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Obama requests funding to help math, science teacher preparation

President Obama launches a marshmallow from a cannon designed by 14-year-old Joey Hudy at the White House Science Fair Feb. 7.

President Barack Obama on Feb. 7 called for millions of dollars in new funding to improve math and science education, an effort he said would be crucial to the nation’s long-term success.

Obama said his upcoming budget proposal, set to be released next week, would include a request for $80 million from Congress for a new Education Department competition to support math and science teacher preparation programs. Obama made a similar request to Congress last year, but the measure didn’t pass.

Separately, he announced $22 million in new investments from the private sector to support math and science efforts. Among the organizations committing fresh funding are Google and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Obama said a renewed focus on math and science education should be an American imperative.

“The belief that we belong on the cutting edge of innovation, that’s an idea as old as America itself,” Obama said. “We’re a nation of thinkers, dreamers, believers in a better tomorrow.”

Obama has set a goal of preparing more than 100,000 math and science teachers and training a million additional science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates over the next decade.

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Seeking to highlight the benefits of math and science education, Obama hosted a White House science fair earlier on Feb. 7, featuring projects designed by more than 100 students from across the country. The projects included a robot that helps senior citizens connect with their families via Skype and a portable disaster relief shelter that could be used to house people who have been displaced from their homes.

“It’s not every day you have robots running all over your house,” Obama said of the science fair. “I’m trying to figure out how you got through the metal detectors.”

The president also mischievously helped fire an eighth-grader’s award winning high-speed marshmallow air cannon at the drapes of the White House’s elegant State Dining Room, noting: “The Secret Service is going to be mad at me about this.”

“Let’s try it out!” Obama declared, surprising aides and the handful of reporters who had gathered inside the State Dining Room for the tour. “OK, back up guys,” Obama ordered. “This is a little impromptu.”

Joey Hudy, a precocious 14-year-old from Phoenix who confidently explained his “Extreme Marshmallow Cannon” to the president, began compressing air into his cannon with a tire pump. “Need some help?” Obama asked. Hudy stepped aside and let the president prime the gun. With two hands, he gave a final push. “That good? All right, OK, here we go.”

Hudy explained the trigger mechanism before firing. With a loud air gun whoosh, the marshmallow projectile struck the far upper corner of the room.

“It came out pretty fast!” the president exclaimed. Then, as if to assure everyone, he added: “It was safe.”

Moments later, he complimented a high school junior on her soluble sugar pack invention. “Tell me when I can buy stock,” he told Hayley Hoverter, 16, a student at Downtown Business Magnet High School in Los Angeles.

Then he lingered over a rocket exhibit by three young Presidio, Texas, girls. Pointing to one lime green rocket painted with a blue bird and cherry blossoms, Obama said: “This is not like a tough looking rocket.”

For more news about STEM education, see:

$3 million gaming project could help spark STEM education

Inquiry-based approach to science a hit with students

Climate change skepticism seeps into classrooms

The girls, all English-as-a-second-language students, explained that the rockets must be able to reach a height of 800 feet with payload of two raw eggs, fall to earth with a parachute and leave the eggs intact.

Obama brightened, telling the girls that he knows something about egg drops because he helped his daughter Sasha with a science project.

“We practiced by dropping them from the Truman Balcony,” he said. “And we had a whole bunch of prototypes and she ended up winning. Cheerios in like a plastic bottle, and the egg survived.”

“So I’m hip to the whole egg thing.”

The president said the students participating in the science fair were an inspiration, and made him confident that the nation’s best days were yet to come.

“You’re getting America in shape to win the future,” Obama told the student participants.

(For more information about the White House Science Fair participants, click here.)

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