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The fate of nations depends on science

By Team ISTE
June 25, 2016
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It’s not boastful for educators to skip the expected “I can change one student’s life” and go straight to “I can change history.” Futurist and theoretical physicist Michio Kaku will stand right next to you in that declaration, because bigger, better, bolder is what drives this popular physicist in everything he touches — including his ISTE 2016 opening keynote address.

His fascination with science started at age 8, when the adults around him discussed Albert Einstein’s death and what a shame it was that the icon didn’t finish his greatest work.

“Why couldn’t he finish his theory?” was his natural response. “I later found out [that his work] was the theory of everything, which would allow us to read the mind of God,” Kaku says.

Today, that’s Kaku’s job as he works on string theory.

But a stranger’s funeral wasn’t the only spark. Every Saturday morning, young Michio sat down to watch cartoons, glued to episodes of daring rescues with Flash Gordon and starships and ray guns and invisibility shields. “I was hooked,” he says.

Turns out, he was actually being entertained by the fundamental laws of physics. “If you understand physics, you understand what is possible, what is most likely and what is out of the question. So having a physics background has been essential to me being a scientist, and a futurist as well.”

Everyone is born a scientist, he says. Everyone ponders mysteries such as where we came from, why the stars are in the sky, what makes the sun shine. Science is a romantic subject, full of microscopes and telescopes … and then comes high school, when social pressures and hormonally induced identities kick in. The biggest STEM question becomes, how can educators steer students through the turbulence between ages 10 and 18?

Kaku’s answers are actionable and succinct:

  • Give students a role model to show that humans can tackle big thoughts.
  • Encourage an epiphany. That wow! moment could be triggered by a chemistry kit or a trip to the planetarium or the pages of an astronomy book. Always look for ways to show that the universe is huge and glorious.
  • Display a vivid imagination. Sci-fi isn’t limited to entertainment.
  • Change the curriculum. Science is not about theories worked out 300 years ago and recounted in textbooks. Focus on the guiding principles and then let students learn by doing.

This path led Kaku to pick up where his hero Einstein left off with string theory research. His latest book, The Future of the Mind, also delves into neuroscience. And he never lost the joy of those early years; many people recognize his smiling face from the TurboTax commercials.

“When educators teach young people, it’s about more than getting a great job someplace. Ultimately, the fate of nations depends on this,” he says. “Wealth comes from science: the steam locomotive, the light bulb, the motor, transistors, computers, lasers. The world is not getting less scientific.

“Educators have to take pride in this and say, ‘Yes, what I do can change history, not just the life of one student.’ ”

Thanks to Kaku, the world is getting much-welcomed blast of STEM enthusiasm.

Kaku will give the Opening keynote address at ISTE 2016 on Sunday, June 26. Before the keynote, ISTE CEO Brian Lewis and ISTE Board Chair Kecia Ray will talk with global collaboration consultant Julie Lindsay about her new work with the Connect with China Collaborative.

Large crowds are expected for Kaku’s keynote, so if you’d like to see his talk in person, arrive well before the start of the pre-keynote festivities at 5:45 p.m. If you’d rather watch from a more intimate setting, head over to the Four Seasons Ballroom to see a simulcast of Kaku’s speech. You won’t miss the chance to see him in person. After the speech he’ll join you there for a Q&A and book signing. And, as an added bonus, only those who watch from this room will get a behind-the-scenes look at the keynote production before the event.

If you just want to listen to the talk and don’t need to see Kaku in person, hang out in the PLN Lounge or Bloggers’ Cafe to watch the keynote on a large screen. You can meet your friends there or come alone and meet new people. Either way, the lounges offer a great relaxed community atmosphere.

Kaku is one of three keynote speakers at ISTE 2016. Learn more about each of them.