STEM Beats - August 2013

STEM in the News: August 27, 2013

August 27, 2013

D.C. in August moves a little slower than usual on the news front, but we've got your fast hits for the week. 

Calculator Use on Exams to Shift With Common Core, EdWeek, August 20

Calculators have long held a contentious point in math testing. While some states allow older students to use calculators to complete standardized tests, others ban them at all ages. Recently, the two testing consortia released their tentative policies for the use of calculators on the assessments. PARCC's policy, slightly further along than Smarter Balanced's, allows for the use of calculators above sixth grade at certain points during the tests. EdWeek looks at the context and history of calculator use, and what the new policies might mean for calculator use in the younger grades. 

U.S. Lags in business funding of academic research, Washington Business Journal, August 26

A new study from Times Higher Education reports that the U.S. ranks thirteenth in terms of business funding academic research and development. The leader? South Korea, where businesses invest $97,900 per scholar. U.S. businesses pay only $25,800 per academic researcher. This has the potential to weaken economic growth, which would create a stronger economy. 

Computer Learning + Math = Fun and Learning in Schools, The Seattle Times, August 21

We've blogged before about the increasingly prevalence of games in teaching and testing students, and the Seattle Times takes a deep dive into a University of Washington research team taking on the challenge of creating games that assess student learning in their local communities. 

PDK/Gallup Poll Results Show Opportunity, Need for Common Core Education

August 26, 2013

Last week, Phi Delta Kappa International, a professional association for educators, released the results of its annual PDK/Gallup survey, which tracks attitudes toward public schools. This year, topics ranged from school safety post-Newtown to homeschooling. For STEM education, though, the most interesting conclusions were in the public's view of the Common Core State Standards. 

The CCSS is the lynchpin of efforts to reform math teaching in the U.S. right now. While the standards do, by and large, provide a higher bar than many students have previously, many states are beginning to face challenges in implementing the standards. In a few states, like New York, test scores have dropped, disgruntling the public. Other states, wary of a deeper financial investments in times of strapped state budgets, are backing away from commitments to implement new tests aligned to the standards and comparable from state-to-state. 

Given these various stressors, it's crucial that public support and understanding of the standards is high as states and schools attempt to move the needle for students. Unfortunately, the PDK/Gallup poll shows limited knowledge of the standards, and a limited understanding of what they aim to do. 

Of all Americans, only 38 percent had heard of the Common Core State Standards; that number is about 45 percent among Americans with children in public schools. Of that third who said they had heard of the Core, a majority self-identified as "somewhat knowledgeable" about the standards. But there appears to be some misinformation -- many also believed that the standards were simply a blend of current standards, that the federal government was insisting on the standards, and that there is a plan in place to expand core standards in all academic areas. That widespread misinformation undermines conclusions about the potential impact of the Common Core, which 41 percent said could make the U.S. more competitive globally. 

What's a policymaker to do? It's clear that we've got to put more effort into communicating what the standards are and how it affects students. If the first information a parent receives about the Common Core comes in the form of a lower standardized-test score in summer 2014, there is a problem. 

But while the data is potentially worrisome, it also presents an opportunity. There is a lack of education that can be rectified. Teachers, schools, and business leaders can go on the offensive and help parents and community members realize the benefits of the Core, and recognize why states and schools need to commit to giving the standards a chance. It's time to step up and fill that void. 

Tags: Common Core, standards

This Week in STEM: August 20

August 20, 2013

If it's Tuesday, it must be news-day. We're back with your quick hits in STEM. 

College-for-all vs. career education? Moving beyond a false debate, Hechinger Report, August 19

The Hechinger Report thoughtfully unpacks the tensions in between the college-for-all movement -- which aims to ensure that all students, regardless of background, complete a four-year degree -- and the potential role of career and technical education. It explores the competing egalitarian and pragmatic influences of both, and looks to potential solutions to have more students ending up in fulfilling, economically viable, positions. 

Q&A: Bill Gates on Teaching, Ed Tech, and Philanthropy, EdWeek, August 16

In a lengthy Q&A, education's biggest investor touches upon the role he envisions technology having in education moving forward. 

