Facts, figures, theorems and laws: pre-collegiate education focuses all too often on the memorization of abstract information. From kindergarten through high school, students learn specific concepts—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, for instance—with only a promise of someday understanding their "whole game" applications (Perkins, 2009). In other words, traditional schooling often gives students the puzzle pieces without showing them how the finished picture should look. Unfortunately, many students lose interest or give up before the puzzle is complete.
The primary intellectual mission of higher education should develop in students the ability to think via the major disciplines, which Howard Gardner defines as "distinctive way[s] of thinking about the world and...distinctive way[s] of analyzing it". As science and technology are built upon questioning, testing, and analyzing the world around us, learning within these disciplines requires a hands-on educational approach—a simulated process through which students can experience science and math outside of their textbooks (Aldrich, 2004).
The premise of simulations is simple: to transform theoretical knowledge into practical understanding through personal participation in scientific and mathematical exploration. Started in 2010, the Anatolia College Science & Technology Annual Conference (ACSTAC) seeks to create a supportive environment, modeled on professional scientific conferences, in which students select topics of interest, examine them as professional researchers, and present their findings before an audience of peers and scholars.In addition to exciting curiosity in and understanding of the sciences, ACSTAC strives to promote collaboration, creativity, decision-making, and self-expression.
As ACSTAC is a simulated conference for high school students, the Scientific Committee neither expects nor demands professional-grade work, but instead encourages each participant to reach his or her personal and academic best. Students may repeat experiments of previous peers, teachers, or experts: the research is new to them, and their experiences will add new perspectives to established understanding. No student should feel pressured to strain far beyond his or her abilities; no student should be made to feel intimidated or ashamed of his or her achievements, however minor to the scientific community. After all, history has shown that, given proper support and encouragement, students can accomplish spectacular things.