STEM Beats - April 2013

STEM in the News: April 23, 2013

April 23, 2013

Moving Ahead with Common Core, New York Times, April 20

As many states begin or continue their state tests this week, the Times came out in support of the Common Core standards. Given that a few states appear to be reconsidering their commitment to the higher standards, it's heartening to see the support for the standards. While the new standards will not be a miracle drug in American education, we need to give them a chance to boost the rigor of instruction. 

Obama's 2014 Science Budget Proposal Revitalizes STEM Education, Reduces Environmental Conservation, Scientific American, April 19

Scientific American does a nice department-by-department breakdown of where President Obama's science budget is going. Check it out for a quick primer while we see how the budget fares. 

Educating American for the 21st Century, Smithsonian Mag, April 15

The magazine has put together a special package of where education is going in the next century. It's got a strong focus on STEM education, including essays by Joel Klein on how to get tech to students and how to get 100K STEM teachers by 2020. It's a comprehensive look at where we need to go next.  

President Obama Announces STEM AmeriCorps, Initiative Supports Youth from Low-Income Communities in Science, April 23, 2013

The president continues to support initiatives to increase interest in STEM subjects, this time through the creation of STEM-specific AmeriCorps positions. AmeriCorps puts recent grads in nonprofit positions, and the STEM initiative will focus on getting VISTA recruits to lead teams in FIRST Robotics competitions. 

Public's Knowledge of Science and Technology, Pew Research, April 22, 2013

What's fracking? Why do we wear sunscreen? And what's the problem with overusing antibiotics? Pew took a deep dive into Americans' knowledge of science and technology, and surveyed them about their opinions of math and science. The results of their study come along with a quiz so you can see where you stack up. 

President Obama Hosts White House Science Fair, ABC News, April 22

Yesterday in honor of Earth Day, the White House hosted its third annual science fair, where 30 young scientists displayed their best work. Well-known scientists like Bill Nye and Bobak Ferdowsi attended, as students showed off their award-winning robotic arms and bike-powered sanitation systems. 

The RNC's Attack on Common Standards is Misguided

April 22, 2013

The following is an editorial from Change the Equation's Board Chair Craig R. Barrett on the Common Core State Standards.

Craig BarrettOver the last five years most of the states in the U.S. have worked together to improve the expectations of students in our K-12 system.  This has been a state-driven process, and it is fully supported  by the business community. 

Today the quality of education in the U.S. ranks in the lower half of OECD countries, and we all know that we can do better.  The state-driven common core standards are designed to improve our educational performance, and are precisely what their name implies.  The standards are state-driven expectations of what children should learn.  The standards were created with input from around the U.S., from educators, from researchers, from local school districts, and from looking at the best education systems from around the world. 

These expectations have been ratified at the local level and replace disparate, existing state standards which everyone accepts are too low, and lead to a substandard educational system.  Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have ratified these standards and are in the process of implementation.  The standards are not driven by the U.S. Government, but are driven by the states, and leave local control of curriculum where it has always been―at the local school district level. 

Some people complain that the Common Core Standards constitute a national government takeover of K-12 education.  This could not be further from the truth.  From someone who has been involved with this effort (it started while George W. Bush was President), I can attest that this effort was supervised by Governors and Chief State School Officers, and not the Department of Education or the President.  Certainly some in Washington, D.C. have applauded this effort (what politicians don’t applaud something good happening in the education arena even if they are not involved?), but the common core standards are state driven and state adopted.  The states retain their ability to modify their standards in the future, and have realized that they need to improve their education programs, and that raising expectations is key to improving performance.  As noted above, the business community, the ultimate consumer of our K-12 graduates, is in full support of the common core. 

It is a shame that the RNC (Republican National Committee) has come out against common core with the false argument that it usurps local control.  The roughly 15,000 school districts in the U.S. will still maintain control of their local curriculum, and the 50 states will still control the standards within their education systems.  Defending the current low standards that have resulted in U.S. kids getting a substandard education hardly makes sense; it is one more misguided action by adults trying to dictate what our locally-controlled educational requirements should look like when they should be worried about the quality of education received by our children. 

Despite the fact that our kids perform poorly, we know that we do not have a kid problem in the U.S.; our kids are not inherently dumber than those in other countries.  We have an adult problem in the U.S., where some try to protect a system that has drifted from its charter of doing a good job for kids, to a system that services adults.  It is time we put the kids first and design a system that maximizes their future potential.  The state-driven common core standards do precisely that.

