STEM: The Push to Improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education
April 2, 2008
STEM: The Push to Improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education
- Sean Cavanagh is an assistant editor of Education Week and a senior writer for Technology Counts 2008.
- Shirley M. Malcom is the head of education and human resources for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
- Charles Toulmin is a senior policy analyst at the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices.
Caroline Hendrie (Moderator):
Thanks for joining us for today’s chat on the push to improve education in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, which is the subject of Technology Counts 2008. Our guests are Sean Cavanagh, an assistant editor of Education Week and a senior writer for Technology Counts; Shirley M. Malcom, the head of education and human resources for the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and Charles Toulmin, a senior policy analyst at the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices. The questions have been pouring in, so let’s get started.
Question from Barbara Tharp, Assistant Professor, Center for Educational Outreach, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston:
Success begins early as does failure. As much as 50% of children enrolled in public education drop out before graduation. Children need exposure to meaningful STEM education concepts early in their lives. To be effective, applications should begin before formal education or at least with the onset. There are few, if any, materials addressing STEM applications for these teachers and students. How can we address the early learner and keep them interested?
Shirley M. Malcom:
Actually there are a number of things targeted at younger children both in-school and out of school. High quality hands-on science programs have been supported by the NSF for decades. The challenge is that teachers need content knowledge, content specific teaching strategies and commitment of time and resources to support use of these materials. On the informal side libraries, museums and other “places of science” offer resources to parents/caregivers and community people involved in youth-serving groups to provide meaningful experiences in science. NSF has supported projects focused on pre-school science.... The young adults and adults around young children must be enabled to see the opportunities presented in everyday experiences to find the science in their lives. One project that we at AAAS undertook involved working with Delta Reserach and Education Foundation and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority to provide materials and training for members (college educated women) to offer programs in their communities... See http://www.deltasee.org/communities/kids_corner.htm for a bunch of online resources for out of school.....
Question from cathy boyd, teacher, ecs:
It seems we go in cycles with what to emphasize in teaching. Reading and math have been pushed to the forefront most recently, with science taking a back seat. Fellow teachers and I lamented this because we felt it was taking away from science instruction. Now that schools have purchased new math and reading books, the cycle returns to the deficit in science. I think the book companies have something to do with this. Could this be?
There’s been a lot written in Ed Week over the years about how the testing and standards movement has created new profits, as well as competition, for publishing and testing companies. (As one example, I’d refer you to a nice story on NCLB’s impact on market, written by my colleague Lynn Olson, Dec. 1, 2004.) http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2004/12/01/14tests.h24.html I can’t address your theory specifically, but I tend to think that the current push to give science a stronger place in the curriculum in the NCLB era comes from a more obvious source: The concern among science educators, scientists, and science advocates who believe that their subject is being pushed out of the curriculum, particularly at early grades. Some business organizations have also taken up this cause. I would also note, however, that when it comes to the idea of making science a mandatory part of the AYP/testing mix under NCLB, on par with reading and math, there’s also opposition from state testing officials and others, who feel overburdened by mandatory high-stakes tests already.
Question from Bob Tinker, President, the Concord Consortium:
Innovations in curriculum, software, and professional development are needed to realize the promise of technology in STEM education. What policy changes are needed to support the needed innovations?
States have several policy levers to support innovations in these areas. States can partner with the private sector (e.g. Minnesota and PTC on engineering software and Alabama with private support for the state’s Math, Science, and Technology Initiative). States can also support programs such as Project Lead the Way statewide. States can also imbed technology standards for student learning across core content areas and include quality standards for the use of technology into teacher certification and professional development requirements.
Question from Lesley K. Smith, Ph.D., Outreach Scientist, University of Colorado:
In a recent editorial by Science Editor-in-Chief, Bruce Alberts describes the need for students to develop “scientific habits of mind”, which encompass thinking cirtically and the use of logic and evidence (scientific inquiry). How can we expect our teachers to model scientific habit of mind, if they have not experienced this themselves. How can we change our pre-service programs to provide this experience? Do scientists need to be more involved in teacher education programs?
Shirley M. Malcom:
Interesting question.... I agree entirely with Bruce Alberts. And with your own observations that it is hard for teachers to provide what they have not experienced... We at AAAS involved some of the teachers with whom we are working in summer research with science and engineering faculty. Many agencies have support available for such programs. The punchline, however, is that by itself this still does solve the problem you identified. So we added a weekly session with the teachers so that they could share and reflect on their experiences and on how it made them think differently about the way they teach the topics that were related to the research... Obviously this was aimed at veteran teachers... So the other part of your question is, how to ensure that this happens in pre-service. Scientists are already involved in the education of teachers in that they teach the science content courses that teachers-to-be will take. What is the structure and nature of these courses? What image of science is portrayed in them... that science is about “answers” (witness the thick books) or about “questions” and finding out? We must look at ourselves (as the science community) as part of the problem and therefore we must be part of the solution.
Question from Rich Nolt, Technology Education teacher, Manheim Township HS, Lancaster, PA:
It seems to me the emphasis on STEM is driven by the fact that US students are in many cases being outperformed by students from other countries in areas of innovation, design, and engineering. Thomas Friedman makes this case in his book “The World is Flat”. We’ve always taught science, math, and technology (in some form or fashion). Engineering education was typically thought to be the next stepping stone following a successful college prep course of study at the high school level. In what ways can STEM provide motivation and drive for students who engage in a STEM based program such as Project Lead the Way?
There is a camp (perhaps a growing one) whose members regard engineering and design as not only as important skills for students at various grades, but as topics that could engage students who are turned off by math and science -- at least as it is presented now. In Tech Counts, for instance, we discuss a working group of education and business officials, known as the “SEEK-16,” that is promoting and trying to standardize K-12 engineering studies. Also, we look at the issue of student engagement more generally in a separate story. See below: Where’s the ‘T’ in STEM?
Question from Diane Neuman:
Our child is currently graduating from High School and her Associates this spring at age 15. She has attended schools both in the Houston Suburbs and Seattle Suburbs. We noticed much higher technical and science expectations in TX(she received her certificate in Microsoft Office in 9th grade in TX-standard enrollment)vs WA. My question is; Which States have the best mandates,qualifications, and financial resources when it comes to Technical and Science education?
