Story Credit: This story was originally published on Scholastic District Administrator under the “Down the Hall” column by Dr. Berger.
Jack Andraka has become a household name, around the world ,for his scientific breakthroughs, passion for education and enthusiasm for innovation. Andraka took time to discuss the pivotal role school leaders have played in his development and how they currently aid him in spreading his message to countless school children. Enjoy our previous interview with Jack here.
Dr. Berger: You’ve gained international acclaim for your innovation and passion as a student. What lessons can school leaders take from your achievements and how can conditions, in schools, be improved to create an ecosystem where the next Jack Andraka can flourish?
Jack Andraka: As I mention in my upcoming book, “Breakthrough” published by Harper Collins, one of the most important parts of encouraging innovation is access to information. At the beginning of my journey I didn’t even know what a pancreas was but using just Google and Wikipedia I was able to create a new way to detect pancreatic cancer.
By enabling students to use their curiosity and creativity to explore and learn with online resources we can foster innovation and prepare students for the 21st century. In our society, information is no longer the limiting factor in innovation. Limitless information is literally at our fingertips with smartphones and search engines and our education system should reflect this. Rather than teaching students facts and theories, we should teach them how to think and apply this knowledge to real world scenarios.
RB: How have school administrators/leaders responded to your work and have you noticed a difference between them and teachers?
JA: One of the most exciting parts of my work is outreach to kids and increasing interest in STEM fields. School administrators have proven to be one of my biggest allies in reaching students via Skype or school visits. With school administrators and leaders, I’ve been working to increase participation in STEM programs as well as competitions such as science fairs. In my school district, for example, now all high schools are sending students to compete in the county science fair and we have STEM programs at the high school, middle school, and elementary school levels. Teachers have also been incredibly enthusiastic about my work and I’ve Skyped into multiple classrooms internationally.
One of the most recent and exciting interactions that I’ve had with students that was mediated by a teacher was a twitter chat with an entire class from Kentucky where students could tweet any questions they had to me. I’ve found, through my outreach efforts, that both school administrators/leaders and teachers must be on board for a program or initiative to succeed.
RB: Many education leaders are mulling the flipped classroom approach. I would imagine you have strong opinions about an education environment focused on more “doing” in school than traditionally experienced by students.
JA: Currently our education system is employing a bulimic learning strategy where we cram as much information as possible down students’ throats and then have them regurgitate it on tests. However, this isn’t true learning and often times students quickly forget the material and can’t apply the learned material to real-world situations. This is particularly true in science where we are teaching science history rather than scientific thinking.
While science history is important to providing the background knowledge for innovation it shouldn’t be taking the spotlight in science education. Rather the focus should rest on applying theories and facts to real-world situations because students don’t learn science from a textbook they learn by doing.
RB: What advice do you have for administrators and teachers who want to support innovative students, like yourself, but who often are at a loss for how to engage in a supportive and meaningful way?
JA: Be flexible! Innovative, high-achieving students may miss a lot of days of school for conferences, competitions, and other events. The administrators and teachers should sit down with the student and discuss ways to communicate with the student while they are out of school such that they can turn in assignments and not be penalized for assignments that are due while they are out.
RB: If you were to design the high school of the future what would be key variables you would want to include and why?
JA: I would cram as much scientific equipment as possible into laboratory type settings such that students could explore any scientific discipline they become interested in. This would enable interested students to conduct independent research free of traditional obstacles such as access to equipment. In addition, I would encourage interdisciplinary projects across multiple subjects, incorporating science, English, art, and history into a single objective organized across all of a student’s classes because subjects are not siloed in the real world.
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Jack Andraka was just a fifteen year old Maryland high school sophomore when he invented an inexpensive early detection test for pancreatic, ovarian, and lung cancers. Jack’s groundbreaking results have earned him international recognition, most notably a 2014 Jefferson Award, the nation’s most prestigious public service award, 1st place winner in the 2014 Siemens We Can Change the World Challenge, the 2012 Intel ISEF Gordon Moore Award, the 2012 Smithsonian American Ingenuity Youth Award, a spot on Advocate Magazine’s 2014 40 under 40 list, and he’s also the 2014 State of Maryland winner of the Stockholm Water Prize.
Jack was First Lady Michelle Obama’s personal guest at the 2013 State of the Union Address. He speaks to audiences of youths and adults all across the globe about his personal story, research, and his ideas for STEM education reform. He has been featured in several documentaries including Morgan Spurlock’s Sundance Film Festival entry, “You Don’t Know Jack,” Linda Peters’ award winning film, “Just Jack,” Ken Burns’ upcoming documentary about cancer, as well as ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, CNN, BBC, Fox, Rede Record de Televisão, and radio, newspaper, and magazine articles around the world.
Dr. Berger is a global education media personality featured on the Core of Education, AmericanEdTV, in Ed Tech Review India and on RFD TV’s Rural Education Special. Dr. Berger also serves as Vice President of Education for RANDA Solutions an education software and data management firm named three times to the INC 5000.
As an industry personality Dr. Berger has interviewed Ministers of Education, leading voices like Sir Ken Robinson, U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, AFT President Randi Weingarten and other global thought leaders. Dr. Berger is a guest lecturer at Vanderbilt University and resides with his wife and two children in Nashville, Tennessee.