Blog: The Educated Reporter

Science Standards, STEM Apps and STEM Academies: Thursday STEM Express

New Science-Standards Draft Includes Many Changes:  The Next Generation Science Standards underwent a major facelift in the latest round of tweaks following a long public comment period. Achieve, a major player in getting the Common Core State Standards off the ground, says in an interview with Education Week that 95 percent of the performance expectations have been changed compared to the previous version. The final set of standards are slated to be revealed in March.Twenty-six states are involved in molding the science standards into a body of work teachers and districts can get behind, though no state is required to adopt the standards outright. The details are technical, but Ed Week distills the issues admirably:

Each standard in the draft is organized into a table for the given topic at each grade level or grade range. The table has three main sections, starting with performance expectations at the top. Below that are “foundation” boxes that expand on and explain those performance expectations in relation to three dimensions: science and engineering practices; disciplinary core ideas; and cross-cutting concept statements. And last are “connection” boxes that relate the core idea to other science standards, as well as to the common-core standards in English/language arts and math.” (Erik W. Robelen, Education Week)

City Launches Contest for STEM Apps to Promote Math Education on Mobile Devices:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City is challenging enterprising programmers to develop a learning application the Big Apple’s school system can use to help its middle school students in math. Judges for the contest will include teachers, principals and tech experts, who will pick two winning apps and runners-up. Whoever they pick will split a $50,000 prize—a gift from private donations. Entries are due in April and the apps will go live in September. (Erin Durkin, New York Daily News)

How One STEM School Aims to Lower the Achievement Gap: A Title I school in the nation’s capital is doing its part to narrow the gap between blacks and Hispanics on one end and Asians and whites on the other. Recruiting engineers and placing an emphasis on STEM-related subjects, STEM magnet school McKinley Technology High School is receiving a lot of buzz. Some national statistics that stand out: 29 percent of high schools with a high concentration of minority students offer calculus while high schools with low minority populations offer the advanced math course 55 percent of the time, according to the U.S. Department of Education. STEM career pathways are shown in many projections to lead to more job opportunities and higher pay. A 2011 U.S. Department of Commerce report estimated STEM jobs will grow by 17 percent by 2018, while non-STEM occupations will grow at a slower 9.8 percent. (Cindy Huang, PBS)

Why America’s Kids Need New Standards for Science Education: An earth scientist and co-writer of the Next Generation Science Standards goes to bat for the project, beginning with an anecdote involving the (now parted) threat of global Armageddon as a result of the Mayans not considering our sensitivities all those years ago. It’s a funny introduction to a problem the writer has with what he calls a low level of earth science instruction in our nation’s schools. (If there were more of these classes, kids and adults would know geology trumps ancient calendars, he argues.) Getting back to the nuts and bolts of NGSS, the author writes:

“The aim of NGSS is to identify what students can do, not what they know. After all, if you want to know how many planets there are, you can always look that up on the web. If you want to understand why they are important and how they function as part of a system, the solar system, then there are a set of practices you should do, which the NGSS identify as (1) Asking Questions and Defining Problems, (2) Developing and Using Models, (3) Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, (4) Analyzing and Interpreting Data, (5) Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, (6) Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, (7) Engaging in Argument from Evidence, and (8) Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information.” (Michael Wysession, Scientific American)

Construction Science Education Can Provide ‘A Wonderful Life’: As policymakers and masters of industry place their hopes of a vibrant 21st century on the backs of students enrolled in STEM, education watchdogs worry the new emphasis on these subjects sluices students down career paths that may be economically potent now, but yield less fortune later. This article about a construction science graduating class at Texas A&M speaks to both schools of thought:

“At a recent hiring fair at Texas A&M University, 100 companies turned out to compete for 60 construction science graduates, said Joe Horlen, the head of the department. In fact, the school’s 2012 spring and summer graduates had 100 percent placement, most with several job offers.

‘There was a period of two years when employment rates dipped to 60 percent, but it’s built back up,’ Horlen said.” (Cheryl P. Rose, The Houston Chronicle)

Op-Ed: Blacks Falling Behind in Science Education Underscoring the racial gap in STEM access and success, this op-ed bemoans the low number of African American completing doctorates in many science fields: “African-Americans earned only 1.6 percent of all physical science doctorates awarded in our nation’s universities, according to research by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. The figure for advanced engineering degrees was a similarly disappointing 1.8 percent. Obviously, this is a far cry from African-Americans’ 13 percent share of the total population.

Still more alarmingly, in this snapshot study of 2009, not a single African-American student earned a doctorate in such fields as astronomy, astrophysics, theoretical chemistry, nuclear physics and nuclear engineering.” (Cherice R. Greene, The Examiner in Washington)

Solving America’s Math Problem? Condensing Duke professor Jacob Vigdor’s research: “His basic thesis is that efforts to expand enrollment in higher math – surely an admirable goal – coupled with a push to teach algebra earlier to all students, have led schools to dumb down math curriculum and have undermined the progress of America’s most gifted math students.

“Professor Vigdor’s bottom line is that pushing early algebra hurts struggling students while subjecting mathematically-talented students to courses that fail to challenge them or prepare them for more advanced work. Basically, this is the old argument for math tracking, combined for a plug for longer and more intensive math classes for students at the lower end of the curve.” (Mary McConnell, Deseret News)

Silicon Valley Community Foundation Grants $661,000 for Catch-Up Math Education: “The funds will underwrite tutorial and summer programs to benefit about 3,300 students. But they don’t come close to meeting the need, the foundation notes, as about 50,000 middle-school students in the two counties test below proficiency in math.” In December, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg pledged to donate $500 million to SVCF. (Sharon Noguchi, Contra-Costa Times)

How Long Does It Take? STEM Ph.D. Completion for Underrepresented Minorities: “The United States is at a critical juncture in its ability to remain internationally competitive in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). At present, too few people from diverse populations, including women and minorities, participate in the STEM academic and workforce communities. This issue brief is the first in a series produced by AIR to promote research, policy, and practice related to broadening the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM doctoral education and the workforce. The material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation.” (Kristina L. Zeiser and Andrea R. Berger, AIR)

Young Scientist of the Year’s Invention Could Clean Water for 1.1 b…: “A New Hampshire 14 year old has won America’s Top Young Scientist prize for her innovative clean water system, which has great potential for people suffering natural disasters and those living in war zones.

“Ninth grader Deepika Kurup’s very green technology could help the more than 1.1 billion people throughout the world without access to clean water. Her prototype takes solar energy and uses it to disinfect contaminated water in an innovative, cost effective, and sustainable system.” (Allison Barrie, Fox News)