Congratulations on your child’s achievements! Regarding the first part of your question, on Technical Education, I would refer you to Technology Counts 2008’s Grading the States chart and the indicators used to judge the states. On the subject of science, it is more difficult to judge as there is a lot of movement in state policy on science education. A number of states are increasing their science requirements for graduation, some states like Rhode Island are experimenting with the order of science courses through a Physics First in high school approach, and some states like California, Virginia, Massachusetts and a few others have been judged by groups like the Fordham Institute to have high quality science standards K-12. Finally, I would refer you to the states at the top of the list on the NAEP science assessment at the 4th and 8th grade levels and the states making the most progress on that assessment.
Question from Kurt Burkum, Senior Research Associate, ACT:
Can you please comment on the contrarian reserch conducted by the RAND Corporation indicating there is little (compelling) evidence to support notions of an impending STEM labor shortage (at least as measured by lack of upward wage pressure for STEM professionals and lack of low-unemployment/underemployemnt rates for STEM gradautes/professionals)?
Shirley M. Malcom:
I think you are talking about the study by Lowell and Salzman. If not send me a note back.... We’ll never have a shortage.... When we do we stick people in the job and eventually they become “whatever.” I guess the question then revolves around the quality of the work that will be done. If you are talking about the aforementioned report... go to page 2 and read the caveat. The comments do not hold for minority populations that are underparticipating in science and engineering. Now look at the demographics of the country (or at the demographics of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, etc..) The population growth is among those groups who are underparticipating... Women are around 55% of those in higher education but less than 1/5 of those in engineering. Another assumption is that “one engineer=one engineering job. There are many opportunities for STEM grads outside of STEM fields. One just got elected to Congress; some are in non-profits, like me; some become government officials or international development experts; some become generals (like Colin Powell)... None represnet a loss to the country. Interestingly, in China engineers and scientists (rather than lawyers)are heavily represented among political officials!
Question from Ron Tarr, Senior Researcher, Univ of Central FL:
We have done work on making learning more relevant in our projects by using more case studies and application by the students, though project based learning. The challenge seems to be how to get teachers more engaged in this different approach. What can be done to better integrate more applications and cross discipline curriculum into STEM? From my observation these subjects are still taught in very traditional ways and todays kids are very hands on not passive learners.
While “hands-on” learning has long been an emphasis in science, there are organizations and individual teachers attempting to apply these skills more broadly across the curriculum. You raise a good point about the challenges of getting more teachers involved in this approach. I suspect that many teachers would feel more comfortable trying this if they’re given clear models (by curriculum developers, their states, private organizations) of projects that can be relatively seemlessly integrated into their courses and schedules -- and which also help them meet state standards in math and science. Not always an easy feat. But there are organizations interested in promoting project-based learning in a more systematic way. See my response to another question.
Question from Donna Kay Wetzbarger, teacher, Skyline High, Longmont, Co.:
Where can schools find funding to pay for start up classes when converting to a STEM curriculum? Is there a basic curriculum established for “STEM High Schools”? Are there common organizations for Stem high schools to unite and produce standards?
Individual schools can turn to their own school district, or potentially look to foundations for support. A number of states, including Ohio and Minnesota with support from an NGA grant, are creating specialty STEM schools and offering professisonal development and curriculum support. There is not a one size fits all curriculum for STEM High Schools, as one purpose of these schools is to experiment with new models of integrating science, technology, engineering, and math teaching and learning across the domains and with other content areas. The National Consortium of Specialized Secondary Schools of Math, Science, and Technology maintains a network of specialized STEM schools around the country that share successful curricula and professional development programs, and the National Academies Foundation is supporting a number of new STEM-focused schools.
Question from Dr. Barbara Pellegrini, Project Evaluator for Northwestern University:
In a recent panel discussion on the economy,Secretary of the Treasury, Paulson remarked that America is producing more engineers than it needs. The problem he said was that"half of the graduates are foreign nationals who leave the country and take our technological advances with them back home.” My question is: Should the US stem the flow of foreign students as a way to open up more opportunities for American students to fill science and engineering slots?
Shirley M. Malcom:
I do not believe that the problem is too many foreign students, but rather too few American students. I like the idea that in a global economy and globally engaged world lots of people will know who we are as Americans and will have links and networks with us. I do not like that the ability to recruit from elsewhere makes us complacent about recruiting and supporting our own. We need to do both of these things!
Question from Liz Willen, assistant director, Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media:
What is the biggest obstacle to improving math and science education in the U.S.?
Whoo boy -- is this supposed to be an easy one, Liz? There are obviously many schools of thought on this question. There are lot of people who would say the primary shortcoming of U.S. schools in this area lies in issues of weak content -- which some see as poorly organized across grade levels, inconsistent across districts and states, failing to focus on big central ideas and skills in both math and science. Organizations like the Fordham Foundation, as an example, have hammered away on this topic, in their criticial reviews of state math and science standards over the years. You also see major organizations attempting to focus on bringing more “coherence” to these subjects, such as the National Council of Teacher of Mathematics, in the publication of it’s “Focal Points” document for elementary and middle school math. But you also hear many federal and state officials today pointing to the lack of student interest and engagement in math and science as major problem. I would note these observers are not just talking about motivation in some vague or abstract sense, but as something that is connected fairly directly to student achievement. This idea was conveyed, for instance, in the recent report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. The panel was criticized by some who said its members used too high a research standard and unwisely discounted strategies in math that didn’t meet those standards. But the panel also stated pretty clearly the conclusion that student beliefs and confidence matter greatly in math; that moving from “a focus on ability to a focus on effort” improves not only student engagement, but also student outcomes. The public resignation about math hurts students, the panel concluded, and encouragement, or lack of it, from teachers and parents matters. I hear this connection between motivation and achievement being touched on by researchers and policymakers more and more.
Question from Alice Squires, PhD Candidate, Stevens Institute of Technology:
From what I have seen, standards and assessments in the U.S. are defined to measure the ability of students to learn and memorize content. Success in STEM; however, requires the ability to effectively apply content to solving problems. What is being done to set standards for critical thinking, reasoning skills and the assessment thereof? With the point being we forget most of the content we learn, but critical thinking and reasoning skills will serve us well throughout our life. Also, the best time to influence thinking patterns is when these patterns are being established - early in life up through adolescence.
