Keen on Math, Science
Imagine if a teenage Stephen Hawking could have sparred with Einstein over physics. For gifted teens in the United States and worldwide — perhaps including future Einsteins and Hawkings — it's now possible, through Cogito.org (www.cogito.org).
Cogito.org, developed by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth (www.cty.jhu.edu), offers a virtual home for the world's brightest students with strong interests and abilities in mathematics and science. The site offers free use to all visitors, who can access most of its resources and learn about everything from global warming to cold fusion.
Cogito's developers want the site to inspire its users to become the innovators, visionaries, and problem-solvers of the future. They also want Cogito.org to play a critical part in upgrading math, science, technology, and engineering education — known as the STEM subjects — for the estimated 1.5 million gifted middle and high school students in the United States and greater numbers worldwide.
These four areas are the subject of national efforts defined in President Bush's 2006 American Competitiveness Initiative. Improved education in STEM subjects is seen as critical to maintaining U.S. competitive advantage in science and technology.
The free, public-access section of Cogito.org is packed full of interviews with experts, profiles of young scientists, science news, Web resources and directories of summer programs, competitions and other academic opportunities.
Middle- and high-schoolers, for example, have interviewed a nanotechnologist, a scientist at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica, and a roboticist at Carnegie Mellon, to learn about research they would never hear about in science class.
The site also features a section that is open to membership by invitation. It is here that students can participate in online discussion forums with top math and science students worldwide — where U.S. students can share math problems with their Chinese, Russian or Thai counterparts, for example. Membership is expected to expand rapidly as programs serving gifted students in programs around the world nominate their students for membership.
Early site activity is promising, with students using Cogito.org as developers had hoped. "For some of us, it's the first time we've been in contact with so many other gifted math and science kids in our lives," says Willow Smith, a senior from Palm Bay, Fla. "It's the first time we've been in a community with people who can stand up to our arguments and then return ones of their own that are just as convincing."
Expert participation in discussions is also important Cogito.org's members, according to Andrew Peters, a 14- year-old 10th grader from Rochester, Minn. "I especially liked it when an expert was brought in to discuss the issue of planet status for Pluto," he said. "The chance to hear an expert's opinion on a current event is a rare and excellent opportunity."
To that end, a key goal and need, say CTY's Cogito.org developers, is to attract and retain adult scientists and mathematicians who can serve as discussion leaders and mentors. "Along with the benefits the site holds for young people, we think this is a wonderful opportunity for scientists and others to offer their knowledge to students," said Lea Ybarra, executive director of CTY.
The name Cogito.org, which was chosen with input from gifted students, was taken from the Latin translation of Descartes' famous maxim Cogito, ergo sum or "I think; therefore, I am." The site was developed by CTY in partnership with these other leading centers serving gifted students: the Talent Identification Program at Duke University, the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University, the Rocky Mountain Talent Search at the University of Denver, C-MITES at Carnegie Mellon University, the Belin-Blank Center at the University or Iowa, the Center for Excellence in Education, the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, and Science Service.
A $1.7 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation provided initial funding to develop and launch the site, and additional funds are being sought to sustain and expand it.
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