Bill Nye the Science Guy speaks at sixth-grade career fair
By Rona S. Hirsch Staff writer
Bill Nye likes to do things by the numbers.
A mechanical engineer by trade, Nye is fascinated with mathematics. Everything, he says, is driven by math. And math, he insists, is fun. "Nothing is more fun than math," Nye said. "You just got to show how exciting it is."
And that explains his other career: "Bill Nye the Science Guy." For years, Nye has engaged young audiences on the wonders of math and science through his Emmy Award- winning educational TV show and public appearances. "That's my business -- get people excited about the passion, beauty and joy -- PBJ -- of math," he said.
Nye brought his enthusiasm as guest speaker at Raytheon's MathMovesU Career Fair on June 7 at MacArthur Middle School. The three- hour event also was attended by 25 sixth-graders from Meade Middle School. "This is letting them see how relevant math and science are," said Kisha Webster, assistant principal of the sixth grade at MacArthur.
The Raytheon Company created MathMovesU, an Internet-based education program, to keep middle school students involved in math at a time when interest and achievement in the subject typically drop. "In fourth grade, American students are among the world's best in math and science," said Steve Hawkins, vice president of National Systems for Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems. "By ninth grade, they rank 28th, near bottom. If we are going improve the math skills of our students and get them to follow a career that requires math, we've got to excite them."
Nye is one of several celebrities -- from soccer star Mia Hamm to basketball great Bill Russell -- enlisted by Raytheon to help transform math's image and show students how math plays an important role in their lives. Students can access the Web site to work on real-world application such as calculating the degrees of rotation that professional skateboarder Tony Hawk needs to complete a spin.
"We have a real passion for convincing teens and kids to hone up their math skills, that careers are cool in math and everything behind various careers are driven by math," Hawkins said.
During the career fair, students toured the exhibits of math-related career opportunities: pilot, banker, nurse, chemist, code breaker, Web designer, engineer, hardwood floors installer and makeup artist. "All require math skills," Hawkins said. "Everything is a form of measurements and a form of prediction."
Some youngsters got on their knees to measure the square footage for installing hardwood floors, while others computed the descent time from Baltimore on approach to Orlando. Students also were given exercises in code breaking and on the proper application of makeup. "I learned that you need math to know how to mix makeup so you don't break out and you need geometry to know how to apply the makeup," said Jadah Bird, 12.
Even would-be engineer Austen Rohrbaugh, 11, was surprised at math's diverse applications. "I never thought math is used that much," he said.
Students also learned the bitter facts of playing the lottery at the "How Smart Is It To Play the Lottery?" exhibit. After receiving a free gift, they had the chance to give it up for a shot at a larger gift. "We're showing your odds aren't really good," said Mark Joll, a Raytheon site communicator.
An empty-handed Kierra Harrison figured that out the hard way. "I learned you shouldn't gamble," said the 12-year-old.
But the lines were longest to meet the number-one attraction, who was greeted with cheers as he walked onstage. "Bill Nye is the rock star in science," Hawkins said.
Dressed in a dark suit and signature bow tie, the Science Guy discussed Mars, sundials, global warming, the flying habits of bumblebees and the installation of a solar collector on the roof of his Los Angeles home. He also showed slides of Pluto -- the dwarf planet as well as Disney character.
"He was able to relate to them," said John Wilson, sixth-grade social studies teacher at MacArthur. "They were tuning in."
Throughout his presentation peppered with humor, Nye stressed the diverse applications of science and mathematics, particularly in improving the planet. "My favorite planet is Earth," he said. "It's the only place we've got to live. So I want you guys to get good at math. So you not only get rich, but, dare I say it, change the world!"
An author and inventor who was born in 1955 in Washington, D.C., Nye credits his parents for his interest in math and science. During World War II, his mother was recruited to work on breaking Germany's Enigma code. His father learned the patterns of the constellations and developed a passion for sundials during his nearly four-year internment in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in China that seldom had electricity.
In 1977, Nye earned a degree in mechanical engineering at Cornell University. His astronomy teacher was Carl Sagan. After graduation, Nye was hired as an engineer for Boeing in Seattle, where he designed a hydraulic pressure resonance suppresser. Combining his love of science with comedy, Nye worked as an engineer by day and stand-up comic by night, even snagging a Steve Martin look-alike contest.
"Bill Nye the Science Guy" first appeared on a Seattle comedy show, "Almost Live." A hit, Nye produced his own science show that aired on PBS from 1993-1998. Subsequent programs for older audiences included "Eyes of Nye" and "Greatest Inventions." He also appeared in the live-action segments of "Back to the Future: The Animated Series" and "NUMB3RS," the TV drama that uses math to solve crimes.
Nye wants students to believe that they also can find thrills in math. "Our society is increasingly dependent on math; nothing is not math," he said. "Math has a truth, that if you learn it you will be empowered. I love math. Who doesn't love math?"
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