The scientific and mathematical literacy of students in the U.S. consistently ranks poorly compared with the rest of the world — in the most recent international comparison, American students ranked 23rd in science and 30th in mathematics.
China and India each graduate 5 times the number of engineers than the U.S., and 60% of the students at the top American computer-science departments are foreign-born.
Business growth across industries and businesses is tied strongly to their levels of innovation. Levels of innovation are tied strongly to high levels of scientific and mathematical literacy.
Success in motorsports is built largely on exploiting science and mathematics to maximize speed and performance. As a result, motorsports provide(s) a natural and compelling link to real-world math and science.
In December 2010, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OSCD, 2010) released the results of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The results continued the trend of American students dropping in their international ranking. Equally important, PISA also published an extensive description of its assessment framework for mathematics, which defines “mathematical literacy” as the:
capacity to identify and understand the role that mathematics plays in the world, to make well-founded judgments and to use and engage with mathematics in ways that meet the needs of that individual’s life as a constructive, concerned and reflective citizen.
The assessment framework provides additional context for this definition, saying that it “is the ability to pose, formulate, solve and interpret problems using mathematics within a variety of situations and contexts.” Scientific literacy is described similarly. In other words, both math and science have many real-world applications. Those involved in the real-world of the motorsports industry know firsthand how important mathematical and scientific literacy are to success.
Recognizing the ability to leverage motorsports’ excitement, real-world relevance, and depth of application of math and science, we have developed a concept for increasing the interest and abilities in math and science among students in the middle grades and are actively promoting this concept to drive action in the industry.
The world of motorsports provides an excellent platform to engage students and teachers. Plenty of research in teaching and learning supports the power of real-world relevance, demonstrating that students learn more and learn more easily when immersed in contexts where mathematical and scientific facts and processes are used to achieve actual needs, not theoretical ones. (“Video Games and the Future of Learning,” Shaffer, Squire, Halverson and Gee, 2004.)
Additionally, academic literature reinforces our focus on students in the middle grades. Middle school is a crucial growth opportunity for students. When nurtured and channeled well, a middle school student’s cognitive and emotional development enables greatly expanded depths of mathematics and scientific learning and understanding. Too often, this opportunity for growth bypasses students in the middle grades. Their emotional need for greater intrinsic reward and purpose is unsatisfied, leaving them unmotivated. Moreover, it is often the point at which a student decides whether or not he/she is a “math person” or a “science person” — a self-designation and self-fulfilling prophecy that is difficult to reverse when a student feels math and science are uninteresting, unimportant, and/or unnecessarily difficult. (What’s Math Got to Do with It? How Parents and Teachers Can Help Children Learn to Love Their Least Favorite Subject, Boaler, 2009. And The Myth of Ability: Nurturing Mathematical Talent in Every Child, Mighton, 2004.)