March 29, 2010

Ready, Set, Transition: Teachers Urged To Be Innovative

By: by Drew Kerr,


BALLSTON SPA -- Shift happens.

Those were the words used on Friday by Alain Kaloyeros, the chief executive at the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, to describe the way educators should view the rapidly changing world in which they teach.

Kaloyeros, who has led the Albany-based nanotechnology college since its inception in 2001, said teachers - from the elementary to the graduate level - will play a key role in preparing students as America looks to come out ahead in the global economy, transitioning from a service-based economy to one built on innovation.

"We need to teach students, not necessarily specific information, but how to be innovative and inventive," he said in his keynote address during the 2010 STEM Expo at Ballston Spa High School, which attracted more than 1,200 teachers from across the state.

The theme was carried through in comments made by a host of educators, business leaders and labor experts who attended the first-of-its kind event designed to show educators how they can best ready their students for an increasingly technology-driven world.

The United States, officials who spoke at the event said, is at a crossroads, faced with perpetuating an educational system marked by complacency and stagnation or with evolving to meet the needs of an increasingly digital and globalized world.

"If we are to succeed - indeed if we are going to prosper - in this new industrial revolution, we will need a well educated, well trained work force," said Frank Murray, the president and chief executive at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

"We are literally in a competition with the rest of the world, and education is key to getting an edge in that competition," he said.

The message carries particularly significance locally given the arrival of computer-chip maker GlobalFoundries in Saratoga County, as well as the presence of General Electric, IBM and other high-tech firms in the state, officials said.

Educators hope those firms will draw from within the state to meet their labor needs, and say Friday's event was designed to show them what needs to be done to make it happen.

Representatives from the companies, speaking during a morning roundtable discussion about changes they'd like to see in the educational system, said schools need begin by putting more emphasis on math and science, and showing what real world applications the fields have.

More than those core subjects, though, business leaders said students need to be shown the value of life-long learning and career planning - skills they will need in adapting over the course of their careers.

"More than anything else, you've really got to know how to learn," said Michael King, the vice president of global education at IBM.

The emphasis on adaptation isn't just being pushed on students, either.

Educators also need to commit themselves to following trends in the labor market and to adapting their lesson plans to meet the needs, officials said.

"If there is a disconnect (between business and education), it's that business changes at a revolutionary pace, and education changes at an evolutionary pace," said Lynne Fuierer, the senior director of human resources and technical training at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

Charles Dedrick, the district superintendent for the Capital Region BOCES, said changing the educational system to meet work force demands is something that should be done on a broad level, so that no students are left behind.

"My concern is that this effort reaches all kids and not just a lucky few," he said.

Despite challenging economic times, it's a pursuit he and other educators say can and should not be abandoned.

"You can't just roll over and play dead just because we're facing hard times," said Ballston Spa Superintendent Joe Dragone, one of the event's chief organizers.

The push, he added, is only just beginning.

"You look around the country and we are barely in our infancy in building in this network," Dragone said.