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Role of Music and Movies in Promoting STEM Interest Spotlighted at Event

By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

Music, movies, and other popular culture are filled with science and mathematics—in fact, in many ways they are built with them. At a STEM education conference this week in Washington, panelists examined creative endeavors as a valuable, but often underutilized tool in motivating and inspiring students to take an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Educators, business leaders, state officials, and others gathered at the event, called STEM Solutions, sponsored by U.S. News, to take a closer look at the state and future of STEM learning. One topic of discussion, in particular, was ways to inspire student interest and creativity in STEM learning.

Although subjects such as math and science are sometimes equated with drudgery, creativity and STEM are not mutually exclusive. In fact, as noted at the conference, they are complementary.

"Math and science really are about creativity," said Parag Chordia, a scientist and technology entrepreneur, during one panel. "It's a failure of our own imagination that we can't excite kids about math and science."

Inspired by his own passion, Chordia seeks to use music as an entry point for inspiring students to study and enjoy math and science.

"At a fundamental level, there's a connection between sound and mathematics and science," he said. "Music can be used to personalize education and to engage and ignite an inherent curiosity and passion."

Former science teacher Alan McCormack, who also was on that panel, took a different but no less creative approach with his students: magic. McCormack, a professor of science education at San Diego State University, encourages "imagineering" lessons that allow students to apply and adapt the science they've learned.

Technology, according to the panelists, can also be a powerful tool.

"The manner of learning is different from student to student," said Chordia. "Technology helps create individualized paths."

An interest in STEM also doesn't have to be confined to the classroom. Movies, popular culture, and media are important entry points for interest in the subjects, a topic explored in another panel, dubbed "STEM Hollywood-Style." This panel brought together a physics and astronomy professor, as well as a representative from PBS.

Science is present in movies, television, media, comic books, and other forms of entertainment, the panelists noted. Capitalizing on these can be a powerful way to spark student interest and learning in the subjects.

Lesli Rotenberg, the general manager of children's programming at PBS, highlighted some PBS offerings, such as "Sid the Science Kid" and "SciGirls."

Another panelist was Steve Wolf, the president of Wolf Stuntworks' Science in the Movies, who has worked as a stunt and special effects coordinator on a variety of movies and TV shows, including "Cast Away" and "Law and Order."

"Right now, science is treated as just a subject, not as a tool to help solving problems," he said.

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