Sccess in postsecondary education and many new occupations beyond high level science and engineering disciplines will require this ability to effectively apply content to solving problems. There are several efforts underway to support states in setting rigorous and relevant standards for critical thinking and reasoning skills. Several state-based national organizations, including NGA, Achieve, and the Chief State School Officers, are developing work to inform state policy makers about international assessments such as the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) that measure, for example, mathematics literacy and problem-solving and encourage state participation in some of these international asssessments that would include benchmarking to international standards. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is also a resource for information on standards and assessments measuring these skills. Most states have early learning standards for children ages 3-5 and many are working on standards for ages 0-3; if you want to know more about these efforts, I can connect you offline to my colleagues at NGA working on early childhood education.
Question from Liz Pemberton, parent of a student in a STEM high school program and assistant professor of education, University of Delaware:
I worry about the attempt to merely speed students through advanced high school math and science courses in 3 years as opposed to 4 years. Does graduating a year earlier than average or beginning college level science and math courses in high school really prepare our youth for fields in math and science? Isn’t it more important to integrate the sciences, math and technology and challenge our high school students to problem solve in creative and original ways? I’m concerned about the way STEM is being implemented in some high schools.
Shirley M. Malcom:
I must say that I am a bit biased on this point.... I don’t know that “time served” is a good measure of what knowledge students have when they leave. I believe that the purpose of K-12(or equivalent) education is to provide a foundation for lifelong learning, either in formal or informal settings. Which is prefereable: 3 or 4 years of “fact-packed” STEM experiences? I agree that we need to do less “siloing” of fields in high school; we need to provide a background around engineering and technology (given the roles of these fields in our lives).... We need to explore more models for high school and see how they promote student learning and understanding... But as long as colleges and universities set rigid views of the science they will accept as “counting”, and States and localities prescribe the number and type of courses that will count toward graduation we are stuck. AP courses have become “proxies” for rigor given the failure of the regular system to put in place real, world class standards. By the way, my daughter finished a regular public high school in 3 years; has degrees from MIT and Caltech and is completing her PhD from USC next month.... It depends on the child... and on whether they are just taking and passing the courses or working to learn.
Question from Beth Lafferty, Math Coordinator & 8th grade teacher at Northeast Middle School:
How can middle schools improve the the curriculum to meet the needs of all students in heterogenous classes with minimum technology access? The focus seems to be on NCLB and improving test scores, when do we have time to get to the computer lab?
Beth, I passed on your question to my colleague Andrew Trotter, who is our resident expert on school technology issues. Here’s his response: It is very difficult to improve in STEM subjects without resources -- in your case, of technology and time. One pertinent question is how your middle schools are focusing on NCLB -- required testing in math and reading/writing: Is it by lecture, drill, and practice testing? But some teachers are finding ways to have students work on those same skills -- at least some of the time -- by projects that combine research, real-world problem solving, and presentation of findings -- say, in simple posters if not computer-based formats. Schools are also recruiting partners from local businesses, foundations, universities, research organizations that can provide opportunities and real-world relevance. Student competitions are also worth exploring. Education leaders must be innovative.
Question from Jeffrey Bohl, Principal, Capital Area Career Center, Ingham ISD, MI:
How do these efforts overlap or interact with career and technical education? Are there ways that this work looks different in a CTE course/organization than in a traditional HS?
States and districts are developing strategies on how to link STEM education redesign to career and technical education (CTE) (e.g. infusing academic content into existing CTE courses by CTE teachers, use of CTE applications to illustrate concepts and principles within academic courses), as an opportunity to ensure rigor and relevance in both areas. NGA believes that students can achieve STEM literacy through CTE coursework that is appropriately designed. NGA is supporting work in the states to develop new models of CTE that prepare students for high-wage, high-skill jobs, and has developed an issue brief on the subject. In addition, NGA is supporting work in Virginia to develop exemplary CTE standards at the state level and create Governor’s CTE Academies that integrate STEM and CTE, to help meet the state’s demand for mid-level technicians in their growth industries. One of those CTE Academies is the Arlington Career Center in Arlington, VA.
Question from David Thornburg, Executive Director, Thornburg Center for Space Exploration:
How do we transform education in STEM areas towards a more inquiry-driven project-based learning approach?
Shirley M. Malcom:
We must educate teachers to teach in this way by teaching them this way, with a strong focus on content. To the extent that higher education does its job well (providing inquiry driven science courses for teachers, preparing them to use technology in instruction,introducing them to engineering concepts, etc.) half the battle is won. The other half of the battle is to provide the “permission,” resources, time, etc. to do so.... We have the ability as citizens to demand that our children have the tools that they need to live and work in the 21st Century. We must draw political, civic and business leaders into partnership to make this happen.. There is nothing like the “real world” to help us see that we are not educating students to live there!
Question from Jeff Weld, associate professor in the department of biology at the University of Northern Iowa:
I have a fifty year-old issue of Life magazine here on my desk with the cover story “Crisis in Education” (March 31, 1958). Sputnik was a year old and the author bemoaned the under-production of quality math and science teachers in the US. We all know the flurry of initiatives and resource infusion that followed--making a real difference for a time, but largely extinguished by now. How can we make lasting change in science and math education such that people aren’t bemoaning our flash-in-the-pan efforts, in the year 20058?
Great question. And it’s interesting how many of the same worries we hear today carry echoes of previous eras (Spuntnik comes to mind, as does “A Nation at Risk” the report published in 1983). I suppose some people would quarrel with you about the impact of the Sputnik era initiatives, in math and science curriculum development and other areas. I obviously don’t have a clear answer on this, but I would make the point that many of the concerns about the quality of U.S. math/science education today center on worries about the economy, and the global economy in particular. Increasingly, U.S. policymakers are trying to set education policies based on their judgements about what the international economy will demand. And many of them seem to believe that the success of math/science/technology programs and initiatives today will hinge on how will attuned they are to these global demands.
