Aerospace engineering professor Julian Rimoli shared a compelling perspective on the future of science education in early November, delivering one of the keynote addresses at Project Lead the Way's(PLTW) Summit, held in Indianapolis, Indiana.
"I believe that top-level education is not just the product of great universities like Georgia Tech, but the result of a continuum of educational excellence that begins at the K-12 level," he told the standing-room only crowd.
"For Georgia Tech to continue its legacy as the educator of tomorrow's innovators, we must aggressively connect with the nascent brilliance that is coming up through our K-12 educational system. Partnering with Project Lead the Way -- arguably the nation's leading provider of science, technology, engineering, and math programs - makes huge sense."
Rimoli, who holds the Goizueta Foundation Junior Faculty professorship, was one of several notable education and business experts to address the Summit, which brought together nearly 1,500 leaders from government, industry, academia and the non-profit sectors to review strategies for encouraging success in STEM disciplines.
Also speaking at the four-day conference were Dr. William Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education, Jeff Charbonneau, the 2013 National Teacher of the Year, and Steve Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media.
In his PLTW address, entitled "Advanced Simulations and Mobile Gaming in the Classroom," Rimoli took particular inspiration from Bennett's charge, given the first day of the four-day conference: "Ability is predicted by interest. Get them interested."
"For me, this spoke directly to my own experience, growing up in a small town in Argentina," RImoli said. "What did I want to do with computers? Play games, of course."
One problem: there were no computer stores to buy the games.
"So I tracked down a magazine that had computer codes for games, written in BASIC, and I went to work. That's what an interest will make you do," he continued.
"By typing the games and debugging them -- there were always typos on those codes-- I learned to program the computer and later started making my own games."
Those games developed into a love of programming, math, and, in high school, physics and engineering.
"I started developing physics-based games -- pseudo 'Angry Birds' -- and in college, I used simulation-based programs to understand concepts that I was struggling with. Through this process, I discovered the field of computational physics, which led me to pursue a PhD that focused on computational mechanics."
"The bottom line? Computer gaming was probably the single most important driver in my becoming an aerospace engineering professor. It was an interest that kept rewarding me with more curiosity for the things I didn't yet know."
Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is a non-profit that provides K-12 STEM programs to more than 6,500 elementary, middle and high schools across the U.S. The group's curriculum is based on an activity/project/problem-based model that Rimoli praised.
"I have seen, myself, how activity-based learning engages students more deeply in the underlying principles of engineering," he said.
"It helps them form a more intuitive grasp of the material." Rimoli's comments are based, in part, on his experience with Truss Me! a game application he developed last year to teach engineering students the basics of truss behavior. Originally intended as a novel addition to his own classroom teaching, the game as quickly adopted by K-12 teachers, university educators, and gamers when it was released on iTunes.
In May, the prestigious ETH Zurich formally adopted the educational app into its engineering curriculum.