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Teens And Technology: Are You Fostering A Learning Environment?

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Teens And Technology:
Are You Fostering A Learning Environment? 

Jack Andraka looks like any normal, teenage boy. However, in 2011 – his freshman year in high school – Jack developed a method to test for the presence of pancreatic cancer that is much more accurate, quick, and painless than current tests. Pancreatic cancer is extremely difficult to test for using traditional methods because the pancreas is buried deep inside the body and is obstructed by other organs.  However, Jack’s mother and father had encouraged him and his brother to experiment in their basement all their lives. This experimentation and freedom allowed both boys to explore their scientific interests, building and developing new tools. Jack’s older brother, Luke built an arc furnace by hand but was ordered by his school to take it home once he mentioned that it could produce extremely high temperatures and melted a steel screw to prove it.

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Jack’s interest in science and engineering led him to conceive of a way to use carbon nanotubes to test for the presence of a particular protein. Though the basement at home lacked the equipment needed to develop and test such a thing, his interest put him in contact with Dr. Anirban Maitra who offered to let the teen use his lab and its resources in his quest to develop the test for pancreatic cancer. It took many months of hard work but eventually Jack succeeded and is now working to bring the test to market. His experiment also won him first place in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair!

Over the past few years, many articles and arguments have been presented about how to get our children more interested in science and technology. Entire new programs have been proposed to steer students in school towards the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. However, the real interest in these areas generally begins at home and can sometimes bring with it, a huge reward. Though it might seem a little dangerous to let your child poke around at the inner workings of a computer, tiring to let them stay up late to peer through a telescope and study the stars and planets, or make a huge mess to encourage your child to bring interesting looking flowers or rocks home to study them and try to find out what they are, allowing such activities in a spontaneous and unstructured manner can sometimes bring home huge rewards…like a $75,000 prize.

Allowing children the freedom to explore and question the world around them – even if it’s messy and annoying, can bring great benefits not only to your family should your child develop an absolutely amazing way to test for or treat a disease, it can broaden and improve the lives of many around the world. So, what are you doing to encourage these interests in your children and what do you think others can do to help encourage children everywhere?

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