Question from John Stallcup Co Founder APREMAT/USA:
The vast majority of countries that out perform the US have a focused effort to achieve competence in what are commonly referred to as “math facts” in the early grades. The US has no focus on early elementary math in any way shape or form. As you know there is a National Institute for Literacy and a “Reading First” Initiative but not National Institute for Numeracy or a “Math Facts First” initiative. Do you believe the education establishment is correct in ignoring early elementary math or do we need to benchmark the best practices of those nations who out perform our students in Math? Or do you beleive our students are well served allowing “Random” curricula in early elementary math?
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Math Focal Points is a good resource of focused guidance for teachers of elementary level math. In addition, the recent federal Math Panel focused on the challenge at the K-8 level of ensuring all students can achieve success in Algebra at the middle and high school level, as a key indicator of college going and completion. The best practices of other nations in teaching math at all levels based on ensuring students have foundation facts and concepts before moving on to higher level work, will be a part of NGA’s work on international benchmarking that I described earlier. Finally, NGA is developing work on best state policy practices to support improved STEM education, including math, at the early grade levels, which has not received as much attention from state policymakers.
Question from Gabriel Della-Piana, consultant on educational program design, development, and evaluation:
Some federal programs have been around for a number of years and have significant evidence of successful outcomes. One example is the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program. An interview with the director of one ATE program in biotechnology ten years after initial funding in 2007 revealed convincing reports of effects on institutional infrastructure (e.g., industry and college supporting lab construction and a science building), high demand for their students in university and industry labs, and publication of cases in industry practice in biotechnology (developed collaboratively with industry). Before key people have moved on, would it be worth a major funding initiative to study the most successful of such programs and projects?
Shirley M. Malcom:
Absolutely! I know that NSF requires evaluation for all of their programs, but being able to see what has been successful (and the data that supports that) would go a long way toward helping us focus on robust models. At least it could prevent “re-inventing the flat tire.” Many of the committees and commissions that are (and have been)out there looking at STEM reform have urged this. But this is just a first step. then comes real dissemination of findings and technical assistance in implementation. Our failures to transform have not been a failure of ideas but a failure of implementation....
Question from Joanne Lindner, math teacher and team leader, Branchburg Central Middle School, Branchburg Township NJ:
We know students need a mastery of working with fractions in the middle school to assist them in their study of algebra. Do you feel that Elementary education math teachers need to be specialists and should their teaching of fractions begin when teaching division?
I’m probably not the best one to answer the second part of your question on fractions/division. But the use of elementary math specialists has been debated pretty extensively in this country. The upside, of course, is that you would have skilled math teachers presenting math to all students, rather than having generalist-teachers doing it. Some of the most commonly cited hurdles to using specialists are cost (assuming you’re adding staff members and not just shuffling them around) and staffing (high-quality math teachers are already in short supply). In a story I wrote this week, one person I interviewed also mentioned that some people object to specialists on the grounds that elementary schools create a more “nurturing” environment when students are exposed to fewer teachers. (My source did not buy this argument.) A working group report of the National Math Panel notes that only a handful of foreign countries use elementary specialists today, and that they’re not widely used in high-performing nations. But the panel also called for more research on this topic, given that they’re a potentially practical alternative to raising the content know-how of all elementary teachers, a problem “of huge scale.”
Question from Sam Smith University High School, Urbana:
What are some best practice procedures, principles and settings for large universities in supporting outreach and recruitment in the stem fields for K-12, who does the best work in the country?
If your focus is on K-12 math teachers, the U-Teach model, based at the University of Texas-Austin, has received a lot of favorable attention for its success in recruiting students with strong math and science backgrounds into its preparation program for K-12 teachers in those content areas. U-Teach and other programs offer a collaborative teaching approach across the colleges of education and natural resources and math department, that produces graduates who stay in teaching at higher rates. The National Math and Science Initiative has made 13 grants to universities around the country to replicate the U-Teach model. I can’t comment on work individual universities are doing to reach out to K-12 schools for prospective STEM majors.
Question from Dr. Barbara Pellegrini, Science program evaluator, Northwestern University:
Secondary teachers wanting to advance their knowledge of science (not science education), have very limited opportunities during the school year to take advanced coursework. At this time, science coursework at the college or graduate level is offered almost always during daytime hours during the school year . Night time or week-end courses are not scheduled by most colleges and universities(probably because of the time required for lab work). Summer workshops are often watered down. So what can be done to encourage colleges and universities to schedule courses in the science displines at times when science teachers can attend and be assured of maximum instruction?
Shirley M. Malcom:
Wonderful question. AAAS has a wonderful partnership with George Washington University College of Professional Studies. We are able (because of grant support through the State (DC) MSP) to fill a content class, thus making it easier for the university to invest in this. Perhaps conversations between school systems and universities can help bridge the gap... and it doesn’t hurt to have an enlightened adminstrator who is also a physicist and deeply concerned about capacity building for STEM teachers...
Question from Ed Uecker, Program Coordinator, Engineering & Aerospace sciences Academy, McMinnville, OR:
A key component in the disappearance of CTE Programs and tradional “shop” programs has been the high cost per student, driven mostly by equi-ment purchase and replacement costs. Given that most states DO NOT provide extra money to support that additional infrastructure cost, how will the new “push” address sustainability? And how do we keep HS programs from falling right back into the old “shop class not real eduation” mentailty. Is indistry ready to undertake their responsibility for prividing that infrastructure since the need for it is created by their demands for educated and skilled workers?
Ed, Having covered some career-and-technical education (“CTE” for the unindoctrinated) issues in the past, I’m familiar with some of concerns you raise about the high cost of programs, particularly those that are trying to keep pace with most up-to-date equipment being used in the workplace. You raise an intriguing question about how much industry will contribute to local CTE programs, particularly given the business community’s interest in promoting “STEM” issues these days. Regarding the issue of the “shop-class” mentality, there are some interesting approaches to bringing a stronger academic focus to CTE programs. One such approach I’ve written about tries to present more “naturally occuring” math in CTE classes -- auto, health, and so on. It was developed by Jim Stone and researchers at the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. (I also mention this program is one of the Tech Counts stories) Here’s a story I wrote on the center’s math-in-CTE approach a while ago: Teachers Helped to Mine Vocational Classes for Math For an interesting look a businesses -- in this case, high-tech manufacturers -- working directly with school systems, you might look at this more recent story by Ed Week’s Scott Cech. Made in America
Question from email@example.com:
Based on the findings so far, what are the most important recommendations that you could make at policy level for improving student achievement/ STEM fields? Thanks
Thanks for the question. Based on NGA’s work with states on K-16 STEM thus far, I would offer a few important state policy recommendations. First, it is critical that states align their K-12 standards and assessments in STEM with postsecondary and workforce expectations for what high school graduates know and can do. I’ve mentioned our developing work on international benchmarking, and would add how important it is that expectations, standards, and assessments be aligned between elementary, middle, and high school levels as well. Second, the importance of robust K-16 data systems to track the STEM preparation of students and new models of ensuring the high quality of every STEM teacher is important. Third, states need to include the “T” and “E” in state standards and assessments, and support districts in delivering quality programming in technology and engineering. Fourth, states should support bringing high-quality STEM curricula that is integrated to scale across the state. Finally, the importance of an effective communication strategy to sell the public and policymakers on the importance of STEM for all students cannot be underestimated.
