Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Exploration Nation: Expedition Central America – Day One – April 4th

As we sit in the Austin airport, my team of middle school explorers fromExploration Nation are attempting to hide their excitement. They are unsuccessful. They have been working for months in preparation for this day. In addition to their usual school work, they have been doing research and studying the topics they will cover during the expedition ranging from the optimum soil composition for growing bananas and the workings of the carbon cycle to the ethnobotany of the rain forest and the physics behind jungle survival. At the end of this exploration, they will join a team of physicians to treat hundreds of indigenous people in Nicaragua.
After a short flight to Houston, our film crew meets us at the gate. Lou Douros is a filmmaker that has come from Los Angeles. Loren Gilley, our director of photography, is a former combat veteran and a director fellow from the American Film Institute. Loren hails from Houston and he claims he just got out of bed. We don’t get to talk since we end up sitting far apart in the aircraft.
As we fly south high above Mexico I think back to the previous twelve months of planning for this day. At times, the idea seemed impossible. At other times, overwhelming. Throughout the conception and planning one question has consistently been raised. “Why aren’t you doing this for American kids?”
In fact, though we are directly impacting the lives of the Rama Indians in Nicaragua, the entire purpose of the Expedition is to show American students how a career in the sciences creates a better world. Through our daily live broadcasts to millions of students across America and the lesson programming we will create based on the expedition, America’s future innovators will see through our eyes and experience the power of innovation as our team of Special Forces veterans and doctors leverage their knowledge of science to literally improve lives.
When it comes to access to medical care, in America we are very fortunate. Even the poorest of the poor can seek and receive treatment at any number of state-of-the-art hospitals where the best equipment, medicines and physicians are available at a moments notice. So many of us take this innovation for granted.
I’m writing this as someone who owes his life to modern medical innovation. I want kids in America and around the world to understand that science is the path to lifting the quality of life for all people. I want them to see that it’s not about a “better job” or “making more money” or “creating cool stuff” – these things are a means to an end. The average fifth grader could give a whit about such nebulous concepts.
Our youngest and most wired citizens hold the key to incredible, life changing innovation if we can only show them that science is an amazing adventure that helps people live better lives. And we intend to do exactly that.
Tune in live each day starting April 5th at 2pm central for a special, behind the scenes look at the expedition. Tweet questions during the broadcast to @ExplorationN8n. Bookmark this page to read daily updates and join the adventure.
The State of America’s Future Innovators
Over the last 5 years of producing Exploration Nation, we have come to the realization that our message to our future innovators (students ages 6-14) regarding careers in science is falling flat. We attempt to reason with fifth graders to convince them they will be able to score a better career with higher pay if they pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
The response from a 10 year old is usually something along the lines of “I’m not getting how this increases my gaming time…” or “You’re a dork, dorkface.” or “That’s boring.”
The most wired generation in history sees science as irrelevant to their lives. They are immersed in rich media on television, the Internet, in gaming and our approach in the classroom is to stand up in front of them (requiring them to sit still, be quiet and hang on our every word) and lecture.
No wonder they are turning away from science in record numbers.
I’ve talked to hundreds of these kids over the last two years and I’ve found two threads of consistency in terms of what kids actually care about. Here’s a hint: careers and money are not among them.
Our future innovators desire:
- To help people
- To have a voice in shaping their world
It turns out, a career in STEM deliver exactly these benefits. This is why we are going to such great lengths to show students how innovation saves lives and impacts communities.
Stay tuned for a series of day-to-day followup articles...

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