With an estimated 14 million people currently out of work in the US, how can there still be a shortage of qualified workers to fill STEM positions? The disconnect was one topic discussed at last week’s STEM Solutions 2012 leadership summit in Dallas. Leaders seemed to agree that inspiring students to follow an educational path in STEM subjects is key to solving the crisis. But the question of the role that companies might play in enticing and helping to cultivate talent is still unanswered.
In terms of where, specifically, the talent gaps are, experts are divided. Many cite math as an area in which American students are lacking, pointing to the emphasis on standardized testing — rather than real-world applications — as the measure of our students’ math ability.
Several possible solutions to the problem of the shortage of trained STEM workers were voiced at the summit. Among them: creating university/industry partnerships, promoting STEM careers among students, and enhancing STEM education in grades K-12. Some participants felt that companies should bear some of the responsibility for communicating their needs clearly and coming up with innovative hiring practices and training programs. “Industry really needs to engage in a much closer relationship with educational institutions,” said Melinda Hamilton (photo, above), director of Idaho National Laboratory’s education programs. “They have to share their strategic plans. They have to share their growth projections and why they’re predicting this area will grow. They have to be involved in saying not just ‘Here’s what we need,’ but also how we get it.”
See on sciencecareers.sciencemag.org
Community colleges are emerging as an ever more important piece of the STEM education puzzle. Speaking at the 2012 U.S. News STEM Solutions Summit, Uri Treisman, math professor at University of Texas-Austin, said, “A 10, 15 percent increase in [STEM degree] completion would solve our national problem.” One challenge in getting to that level of increase lies in the disconnect between high school STEM programs and university-level expectations. Positioned between these two entities, community colleges have the potential to provide skills that are lacking among recent high school graduates and prepare them for the rigors of college-level STEM programs.
See on www.usnews.com
Despite the heavily-reported need for U.S. students to graduate from high school with sharp STEM skills to meet work force demand, a report released today suggests that we have a long way to go.
For the first time ever, the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, administered to 4th, 8th, and 12th graders featured hands-on and interactive computer-based science activities. The results are sobering, especially those linked to students’ ability to apply the data they collected to explain or apply their findings. “While I’m happy to see the vast majority of students [tested] were able to make straightforward observations, I’m not particularly happy to see a smaller number know what data to collect in an experiment,” said NCES Commissioner Jack Buckley. “This points to something we need to work on in the future.”
See on www.edweek.org
The University of Maryland Baltimore County is a STEM machine, due to the vision and leadership of Freeman Hrabowski. Be sure to check out this great “60 Minutes” segment about Hrabowski and his success at making UMBC a powerhouse in the sciences.
Acton-Boxborough High School ranked #7 in U.S. News & World Report’s list of best high schools for STEM — the highest of any school in Massachusetts.
The school sent two projects to this year’s Massachusetts State Science & Engineering Fair (held May 4 & 5 at MIT), both of which took first-place awards: Jacob Johnson’s “Novel Mechanisms of Carcinogenesis in Malignant Breast Cancer” and Ruifan Pei’s “Electrochemical Determination of Alkaline Phosphatase Activity.”
Wayland High School followed close behind in the best high schools for STEM rankings, achieving a #10 spot in the report, with Lexington High and Brookline High also winning high marks, landing at #15 and #30, respectively.
Nearly 500 schools were evaluated for the report. This article explains the methodology that U.S. News & World Report used to determine rankings: www.usnews.com
A blog post this morning by Change the Equation offers a concise assessment of the recently released government report, “The Condition of Education.” The good news, according to Change the Equation, is that the past two decades have seen rises in 4th and 8th grade math scores. On the flip side, 12th graders haven’t fared as positively, with numbers relatively stagnant over the same time period, causing concerns over “evaporating gains” between 8th and 12th grades. The “no news” referred to in the post’s title? Information on where 12th graders stand in science. Due to the change in science frameworks, looking at data over time would be meaningless. Change the Equation makes the point that no news is actually harmful: “If we’re serious about getting many more students ready for college and careers in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), we can’t very well tolerate such a serious blind spot in 12th grade.”
See on www.changetheequation.org
Forty-seven small U.S. colleges and universities have been chosen by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to receive funding for the creation of collaborative, engaging undergraduate science classes. “Collaboration is a vital activity that drives science forward,” said HHMI President Robert Tjian. “We believe that collaboration among institutions can have a similar catalytic effect on science education, and we look forward to seeing these schools work together to develop new science and teaching programs that inspire their students.”
See on www.hhmi.org
With the statistics pointing overwhelmingly to a dire need for STEM-trained students to graduate into the US workforce, the question remains: How do educators break down the barriers that can prevent some perfectly capable students from enrolling in STEM courses? On the Citizen IBM blog, AP Computer Science teacher Seth Reichelson offers up some answers based on his own experience. Among his suggestions: “[make] computer science more accessible and rewarding” by using mastery learning, and communicating directly with parents when a student gets a bad grade. By building confidence and taking some common-sense approaches to communicating, “everybody wins,” Reichelson says.
See on citizenibm.com
The bad news: In a sampling of 122,000 8th graders from more than 7,000 schools across the country, fewer than one-third demonstrated proficiency in science on a test administered by National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The good news: Massachusetts students fared a bit better than most, with 40% of those tested scoring at the “proficient” level. Results of another science test administered by NAEP will be released in June. This test will measure students’ proficiency in hands-on experiments. “We’re very, very interested in tasks that look more like real science,” said Sean P. “Jack” Buckley, the commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers NAEP.
Once focused on college and university grads as the primary source of potential new employees, more and more companies that need workers with solid STEM skills are looking at talent in middle and high schools. So says James Brown, Executive Director of the STEM Education Coalition. “To the extent that you’re really trying to look at the big picture … [companies are betting] that if we make the pipeline stronger there, it will have ripple effects upwards,” he says. And how do you encourage and nurture talent at the K-12 level? Make STEM subjects fun. Get students excited about STEM through inquiry-based learning, and competitions like science fairs. Clearly, corporate resources can have a tremendous impact on improving the quality of STEM education in the country, and more and more corporations seem to understand that the eventual payoff — in the form of well-trained employees — is worth the investment.
See on www.washingtonpost.com