Question from Elnore Grow, retired chemistry teacher:
If we are not graduating enough scientists, why is the pay in science 1/2 of that in business? My son received PhD in Physics from Stanford 3 years ago and business consulting offered him twice the salary.
Shirley M. Malcom:
Sometimes I believe that we think people who are receiving the “psychic rewards” of being able to do what they love can be underpaid..... witness the same phenomenon with teachers, ministers, those in the performing arts,etc. In business the value can be measured in dollars and thus the salary differential... I could likely make more money using my skills elsewhere. Staying where I am and making less than on the open market is a choice.... for a different style of life and different purpose.... your son is still a scientist though using his skills somewhere else. If you mean salaries in higher education.... there are still opportunities for those in universities to make money through other related activities (writing textbooks, inventions, consulting, etc.) In that case, salary is the beginning point not the end point. See other comments in earlier question re: enough, too many scientists...
Question from Sue Chambers, Federal Programs Facilitator, Churchill County School District:
Do student benefit from having integrated technology with academic approaches versus having technical classes? Does the integration increase/improve the higher order thinking skills that accompany math, science and engineering?
Teachers often say that technology can provide alternative ways of presenting academic concepts and skills for students for whom traditional approaches are not working. Technical classes have their own value in cultivating 21st Century skills, including computer and web proficiency, that will be useful in the workplace and higher education. For an example of a school focused on integrating the more direct presentation of science, math, and technology content with the “application” side of those skills, see Andrew Trotter’s story about the public Baltimore Polytechnic Institute: A School Where STEM is King
Question from Frank J. Hagen, Adjunct Professor - Wilmington University, Principal - Retired:
Given the critical shortage of “highly qualified” teachers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics coupled with the difficulty of attracting teachers to small rural school districts, what are viable options for a school’s principal to positively impact students’ proficiency in STEM fields?
One viable option is to access high quality virtual learning for students. The Florida Virtual School serves students all over the country. States and districts can support this access for schools through funding for appropriate technology and access fees.
Question from Dr. Michael C. Young, Director of Elementary Education, Conestoga Valley School District, Lancaster, PA:
What suggestions do you have regarding how to foster interests in the STEM fields in early elementary grades. I believe if we wait until Middle School to develop interests and skills in students we may have missed many potential scientists and mathematicians. Thank you.
Shirley M. Malcom:
We need to teach hands-on, inquiry based science in the early grades... There are many NSF supported curricula that give you a place to start.... But make sure the content is there...not just the hands-on... Making sure that teachers get the solid professional development to use the materials and getting, perhaps science or engineering college students or professionals to come in and work with the teachers (make sure you train them first!)as they implement may help lower the anxiety of doing this.... Look for opportunities to use high quality trade books focused on science for this group.. Look at the journal SB&F that we publish here at AAAS to find children’s books (age appropriate) that have reviewed well for accuracy, equity, etc.... With so much focus on reading don’t lose the opportunity to push science! See also an after school resource that we have developed specifically aimed at elementary level students (Kinetic City) See the article in Ed Week and go to http://www.kcmtv.com
Question from T.K. Subramanian, Retired Nuclear Professional:
Math Clubs in High schools are too few and need to be expanded. Parents, students and Teachers could and should support such a mission. Any comments?
There are a lot of people who believe that math clubs can have a real benefit. I tend to hear them discussed at the high school level in connection with high-achieving, highly motivated students who want to take part in independent projects under the direction of scientists, (perhaps like you). On the other end of the spectrum, math clubs, parents’ and family math nights and other activities are common in a lot of elementary schools. At earlier grades, I think the appeal to schools is that its another opporunity to get students to spend time on math outside of class -- and, perhaps most importantly, to get their parents involved. In some cases, you also give parents a better understanding of math their students are getting in class, and a stronger investment in having their sons or daughters master it.
Question from William Bertrand, Technology Education Advisor, Pennsylvania Department of Education:
Where are some model programs of STEM education?
At the school level, NGA has highlighted in our work the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora, and Hi-Tech High in San Diego as a few examples of schools effectively teaching students STEM in an integrated and innovative way. At the state level, a number of the Early College High Schools being developed by the New Schools Project in North Carolina have a focus on STEM and Texas is creating 35 specialized STEM academies. NGA is supporting Ohio, Minnesota, Indiana, and Hawaii among others in their work to develop new models of STEM.
Question from Steve Krak, Senior Research Scientist, Battelle:
What are some successful examples of campaigns to help the general public realize STEM goes beyond more science & math and that it serves to integrate many disciplines?
Shirley M. Malcom:
Frankly, I wish I knew..... Perhaps we need to try and think of campaigns beyond STEM that have been effective in raising the awareness of the general public around similar issues... but then we’d still need the money and people to make it go! Recent reports from the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago (The State of Science) and from Public Agenda suggest that people have a general sense of problems in STEM education.... for them it doesn’t become personal enough to alter the way they see the situation for themselves or their families. Add the officials, college admissions personnel, etc., who need to be convinced of the wider position of STEM... Stir in the teachers who wouldn’t know where to begin to teach this way, or the scientists and engineers who can’t easily interact beyond their own fields and we begin to see the size of the transformation this would require, even beyond convincing people that it is needed!
Question from Dr. JAn HAmmond:
When comparing math curriculums in the countries that score the best internationally, what strategies can U.S. adopt to ensure that our high middle and top students are more competitive?
