If you're interested in increasing college readiness for all students, one way is to guarantee access to Algebra II courses during highschool. According to the National Math & Science Initiative, taking Algebra II in highschool makes students 50 percent more likely to finish college and earn four-year degrees.
Source: National Math & Science Initiative, STEM Education & Workforce, January 2014.
How do we grab our young people’s interest in STEM and, more importantly, hold on to it is a question everyone’s asking. Here at Change the Equation, we believe that “citizen science” may be one answer. Last month, The Washington Post covered a great story about students from a D.C. charter school, joined by wildlife biologists, who spent afternoons exploring nearby woods taking photos and gathering data for a Smithsonian project, eMammal, which uses citizen scientists to help researchers document mammals throughout the mid-Atlantic region. The project is part of a trend toward citizen science that is engaging young people in science in new and exciting ways.
What is citizen science? “It’s a partnership between the public and professional scientists that can help answer questions scientists couldn’t on their own,” explains the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Scientists can’t be everywhere, so they seek the help of citizens -- of all ages -- to record data and send it to them. A sort of crowd-sourcing for science. For young people, citizen science opportunities provide integrated, engaged, and authentic science learning, both in- and out-of-school. “The current education climate seems particularly favorable to integrating citizen science into science learning,” says the Citizen Science Association, which held a session on Building a Framework for Citizen Science & STEM Learning at its February 2015 annual conference.
Citizen science projects also engage young people by exposing them to some super cool things, for example: documenting the movement of wildlife in the mountain ranges of New Mexico, monitoring plants as the seasons change, and saving rare plants in the Chicago wilderness. Citizen science projects not only give kids the opportunity to participate in hands-on experiences, but it also gives them a sense that science is not always immediate –- that it requires gathering data and studying its implications. It’s this kind of real-world approach that we know young people respond to.
Whether its citizen science, or other hands-on experiences like work-based learning, young people are most engaged and involved when we give them real-life experiences that help them make a difference in society. Blair Blackwell, of CTEq member company Chevron, touched on the power of hands-on experiences at our Does Not Compute event last week, “Both girls and young boys coming up now they want to do good for their community, and so being able to show exactly how engineering will allow them to do that, I think, is hugely important.” And, citizen science is one way for kids to have a hands-on experience and make a difference.
To learn more about citizen science and join an interesting project (or two), check out Scientific American’s Citizen Science education section.
A recent article on the science of happiness, which talks about the value of experiences versus possessions, really got us thinking. The author presents research that disproves the assumption that physical objects will make us happier than one-off experiences because they last longer. The research suggests that rather than buying the latest gadget, you’ll get more happiness spending money on hands-on experiences like going to an art exhibit or traveling. This really resonated with us, as we encourage investment in STEMworks programs that provide just those kinds of enriching experiences that make a lasting impression. The hands-on STEMworks programs below guarantee a strong return on investment and, we’re pretty sure, STEM happiness.
RJ Dunlap (RJD) Marine Conservation Program is all about advancing marine biology and ocean conservation while giving high school students a full-immersion learning experience. Students actively grow as scientists while supporting ongoing research crucial to the study and conservation of sharks. RJD’s goals are clear: inspire young people to learn STEM skills and foster development of marine conservation stewardship. Each year, RJD brings more than 1,000 young adults on 70 plus trips to do actual field research on sharks and marine biology. Participants learn first-hand about the various career paths possible within the field of marine conservation. “Things you wouldn’t get inside a typical high school class are brought to our interest, in the most extraordinary way,” says Vilma Sooknanan, a high school student and RJD participant.
Teachers in Industry focuses on STEM teacher retention by placing experienced classroom teachers in paid positions in the STEM workforce for 6-8 weeks during the summer. In turn, teachers take their real-world industry experience back into the classroom to more effectively prepare students to enter the future workforce. Teachers in Industry is a long term investment in the development of future scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians essential to the 21st century workforce. The program also offers coursework towards a master’s degree in Teaching and Teacher Education or professional development credits.
Washington Aerospace Scholars (WAS) is a two-part program for high school juniors focused on STEM topics. Students take a five-month, online course where they learn the history of NASA, the space environment around earth, and the future of human space exploration. From there, top-scoring students are invited to participate in a six-day summer residency (check out the video below) held at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, where they learn the fundamentals of space propulsion by the design, construction, and deployment of robotic rovers, model rockets, lander devices, and payload lofting systems. Young people get the opportunity to earn five college credits from the program. Over the past eight years, more than 1,100 students have participated in the WAS summer residency and 83 percent went on to pursue STEM degrees after high school graduation.
We know that hands-on STEM experiences give students a firm grounding and pique their interest in pursuing a STEM career. Purchasing new tech equipment and software is great, but there’s nothing like a full-immersion experience to really capture a young person’s interest. Look out for more STEMworks spotlights in the near future!
We saw this article on the three STEM fields that are disproportionately female, which got us thinking about our latest STEMtistc. Girls are more likely than boys to earn credits in Algebra II, precalculus, advanced biology, chemistry, and health science. Let’s rally behind other STEM fields that have the potential to diversify the workforce -- there’s certainly a pool of untapped talent.
Stop by our full catalog of STEMtistics for more facts and figures!
Our January 2015 Newsletter on the rising demand for a STEM workforce is now online! This month, our own Linda Rosen along with Dax Craig, CEO of Valen Analytics, tackle the issue head on in their piece for the insurance industry publication Carrier Management. The article challenges the insurance industry to seek a fresh perspective, leverage best practices, and join forces to appeal to the millennial generation.
Also, be sure to check out this month’s Point of View with Freeport-McMoRan President, CEO and Vice Chairman (and CTEq Board member) Richard Adkerson. He provides his perspective on the workforce “gap” and finding qualified employees, pointing out, “We face a ‘perfect storm’ with the STEM workforce. In the mining and energy industries, the USA is facing the loss of a significant number of experienced technical managers, workers, academia, and government officials who will retire in the next decade. The current educational system is not producing a sufficient number of qualified individuals to replace retirees and to meet the requirements of a workplace that requires strong science and math skills.”
Check out our full newsletter to see how business leaders are tackling the STEM need and investing in the STEM K-12 education pipeline.