STEM Beats - July 2016

New Study: Lower Teacher Pay Linked to Lower Math Skills

July 27, 2016

If we want better teachers, then we need better incentives to teach. That is one big takeaway from a new study of teachers’ skills in 23 developed nations. Here are the study’s findings in a nutshell:

  1. U.S. teachers test lower in math than teachers in 18 of 23 developed countries. In literacy, U.S. teachers performed better than in math, testing below their peers in 9 out of the 23 countries.
  2. U.S. teachers perform worse in math than their college-educated peers in the United States, and they are in the middle of the pack in literacy.
  3. Teachers’ math skills influence their students’ performance.
  4. U.S. teachers get paid much less than their college-educated peers, even when you take their work experience, skills, and gender into account. In fact, U.S. teachers suffered a larger wage penalty than teachers in all 22 other countries.
  5. Opportunities for women to take jobs outside of teaching significantly affect the skills of teachers—particularly female teachers. In other words, teaching can no longer benefit from skilled women who once had few other professional choices.

At a time when the STEM jobs pay high salaries to those with strong math skills, it can be hard to attract more people with strong math skills to the classroom. That problem, in turn, depresses U.S. students’ performance in math. Higher salaries or other incentives might help right the ship. So can programs like UTeach, which encourages STEM majors to pursue teaching.

That said, we should not turn our backs on the millions of committed teachers we already have. Professional development programs like Intel Math can boost teachers' grasp of math, even if they came to the job with wobbly skills.

(Hat tip: Education Week.)

Tags: math, teachers

STEMtistic on Display: AP Exams for Success

July 26, 2016

Research makes strong connections between college performance and Advanced Placement (AP) test scores. In general, those who do well on AP exams do better in college than those who do not do well on the exams. Hispanic test takers in particular are 28 percent more likely to succeed in college. How's that for closing the achievement gap?

Source: Center for Studies in Higher Education, The Role of Advanced Placement and Honors Courses in College Admissions, 2004.

Tags: STEMtistics, minorities

Colorado Partners Bring New Programs into STEMworks

July 25, 2016

Congratulations to five STEM education programs that have distinguished themselves as among the best programs serving Colorado's children and youth! Colorado Technology Association (CTA) and Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) used our rigorous STEMworks application and review process to identify two new programs for STEMworks and strengthen the standing of two others.

A group of intrepid volunteer reviewers convened by CTA, the Colorado Manufacturing Alliance, and Colorado BioScience Association spent many hours reviewing applications vying to be in STEMworks. The select few that made it over the bar include:

  • Adams 12 Five Star STEM Schools & STEMinspired (Added to the Colorado STEMworks database as Promising) – Created by the Adams 12 school district in northern Denver, this initiative focuses on problem solving and critical thinking, Connects with Industry and higher educational partners to create truly relevant mentorship and professional development opportunities, and infuses STEM in all grade levels and disciplines, from Kindergarten to AP Physics in high school, from music and drama to art and PE.
  • Open World Learning (Added to the Colorado STEMworks database as Accomplished) - OpenWorld Learning provides Title I, 3rd – 8th graders a fun and challenging after-school educational program centered on teaching advanced computer technology to Denver area students:  
  • KidsTek (Advanced from Promising to Accomplished) - KidsTek is dedicated to increasing the technology literacy of Colorado’s underserved K-12 students through project-based, after-school technology education programs in K-8 schools and in-school technical certification programs that provide college credit in high schools. 
  • SEPUP (Advanced from Promising to Accomplished) - The Science Education for Public Understanding Program (SEPUP) develops comprehensive and supplemental science curriculum materials and resources targeted at diverse student populations in grades 5-12. 

In addition, our Colorado partners added STEMworks veteran program ST Math to the list of STEMworks programs they plan to promote within the state. Spatial and Temporal (ST) Math uses innovative technology to teach math concepts, problem solving techniques, and critical thinking skills to elementary school children. Schools that fully implement ST Math see double, and even triple, the growth in math proficiency when measured against comparable schools.

Every Colorado student deserves access to the nation's best STEM education programs. Thanks to our Colorado partners, STEMworks is now an even more critical resource for funders and other STEM champions who want to realize that vision.

Tags: STEMworks

The Notion Behind the Motion

July 20, 2016

When you think of show-stopping ballet dancers like Misty Copeland, you might say their dance moves “defy physics”. So often dancers’ jaw-dropping leaps and innumerable turns look like magic. And just like magic, we wonder in amazement just how they did it! But elite dancers, like all athletes, act as real life demonstrations of the laws of motion. Instead of defying physics, they authenticate it!

Kenneth Laws, physics professor at Dickinson College and author of “The Physics of Dance,” even goes as far as teaching his ballet classes at Youth Ballet with a physics twist. As young performers learn new moves like fouettés and grand jetés, Laws makes sure to add in the concepts of torque and momentum. He believes that understanding the science behind it helps some of the dancers.

“More and more, they’re recognizing the physical principles that contribute to their ability, and that pleases me,” Laws told Discover Magazine. As a teacher who loves both ballet and physics, Laws suggests slight modifications to a dancer’s moves through careful analysis of the underlying physics. These changes greatly affect the end result for many of the dancers in his course—especially as the dance moves increase in difficulty.

There may not be a more infamously difficult move in ballet than the 32 single-footed pirouettes in Swan Lake. The physics behind this continuous turn after turn? Perpetual motion! See more on the marriage of physics and ballet in TED-Ed’s explanation of the “hardest move”.

How Can You Think and Hit at the Same Time?

July 18, 2016

In the 1955 Tony-award winning Broadway musical, Damn Yankees, a long suffering DC fan makes a pact with the Devil to elevate his beloved team to win the pennant.  Alas, apparently without such a pact, the real-life Washington Nationals have never played in the World Series. But maybe this year will be different--and it will be as a result of STEM!

Washington, DC experienced a drought of 33 years without a hometown baseball team. This interminable period was all the more painful with new teams and growing media coverage of America’s past-time on radio, TV and print. So there is more than a little bit of glee as the Washington Nationals find themselves in first place this season in the National League East with one of the best win/loss percentages nationwide. And they have 120 homeruns to date, well above the National League average of 100 homeruns.

Physics could help push them over the bar. Alan M. Nathan, Professor Emeritus of Physics at University of Illinois, has a website called the Physics of Baseball in which he studies the underlying science behind the game. He is most interested in the physics governing the baseball-bat collision and the subsequent flight of the baseball. A recent Washington Post article described Nathan’s research into the many factors that affect the trajectory of a hit, including elevation, air temperature, air pressure, humidity and wind speed. A small 5 mph breeze blowing away from the batter, for example, can carry a ball an extra 18-19 feet, sometimes making the difference between an out and a home run. Nathan also showed that every ten degree increase in temperature similarly added to the distance of fly balls. In fact, an analysis of 22,215 games, spanning the 2000–11 regular baseball seasons showed that runs scored, batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, and home runs significantly increased while walks significantly decrease in warm weather compared to cold weather.

Is every batter reviewing his or her physics knowledge as he or she steps up to the plate? Unlikely, of course. But many years of practicing and playing baseball instill in players the instinctive knowledge they need to be successful when they are at bat.  In the immortal words of that famous philosopher, Yogi Berra, “How can you think and hit at the same time?”

In baseball, instinctive knowledge is enough. Not so in life and work. Clearly we must provide many years of hands-on practice in STEM to provide young people the knowledge—both instinctive and conscious--they need to succeed in a changing economy.

Go Nats! Go STEM literacy for all high school graduates!

Photo courtesy of

Tags: science