This question has received a lot of play in recent years, particularly as the attention paid to international tests (PISA, TIMMS and the like) has risen. Generally I see a lot of organizations, and in some cases, states and individual districts, taking pieces of what they regard as the best practices of other countries in math, such as those in Japan, and especially it seems, Singapore. The National Math Panel, for instance, studies grade 1-8 curricula of Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Flemish Belgium, the Czech Republic). Interestingly, I haven’t seen as much attention being paid by policymakers to how foreign countries teach science, despite the general discontent over U.S. performance in international tests in that area.
Question from Joseph Buckley Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Liaison Worcester Public Schools Worcester MA:
If majority of parents strongly believe that we do not need any more science and mathematics because there is no need.How do we develop interest among students?
Thanks for the important question. Programs like Project Lead the Way are having success in engaging students in engineering through hands-on activities that appeal to their natural curiousity and problem-solving interest. Programs like Science It’s Elementary are engaging students in interesting applied content at earlier levels. States are doing more to show students their many interesting futures in work and life with strong skills in STEM. Special efforts need to be made to engage student groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in STEM.
Question from Linda Fenner, Consultant, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow:
Many introductory high school science classes focus on teaching the content contained in very thick textbooks. Is there any way to shape even introductory science courses courses much more around the ideas and problems that STEM professionals are working on currently and to do this without losing the impression of “rigor” that the big textbook conveys to parents and other stakeholders concerned with rigor and accountability?
Shirley M. Malcom:
You are right... Textbooks convey the impression of rigor. But for many of us they represent a “failure to choose” the most important ideas and concepts.... In most cases they also represent “compromise documents” emanating from the various state text adoption systems... Many things beyond textbooks and stakeholder concerns would need to be adjusted. Some of the professional societies have developed alternative that do try to connect science to societal issues... see the American Chemical Society’s “Chemistry in the Community.” Here at AAAS we are developing resources to help guide high school teachers in using SCIENCE Magazine in their teaching, picking up the most current science and showing how it might be connected to topics/concepts in the textbooks... In addition as a part of ScienceNetLinks (the science component of Thinkfinity produced by AAAS) we find and review web resources, often developed by the research teams in universities....So it may be possible to get video, audio, added content, data sets, etc. all courtesy of researchers interested in extending the value of their work!
Question from Vesna Lerotic, San Francisco, CA parent:
Wouldn’t this issue be effectively addressed by having a uniform/national math/science core curriculum developed and implemented in all schools throughout the country - in addition to, obviously, having teachers with the adequate training to implement such curriculum?
The issue of national standards/curriculum, a source of debate for years in this country, seems to have emerged in force over the last year, partly in the context of discussions over NCLB reauthorization. Various studies have underscored the wide disparities in current state standards in math, science, and other subjects, which has fueled this debate. As you probably know, the general argument in favor of national standards would bring more uniformity to curriculum, teaching, textbook publishing, and so on. But there’s been pretty staunch resistance among federal lawmakers and others. Some critics have argued that national standards might, in fact, lower the academic bar in some high-performing states. I suppose a question for this chat is whether the STEM emphasis today, and the seemingly unceasing tide of mediocre U.S. scores on international tests, will lend momentum to the national standards movement.
Question from Leonard Klein, Chemistry teacher, Shenandaoh Valley Governor’s School:
What is the best use of lab in in secondary science teaching?
Shirley M. Malcom:
For a much more complete answer than I could ever offer, see the NRC’s publication, America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science...
Question from Ava Philippus, Parent, Aurora Public Schools:
Why not allow teachers to specialize in teaching math and the sciences OR liberal arts, at all grade levels, including elementary? That way, they could teach to their interests and abilities, and the students would benefit.
Thanks for the interesting idea. States typically certify teachers in a particular content area beginning with certain grade levels (e.g. grades 7-8 math, grades 9-12 science or physics) but do not do at the elementary levels. We are exploring how elementary level teachers in other nations focus on particular content (e.g. math and science) in teaching blocks, and what the results of that approach have been. The NGA has recommended that states approach policy regarding science, technology, engineering, and math in a more integrated way, which has important implications for teacher certification.
Question from William Bertrand, Technology Education Advisor, Pennsylvania Department of Education:
There are many definitions of STEM out there, can you offer a definition of exactly what STEM Education is to be?
Shirley M. Malcom:
This is a toughie..... This may be one of those places where “we know it when we see it.” For me it includes “question driven” instruction..... what are the underlying concepts that relate; what evidence do I need to gather and how; how do I make sense of it.... what supports analysis... what inferences do I draw and what options are open to address it..... what designs do I pursue.... how to ensure they are technically sound, societally acceptable and affordable.... representative of the knowledge, research, design and value chain from end to end... In English.. we take what we know, try to figure out what we don’t know and build on these to produce what we need. That suggests what STEM education might look like. And it is possible to “get there” from almost any question.... including real ones that are locally derived.
Question from Laliana Dromel, AP Student, Flowery Branch, GA:
I am an Asian/Latina girl, 17 years old. I have advocated for many of my friends to take AP courses with me at my high school. My parents (who are the only ones in their respective families to complete any level of college) have supported me in taking these advanced courses, even though my friends and I don’t consider ourselves the best students, but we want a chance to learn as much as we can, and yes, some of my friends don’t think they can go to college, but I think they can. What role do you see Advanced Placement (AP) courses, such as, AP Calculus and AP Computer Science, in assiting to recruit a more diverse population, including girls, into STEM studies?
Laliana, I’m not sure I could speak to the potential of the AP courses, themselves, to serve as recruitment tools for drawing students into STEM studies. But I’m guessing that many advocates of STEM would applaud your efforts to encourage more of your friends to take AP. Of course, they’d also want your friends to take the sort of math and science, such as algebra 1 and 2, necessary to prepare for those AP classes. Often the relatively low minority participation in AP is cited as key piece of information when researchers talk about the difficulty the U.S. faces in building a more diverse STEM workforce. An Ed Week report from a few weeks ago showed scores on AP tests, including those of some minority groups, falling. It also showed that gaps in scores between minorities and minorities increased. But observers attributed some of those trends to more students, including those with weaker academic backgrounds, participating in those tests. And many of those same observers see that increased participation in AP as a good thing.
