Franken urges support of bill to retain teachers, boost study of math and science
Feb 23, 2013 (Duluth News Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
U.S. Sen. Al Franken says his favorite teacher in high school was Harold Hodgkinson.
He was "old school," Franken told an audience of science teachers Friday afternoon at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. Hodgkinson encouraged his students to take a methodical approach to solving problems.
"He told us to use a pencil and paper and figure it out," Franken said.
Franken was speaking about Hodgkinson at a Minnesota Science Teachers Association conference and urging support for a bill that he hopes will help retain teachers in K-12 education and boost the number of students studying math and science for a career.
The bill Franken is pushing would work to fulfill President Obama's goal to recruit and train 100,000 more teachers in science, technology, engineering and math fields in the next decade.
It works to retain teachers with higher salaries because they often are lured away from education. "Master teachers" would be created and used to mentor others. The bill also would focus on high-need schools and finding ways for institutions to pool for grants and other funding.
"We need to keep you in teaching," Franken said, because the jobs of the future depend on people with science skills.
He said there are obvious signs that kids can and will pursue math and science. He said the robotics teams that are bubbling up from Minnesota high schools are a keen example. Today there are more varsity robotics teams than hockey teams in the state.
The crowd applauded that fact.
"I'd have liked to take a bet on that
10 years ago," Franken said. "These kids are so engaged."
Robotics teaches what every employer wants, he said, including team skills, creativity and high-level science and math.
Franken asked the science teachers at the DECC to formally support the bill in a conference vote today.
Piedmont Elementary School teacher Elizabeth Kersting-Peterson said she will take a look at it. She's the regional representative for the teachers association.
She said she gets frustrated with the focus on testing for reading and math, saying science can get lost in the equation.
"There's always pressure to pass the tests," she said.
Franken said the No Child Left Behind act and its relentless testing has turned the focus on drills and learning subjects by rote.
Kersting-Peterson said students who struggle with other subjects often shine with the hands-on nature of science.
"Students are remarkable explorers if given the opportunity," she said.
She sees the excitement on Fridays at her school when the focus is on science.
"It's not just Friday," she said. "It's super science Friday."
"There needs to be a shift," she said, to looking at the whole student and teaching them to deal with life outside of school.
"Science is all around us," she said. "It's not just science, it's your life. You learn how to problem solve."
Along with the story about his former teacher, Franken talked about what got him into science and math in the first place: Sputnik.
That was the Russian satellite that "terrified" the United States about lagging behind the communist country in the space race.
He said his parents sat him and his brother down in the living room for a speech.
"'You boys are going to study math and science so we can beat those Soviets,'" he recalls hearing. "That's a lot of pressure on a 6-year-old."
He and his brother did well in science classes and went on to become a photographer and a comedian. Not exactly hard science, but, he said, taking those classes "informed what I do today."
"This is personal to me," he said of improving the numbers involved in math and science.
He'd like to see the kind of transformation toward the sciences that Harold Hodgkinson led at the Blake School. When Hodgkinson started at the private school in Minneapolis in 1927, science was a minor part of the curriculum, a Blake newsletter from 2010 said. "When he retired in 1971, it was one of the school's strongest subjects," it read.
"He had a high level of achievement," Franken said. "He was a beloved teacher. A high percentage of students would say he was their favorite as well."
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