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© 2011 CORD

On the evening of October 4, 1957, at 1912 Greenwich Mean Time, an R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile lifted off from the former Soviet Union carrying a 23-inch shiny steel orb with four metal antennas named Sputnik. The "Space Age" had begun and along with it a new age of educational urgency and educational reform in the United States. Today the questions and circumstances are different from what they were in the Sputnik Era, but the challenges are urgent and the goal is the same—innovation.

In response to the January State of the Union Address by President Obama, Dr. Francis "Duke" Kane (Col., USAF, ret.), the Father of the U.S. Global Positioning System, says, "Similar to Eisenhower's answer to the Sputnik threat, we must invest in science and technology, education and human creativity." Duke was recognized as a space and missile pioneer and catalyst of GPS by the U.S. Air Force Space Command on March 2, 2010, in San Antonio, Texas.

At 92 years of age, he is president of the Schriever Institute and still a bellwether for what is next in the "strategy of technology." For the past decade Duke has advocated development of programs to inspire the "speed of light generation" to pursue space exploration with an eye toward Mars and how we can harvest "living energy" from space.

After the launch of Sputnik, President Eisenhower, in 1957, faced rising global tensions, a critical time window, and very low tolerance for failure (circumstances not unlike what President Obama faces today). As it relates to K-12 education, Eisenhower discovered the M.I.T. Physical Sciences Study Committee (PSSC) created to reform teaching of introductory courses in physics—shifting from rote learning to learning-by-doing. Similar to PSSC, modern educational science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) practice is undergoing a systematic transformation. Spurred by a public and private sector push for global competitiveness, STEM has become a lightning rod for education in 2011.

21st Century Rocket Boys and Girls—At work today in your high school or a neighboring high school is a group of students who are learning by creating, designing, building, and breaking some newfangled rocket, robot, car, dragster, or video game. These are the rocket boys and girls of the 21st century and an American response to the national need for innovation, competitiveness, and security.

In the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg High School students are launching rockets at twice the speed of sound (Mach 2). Systems Go, a high school aerospace program, has propelled Justin Junell into work as an analysis engineer at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center. During his senior year, Junell and classmates launched a 22-foot-tall Red Bird 12 rocket at the U.S. Army's White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

In San Antonio, Information Technology and Security Academy (ITSA) students have advanced to the Cyber Patriot national hacker defense competition in 2011. The Cyber Patriot program was designed by Greg White, Ph.D., at the University of Texas San Antonio to spur more interest in computer science and cyber security nationally.

In Florida, Orlando Tech students are building video games and using motion capture technology for occupational and physical therapy. Programs that bolster interest and competency in healthcare and life science are critical as baby boomers retire, the care base expands, and research and development accelerate.

In Glendale, California, Clark Magnet High School environmental science students dive a small remotely operated submarine as part of the Lexus Eco Challenge. In this initiative, students study pollution levels in the California spiny lobster. Led by teacher Dominque Evans-Bye, students published GIS analysis indicating that runoff from agriculture in Ventura County travels offshore with ocean currents to affect lobster populations in coastal waters.

In California, Los Altos Academy of Engineering students regularly show up to the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas green car challenge with a surprise for university and industry competitors. In 2007, the inventive high school students entered a fuel cell car averaging 1,038 mpg equivalent—other competitors showed up with solar cars.

In Dallas, Texas, Denton ISD Advanced Technology Center students drove their "Bat Mobile" to a National Electric Dragster Association world record in October 2010—not your traditional science class. These are examples of career and technical education (CTE) transforming rote learning into practice with high academic standards.

Our Personal Sputnik Moment—Perhaps more than any external threat such as that posed by the Soviets in 1957, today our personal Sputnik is our feeling of inadequacy in the face of technology. What we are missing in the 21st century is the view that technology is not the gadgets and the hardware and the software. It is not the atoms or the photons or the electrons pulsing through the Internet or our home appliances. Rather, the technology is us.

According to Dr. Kane, "Technology is human creativity and artistic expression... it is knowledge in action... knowledge with a purpose... it is the art in science and engineering." According to this view, "technology is the space between our minds and our hands." It is our imagination, our ability to tell stories, our drive to exist and make the world a better place. For Dr. Kane, "this space is where the speed of light generation operates."

Career and technical education and Career Pathways have a role to play in this creative transformation. CTE is an educational movement with a purpose. It is the high school workbench for the inventors, scientists, technicians, and artists who will transform our economy and our hopes as we reach for the stars and what is next in the human story. This is the new face of CTE. And, it is the hands and minds and dreams of the 21st century rocket boys and girls who are creating how the future works—today!
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Jim Brazell is a technology forecaster, public speaker, and strategist who focuses on innovation and transformation. He will deliver the keynote address at the opening general session of the 2011 NCPN conference in Orlando, Florida, October 12–14. For more information, contact Jim at http://www.jimbrazell.com.