Why Jobs Go Unfilled Even in Times of High Unemployment, The Atlantic, August 19

The Atlantic has a great interview with Skills for America's future program manager Rene Bryce-Laporte, where they talk through the skills gap in higher education and new initiatives to increase students' job-readiness skills. 

Master's Degree Is New Frontier of Study Online, New York Times, August 17

MOOCs have been a little slow to take off, but Georgia Tech is potentially altering that with their new MOOC-based Master's. These degree programs will rely on MOOCs to help it offer at $6,600 Master's in computer science, a far lower price than the $45,000 on-campus degree. 

STEM in the News: August 14, 2013

August 14, 2013

As summer winds down, we've got your STEM must-reads for the week. 

Common Core Curriculum Brings Big Shifts to Math Instruction, NPR, August 8

NPR goes behind the new math standards as a new school year starts to take a look at what it might mean for instruction. Did you know that the standard algorithm for math -- remember 'carrying the one' -- has been pushed to 4th grade to give students a deeper understanding of place value? 

Once common, perfect Va. SOL scores now rare with new tests, Washington Post, August 11

We wrote last week about lower scores in New York under new, Common Core-aligned tests, and that phenomenon is repeating nationwide, regardless of whether or not the state has actually opted in to Common Core. In Virginia, which isn't following Common Core, and where suburban D.C. districts often had many students make perfect scores on the state's Standards of Learning math exam, students are seeing much lower scores this year. While a fifth a students received perfect scores under the old exam, just one percent did under the new exam. Still, teachers appear to be standing strong on the standards, noting that newer tests give them a better picture of how top-performing students actually are doing. 

The Best Way to Teach Kids Math and Science? Zombies, Wired, August 14

Texas Instruments, a CTEq member company, has come up with an innovative new way to get kids interested in STEM: Zombies. Influenced by popular TV shows and movies like The Walking Dead, kids come in with a healthy interest in zombies. The program then uses that zombie interest to explore topics in math, chemistry, biology, and engineering. Turns out one way to make science come alive is to focus on the undead. 

Researchers see Video Games as Testing, Learning Tools, Ed Week, August 7

School districts are only now switching to computer-based Common Core tests, but designers and policymakers are already turning to the next generation of testing: video games. These assessments combine kid-friendly challenges, like getting robotic explorers to a new planet, with analysis of whether or not students have reached mastery of certain subjects. While expensive, they have the potential to engage students and be a powerful learning tool for students. 

Parents stand up for STEM, get controversial T-shirt pulled

August 9, 2013

It's been 20 years since Barbie sagely informed young women nationwide that "math class is tough," but young girls are still facing a host of societal messages that implicitly tell them STEM subjects just aren't for them. The latest? This T-shirt from The Children's Place, which was taken off the shelves after parents complained about the message to young children.

The glittery purple T-shirt reads, "My best subjects," with shopping, music, and dancing checked off. The box next to math is left unchecked; under it, it reads, "Nobody's perfect!" To quote Barbie's far superior, human cousin Cher Horowitz, from "Clueless," as if

Why is this problematic? Because, as a recent survey of American high schools showed, girls whose female role models hold traditionally 'feminine' occupations, like childcare, tend not to view careers in engineering and tech as possibilities. By contrast, those who live in communities where women tend to hold high-powered STEM jobs are more likely to take harder STEM courses. In those communities, the gender balance is nearly equal in high school physics. This sets them up for success in postsecondary STEM and the very jobs we need to fill. Analyses of international test scores find similar results: Countries with greater gender equity as more likely to have smaller gender gaps, and areas with more working mothers also have statistically smaller gender gaps, as well. 

Thus, having an anti-math message emblazoned on a T-shirt can be pretty subtly pernicious. Girls begin internalizing the message that math is 'for boys' by second grade -- around the age that they might pick up that T-shirt at the mall. We've discussed this kind of gender coding before, and while each example might be small, the sum total can be pretty overwhelming. 

There are a few new toys and games out there geared specifically toward getting girls interested in STEM, which is heartening. And The Children's Place T-shirt ultimately was pulled through parents protesting via Facebook and Twitter. But the shirt is part of a larger struggle against anti-STEM messaging for girls, and it's time we examined those pressures more closely. 

Tags: women & girls