Tags: Common Core

Guest Blog: Connecting environmental education and STEM

April 19, 2013

What are the learning goals of environmental education? How are they best accomplished? How do they support the broader goals of improving students’ STEM skills?

Students have an innate curiosity – even wonder – about the natural world around them. Environmental education (EE) taps into their enthusiasm and provides them the knowledge and skills to solve 21st-century challenges. Early connection with the environment also equips students to make everyday decisions that improve the quality of their lives and the health of our planet.

The goals of EE can be accomplished well through project-based learning and hands-on exploration of the outdoors. Local, place-based environmental projects provide relevant learning experiences for students and an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in their communities.

Through EE, students learn not only STEM content, but also develop the critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills that are critical for success in STEM careers where substantial growth is expected. Further, studies indicate that young people who experience the natural world and have more opportunities to play and learn within it are more likely to choose science or related fields as careers.

What are the opportunities and obstacles to introducing students to environmental education?

While field trips and opportunities to explore nature centers and other nonformal education settings are valuable to sparking interest and deeper knowledge about the environment, lack of time and resources can make it challenging for teachers to provide those opportunities. Increasingly, schools are investing in enriching the more accessible laboratories for learning that exist right outside the classroom door, in a nearby park, the schoolyard, school garden -- even the school building itself. Recognizing the national priority on successfully engaging more students in STEM, significantly more environmental science content is being integrated across multiple disciplines. There are expanded opportunities within the new Next Generation Science Standards to emphasize science learning through an environmental context, through content on human impacts on the natural world.

What do policymakers and decision makers need to know when thinking about STEM learning and environmental education?

Research and survey findings indicate young people have a strong interest in the environment. Total employment in STEM jobs is expected to increase by twice as much as all other jobs by 2018 and environmental science jobs are expected to grow by 25% by 2016 – the fastest among the sciences. Sources and additional statistics can be found in the new Tech & Our Planet infographic.

In 2011 the U.S. Department of Education developed the Green Ribbon Schools recognition award, which honors schools that are exemplary in reducing environmental impact and costs; improving the health and wellness of students and staff; and providing effective environmental and sustainability education, which incorporates STEM, civic skills and green career pathways. This year, as part of National Environmental Education Week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan did a PSA that speaks to the important connection between EE and STEM.

Submitted by Jennifer Tabola, senior director of education, National Environmental Education Foundation


Tags: science, Next Generation Science, video

This Day in STEM -- April 19

April 19, 2013

Today in 1971, the USSR put the first space station, the Salyut 1 into orbit. It only spent 175 days in space and had an array of technical issues -- including the death of three cosmonauts -- but was an important step toward sustained trip into space. 

The probe was launched, unmanned, on April 19, 1971. Two days later, a crew of three followed on a separate rocket. However, while the three cosmonauts were able to dock, they couldn't open the hatch and enter the station, so they returned unsuccessfully. On June 6, another team of three cosmonauts were able to successfully board the space station, and remained in orbit for three weeks, a new record. However, upon reentry, a ventilation valve on their ship jolted open, pressuring the interior and killing all three. Because of that, no further trips to Salyut 1 were made. 

Despite its early demise, Salyut set the technology for later space stations, including Mir and the International Space Station. The ISS, launched in 1998, is a partnership between 5 nations and may operate until 2028. 

Tags: This Day in STEM

STEM in the News: April 17, 2013

April 17, 2013

A day late, but here's what you need to read in STEM this week! 

Standards in Science Unveiled

We wrote about them last week but they're a pretty big deal. The Next Gen Science Standards, which hope to increase the depth and breadth of science instruction, were unveiled last week. 

Student Math Scores Rise with Longer Day

Longer school days = higher math scores, according to a new study, which looked at 11 elementary and middle schools in three cities. The schools evaluated, partners with The After School Corporation, added three hours to their school day and used the extra time for arts, tutoring, and sports. However, the project is only in its early years, so determining how to best scale the project to more schools and incorporate lessons on how exactly schools raised performance may take some more time. 

Data Science: The numbers of our lives

Data science isn't just for the pocket-protector set any more. This Times article is a great introduction to the many companies that are using data science in every aspect of their business, and the many universities that are designing graduate programs to train these first-generation data gurus.

A Failing Grade for Broadband

Show some kindergarteners or preschoolers a whiteboard, and chances are they will try and find the switch to turn it on. Like chalkboards before them, whiteboards are now relics of the past. But despite the switch to technology that even poor and rural schools are undertaking, nearly one in four households with school aged children don't have access to wi-fi. This limits their ability to achieve, and highlights a growing digital divide between rich and poor.