Misner, Ibn Al-Haytham, Thomas R. Odhiambo, Tesla, and more. These people did not always have the tools of modern science to make discoveries or make a huge difference in their world. What they had was curiosity, determination, and a will to find out the answers — and sometimes the questions.

Resources are finite, ideas and creativity are not.

Ms. Wilson and her family have every right to pursue a quality education. But, I think they should learn to create it as well as run around the country demanding the resources such as good teachers, good equipment, up to date textbooks, and all that she asks for. We all should. This is not an attack on anyone. This is a call for more creativity and innovation in the world of education across the board.

In the decade that I’ve been working in education, I’ve seen an endless parade of free and low-cost resources. I’ve also seen people who charge outrageous prices for a PDF packet. It’s a careful balance between finding good resources for education that aren’t over priced. In this case, the internet is your friend. You can search for anything and find it — generally for free. For example, here is a free textbook site I found simply by sticking “open source textbooks” into the search bar. With that, print out what you want the students to read. Have them share and discuss. Have them share and make a presentation to the class. There are options to over priced, out of date textbooks that fulfil more than one teaching niche. It just takes a different paradigm of thinking.

Teachers should start there, then also embed creativity with crappy tools. This is a skill we tried to teach in our classes in the EAS department at Purdue aimed at teaching teachers how to teach science. We understood that many of the people in front of us would end up with an astoundingly crappy budget. Thus,we tried to help them by giving them pretty crappy tools to do the experiments with. The goal was to get them to turn it into an exercise in creativity, not a bitch-fest on how their stuff didn’t work. Then, the goal was to listen to the students and grade on logical thinking, not how well they filled in the blanks. The really good students often found ways to make the experiments work within their limits with rubbish, then explain it to others.

Students aren’t helpless either, even when it seems like it.

Sara Volz built a lab under her bed at home at the age of 17. She said in the interview that she begged, borrowed, or stole the equipment that she used.

Far too many students (and sometimes parents) think they have to just deal with it. No. No. NO. There are libraries, museums, and the internet. If you don’t have internet at home, then you can access things from the library. The library has to charge for papers you print out, but you can borrow any book there for free. Even textbooks. Even books with science experiments you can do at home.

If homeschoolers can succeed, so can those at a public, private, or charter school. You just need to have the desire to learn and understanding that something else might have to be sacrificed. That hour of TV? Going out with friends every day?

Every single individual has the ability to choose what they do, how they spend their time, and how they spend their resources. If you don’t have the freedom to drive to different school districts in pursuit of a school like Ms. Wilson did, you do have the ability to make the most of it yourself while also demanding higher standards for the schools nearest you. Don’t waste it.

Insanitek’s high standards need to be higher.

I’m always looking for ways to provide better service while also giving people the tools to get after life. This year we have the goal of creating more video content where we can break down concepts, do demonstrations that can be done in the house, and interview scientists. These will all be freely accessible for those that want it.

Next, we have our Pay What You Want resources where you can get them free or leave us a donation. We want to expand that with a variety of digital downloads, not just math worksheets.

We’d like to start selling old lab gear for cheap in our store for those that want to take their science to the next level.

But, really, I need to know what the students, parents, and teachers want and need. What will make your life easier? What will take your education to the next level. Donate your two cents in the comments below.