Question from Michelle Kutch, Science Specialist, Brandywine School District:
Many different educational companies and commercial curriculum claim they use a STEM approach, but when their material is reviewed it looks like inquiry science to me. Does an actual STEM education framework or definition exist or are we to just create our own interpretation of it such as using a problem based approach to integrating science, technology, engineering and math?
Shirley M. Malcom:
I’m not really sure you are going to be satisfied just pulling something off of the shelf...Part of the value is likely to be in engaging the staff and people from the community... and then pulling from multiple sources to address the things you collectively think are important... Look at Engineering the Future: S,T and the Design Process and Engineering is elementary” for the elementary level.... Stay tuned... this is an developing field... and the museums and science-technology centers are actively looking at opportunities as are some of the science R&D Centers.. But with things like these as starting points you are still going to have to pull pieces together...
Question from Lila Frances, Graduate Student, Kings College:
Studies suggest that high-stakes testing in reading and maths are causing schools to narrow their curricula, leaving less room than ever for STEM education. What can governments do to address this concern?
Thanks for the important question, Lila. States are pursuing strategies to support STEM education outside the classroom and the traditional school day via expanded learning opportunities that develop and maintain student interest. States can support STEM focused after school and summer opportunities, as Missouri has done. States can support real world competitions like the FIRST Robotics series and the Intel Science Fair. States can support more integrated STEM learning through integrated assessments. Finally, states extend the school day to devote more time to core content areas, as Massachusetts is supporting on a pilot basis.
Question from Terry Contant, Science Curriculum and Instruction Specialist, LEARN:
The emphasis on language arts and mathematics in elementary schools, due to high-stakes state testing, leaves little or no time for science instruction. What can be done to convince elementary teachers, principals and distict leaders of the importance of early science learning?
Shirley M. Malcom:
I guess we should start by showing them the research such as that from El Centro... Our own after school program Kinetic City Mission to Vearth has compelling evaluations.. one of which also looks at reading and writing in addition to science gains.... The compelling part about KC is that, with quite limited exposure times (certainly less that is likely devoted to direct instruction in reading) gains were seen for students into “advanced” and “proficient” levels!! Perhaps enough of this can convince leaders that it is possible to have our science and reading improvments, too!
Question from Julie Hine, parent and former Science Olympiad coach:
Clearly, Science Olympiad and other science competitions foster excellence through provision of alternatives to sports recognition. They also give opportunities for hands-on learning and creativity that are missing from most traditional math and science classrooms. Teacher quality and lack of experience in the private sectors of research and technology leave many unable or unwilling to coach students, we need to recruit upper level instructors on the basis of technical expertise. How do we break down the union mentality which separates us from a true culture of excellence?
If I understand your question correctly, I think you’re referring to efforts to bring in workers from other professions into math and science teaching, given the obvious demands for workers in that area. Some states have created programs that give financial lures to workers displaced from other industries, such as high-tech. Advocates of these strategies say these career-changers can be particularly adept at showing students how academic lessons in math and science work apply to the workplace But as we’ve reported at Ed Week, it’s not always easy luring career-changers to teacher. It often involves a big pay cut. The hours are long, and the challenges in adjusting from an office to the school environment can be great.
Question from Richard Weibl, Director, Center for Careers:
What are the transferable skills that those trained in STEM bring to their work outside basic research? What skills does science training offer that one can take to other settings?
Shirley M. Malcom:
For some reason we think of fields like law and business as providing skills that can be transferred throughout the workforce and STEM fields as narrowing people so that is all they can do....That cannot be further from reality! In addition to communications (speaking, writing) skills, arguing from evidence, analysis and question formulation... those educated in STEM bring problem solving skills... STEM people are trained to look for patterns... And we even understand the power of “compounding” contrary to those who in charge of managing our debt!
Question from William McDonald, Science Supervisor, retired:
Please define what is meant by “technology.” Does it mean engineering? Massachusetts has had to grapple with this issue in setting their standards.
NGA recommends that governors and other state policymakers take a look at the Standards for Technological Literacy developed by the ITEA and the engineering standards work by the Museum of Science in Boston with a number of states. What governors care about are state standards in STEM that help ensure all students graduate from high school able to understand and apply critical concepts in these areas in an integrated way in life and the workplace.
Question from Sharon Unkart, Teacher Programs Coordinator, Denver Museum of Nature & Science:
It has been often said, lately, that we are educating our students for jobs that do not yet exist. Along similar lines, standards in education do not seem to be keeping pace with current scientific or technological advancements. How do we, as teachers, science educators, and researchers, support our students’ learning despite this dichotomy?
Shirley M. Malcom:
Unfortunately, in too many cases, we are educating them for jobs that no longer exist rather than for jobs that do not yet exist.. So, knowing that we must prepare students for the uncertainties that lie ahead what is the best course to take? Suggestions about what that will likely entail emerge from today’s trends in STEM.... The first issue is that they must learn how to learn(to move from what they know to what they do not know), how to work together in teams to pose possible strategies, how to communicate, not only to peers but also to the lay public and to people in other disciplines. There will be way too much information (data) and their role will move to finding patterns and sense making... so mathematics (including algebra and statistics) and computing sciences will be essential tools. So the current structure of schooling must move them beyond the answers to the questions and problems; beyond the comfort of multiple choice testing to the anxiety of confronting something they do not yet understand. They must be helped to put the pieces together.
Question from Leah Cook, Project Director, Girls Get IT!:
I run a program in Florida to keep young women interested in STEM. With the recent cuts to education funding in our state, I find that it is difficult to underscore the importance k-12 science and math funding. Much of the needed resources for outreach, recruitment and retention are going toward standardized tests. Do you all see the same trends across the nation?
Many of the efforts I’ve reported on in the past, in the area of recruiting minorities and females to STEM have been led (and funded) by other sources, such as universities and the private sector. In this Tech Counts report, we discuss a lot of state-level efforts in STEM, some of which include a focus on recruiting underrepresented groups to those studies and fields. But we have reported on states’ overall budget woes, and their impact on K-12 systems; I wouldn’t be surprised if some if the programs you mention have faced cuts, too.
