Fired Up About Math and Science
April 11, 2013
It’s no secret the United States lags behind other parts of the world in math and science education. As experts debate how to address the problem, Illinois mom Christine Platt is busy showing students that learning about these and other technical fields can be a lot of fun.
In just a couple of years, Platt, a retired physicist and mother of two boys, has increased awareness of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) at May Watts Elementary in Naperville, Ill., and in the process helped ignite students’ passion for these subjects.
Volunteering her time and expertise comes naturally for Platt. She recounts working with disabled persons while still in high school and tutoring other students in science and math during college. After attaining her advanced degrees, Platt went on to fulfilling jobs in the public and private sectors as well as academia until health concerns caused her to step back. In recent years she has devoted herself to raising two sons, ages 15 and 8, the latter a joy the family adopted from Guatemala. He attends 2nd grade at May Watts.
Given her background, it was an easy segue for Platt to become involved in advancing STEM programs. As a woman scientist, she’s also aware of her influence on young girls. “More than anything, I love to share science with people,” she says. First up was breathing new life into a ho-hum family science night, which she totally revamped, adding several hands-on sessions for the kids plus a science fair component. Then she moved on to assist with overhauling a family math night. Attendance shot up at both events, which provide additional learning opportunities for students. Yet perhaps the more significant result was convincing them these subjects can actually be fun.
“There’s no moment more exciting and satisfying in my life than learning and understanding something new and in particular about how things work,...discovering how exciting science and nature are,” Platt says. She’s determined to instill the same kind of passion in a whole new generation, and by all accounts she’s succeeding. Witness the waiting list for a robotics class she introduced as an after-school enrichment program for grades K through 5 this year. Robotics brings many different disciplines and ways of thinking to the table and is a rich source of learning. It’s also a great deal of fun. “I mean, what kid doesn’t want to go to a robotics class?” she says.
Platt is quick to point out that she’s not alone in her quest to boost STEM in the schools. She’s part of a grassroots parent movement across the whole district known as STEM-204 (204 is the local school district number). STEM-204 has forged a successful partnership with the PTA at May Watts Elementary. Robotics and other after-school enrichment programs such as Lego-building as well as engineering, math, and science olympiads would not exist without the PTA’s funding and support.
STEM has gained greater prominence at May Watts thanks in no small part to Platt’s efforts. But she hasn’t been content to stop there. In fact, she also volunteers at the district level and is thrilled to report that more than 20 elementary schools are now involved in STEM activities and that every middle school hosts a STEM night. She’s gratified to be a part of this evolution.
Platt’s two children have absorbed her own sense of wonder as she says they look behind every object and action to question how and why. Her quest is to pass along the same to students at May Watts Elementary and in the greater district beyond. “What drives me is the spark in their eyes of sudden understanding, the urgent happy chatter of asking, the big smiles of a successful idea or accomplishment,” she says. By encouraging students to explore STEM fields, she hopes to help prepare the next generation of scientific thinkers for the challenges that lie ahead.
Writer: June Allan Corrigan
Photo credit: Lisa Green