Question from Dr. Jerry D. Valadez, K-12 Science Coordinator - Fresno Unified School District:
At the very time we should see more emphasis on science and mathematics in classrooms the reality of NCLB is causing the exact opposite. Teachers are told not to teach science and use the time for more language arts. Elementary students get less science instruction now than any other time in our history, which in turn is causing less interest in science at the secondary level and beyond. What do you recommend be done to convince Congress that the reauthorization of NCLB must include science as an indicator of success for American schools along with mathematics and English language arts?
Shirley M. Malcom:
That’s a tough one..... We may need to show them the research that indicates that a quality hands-on, inquiry based science program has the power to move the reading scores (it does).... Perhaps we need a “head to head competition” between a group of schools that do it one way and a group that uses science, with the decider being a test of reading and writing.... “winner take all”..... if only! Seriously, policies are not necessarily driven by research, no matter how compelling... So we will need to get science added to NCLB (in spite of the mixed feeling I have about this given the mess likely to be introduced with poorly constructed assessments). Our partners in the business community are prepared to help us carry this message... and we thank them.
Question from Ira Glick, Senior Director, Data Recognition Corporation:
While my daughter was training to be an opera singer, she had a part-time job in a bio-research lab at Rockefeller University. When I asked her what she learned about science in this setting that she didn’t get from her public school experience, her answer was simple, yet profound. “I never knew how creative scientists were.” How do we integrate the excitement of creativity and novelty into the rather static tradition of science education?
One of the main goals of some STEM programs these days is to do that -- to show students, on a very basic level, what scientists do. You hear many science advocates talk about their desire to promote this understanding among female students, in particular. Too many young female students, these advocates say, believe science is boring, or just for men. In this Tech Counts report, for instance, I’ve written about programs that attempt to lure underrepresented groups into STEM topic through simple steps, such as showing them “role model” scientists who also happen to be females or minorities -- and showing them that the work they do is not boring. The challenge, of course, is for teachers to convey these ideas directly to students in their classes.
Question from Dr. Somyos Lorwatanapongsa, Redeemer International School Thailand:
How can we sell the ideas to teachers to use discussion-based approach and performance assessment in teaching, especially in Math and Science subjects?
Shirley M. Malcom:
I think that we have to show them that it gets better outcomes.... The teachers I know are willing to do whatever it takes to help children learn... If we set learning as the criterion.... then look at that in different kinds of instructional settings that is the first step to change.... Then we must help them gain the skills to make that transition...
Question from Mark LaVenia, Grad Student, Florida State University:
How important, within the STEM-philosophy, is the concept of interdisciplinary learning. Some sources (e.g., National Governors Association) do emphasize a break from the traditional “silo” approach to the disciplines, but I haven’t detected that to be a universally held point of emphasis within the STEM community. Would you please comment?
The foundation for NGA’s work in STEM with governors is the fact a new workforce of problem-solvers, innovators, and inventors who are self-reliant (but also able to work collaboratively) and able to think logically across domains is one of the critical foundations that drives economic competitiveness of a state. The new definition of STEM literacy that is multi-disciplinary in nature requires new models of teaching and learning that are multi-domain in nature as well. NGA looks forward to this continuing discussion with the STEM community and other stakeholders.
Question from Kurt Burkum, Senior Research Associate, ACT:
Shilrey. Thanks for taking my initial question. William Butz, Terrence Kelly, and others have produced the RAND reports mentioned earlier. I agree that the evidence is overwhelming about persistent gaps of historically underrepresented groups in STEM fields. What isn’t clear is whether any projected STEM labor force shortage is really about quantity of workers or quality of workers. The difference leads to substantially different policy solutions.
Shirley M. Malcom:
I think there are issues related to specific skills that are present or missing.... but the demographic shifts suggest that unless the issues are addressed in the near term re: underrepresented groups we won’t have people in the long term... It takes a long time to create a STEM professional... And if we think we can wait until need is screaming at us before we produce what we need, we have another think coming!
Question from Josh Brackett, freelance middle-school math motivational performance artist, Boston area:
I believe that STEM fields are like athletics insofar as the skills required are difficult to learn but satisfying once learned. Good athletic coaches devote considerable time and energy to preaching values like mental focus, persistence, and confidence, as contrasted with teaching the skills themselves. What is the place of exhortation and encouragement in a good STEM program?
Josh, More attention is being paid these days to encouraging students in STEM. You hear this idea conveyed in general terms, such as when STEM advocates bemoan the fact that many parents and adults say, matter-of-factly, “I was alway terrible at math,” or science. But you also see researchers and other talking more specifically about the negative impact of students who fear or avoid math, or lack confidence it in. I’ve written, for instance, about “math anxiety,” and how some researchers say this is not simply a student attitude, but rather a very real phobia that affects performance on tests and other measures.
Question from Audrey Rogers, Assistant Professor, School of Education, Southern New Hampshire University:
Can you recommend key resources, links, organizations etc. to help our pre-service teachers (and those who instruct them!) achieve technology integration into curriculum?
I don’t know if their work extends yet to teacher preparation programs in STEM areas, but I would encourage you to reach out to Yvonne Spicer at the National Center on Technological Literacy at the Museum of Science in Boston. They are doing great work with states and districts on the “T” and “E” in standards, curriculum, and professional development.
Question from Harry Daniel, Administrator, Palm Beach County:
Please share some insights as to the steps to be taken in order to transfor a regular school into a STEM school? feeder patttern of schools? a region? a district? Yes, while funds always are limited, ingenuity never is! So anything to share, please!?
Shirley M. Malcom:
You might look at the experiences of some of the “public charters” that have had to transform themselves.... they tend to start with mission development (what is their charter);selection of staff (principals and teachers) who are prepared to move the mission forward.... Can it be attached to an existing facility (a science-technology center; museum)... many programs are magnets; the thematic ones often draw students based on interest... the magnets have often been tools for desegregation.... Lots of models..and lots of experiences from people who’ve made it happen.
Caroline Hendrie (Moderator):
Thanks for all the great questions and responses. That’s all we have time for today. But please join us again next week for our second live online chat on Technology Counts 2008, on the topic of “Where Are the ‘T’ and ‘E’ in STEM? Meet us back here Wednesday, April 9, at 1 p.m.
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