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Inquiry First.

A $1 billion plan announced by President Obama yesterday would provide for the creation of a corps of exemplary "master teachers" in STEM subjects who would lend their expertise to mentoring other teachers in all 50 states. In exchange, each teacher would receive a salary boost of $20,000 annually. The program would begin with 50 master teachers, building up to 10,000 in four years. Master teachers, who would be identified and selected through a competitive process, would need to demonstrate superior content knowledge and proven effectiveness in teaching STEM subjects, among other criteria.  "We need to be sure that we’re identifying the master teachers on the basis of demonstrable results rather than experience or credentials," said Thomas Kane, professor of education and economics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
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The tech sector is booming, and hungry for skilled workers. With its promise of ample opportunity and high salaries, it seems like a logical direction for STEM-savvy students to pursue. However, according to a recent article in TIME magazine, the U.S. education system is doing a sub-par job of training students for computer science careers.

While most STEM fields have seen an uptick in growth over the past two decades, computer science stands alone as having experienced a drop in student participation over the same period of time. This country's large, change-averse education system may be a big part of the problem. Despite its increasing relevance in the world into which today's students are graduating, computer science hasn't made its way into most -- or even many -- classrooms in a meaningful way. Having appeared on the scene relatively recently, computer science hasn't yet... Read More

When the subject turns to engineering, too many students' eyes glaze over. But far from being a boring subject, many engineering fields require vast amounts of creativity.

An article in yesterday's Albuquerque Journal makes the point that students need to get the full picture of engineering -- and other science fields -- and realize that a lot of what STEM is about is creating new things.  “In a survey of teens, we find that they have high regard for engineering as a profession, but don’t know what engineers do or how much they make,” said Intel Education Manager Carlos Contreras, lamenting the lack of well-qualified applicants for STEM jobs as a significant problem for tech companies like Intel.

Read Albuquerque Journal's full article on creativity in STEM fields here.
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An often overlooked force for good in the battle to increase students' pursuit of STEM subjects? Their parents.

A recent study from the Association for Psychological Science (APS) revealed that targeting parents with information about the importance of STEM education in high school boosted enrollment of students in related courses.  Encouragement from parents is particularly important in the last two years of high school, when many advanced math and science courses are optional.

The APS study showed that parental understanding of the impact of their children's high school course selections on their college -- and later, career -- paths resulted in more informed oversight of their students' course choices.  The study consisted of nothing more than a modest information campaign, targeting the same group of parents with brochures at two points in their children's high school career, suggesting that tapping parental influence is surprisingly easy.  “Although some... Read More

Science fairs foster a spirit of inquiry in education, helping students to realize and experience practical applications of what they have learned in the classroom.  For teachers who see the benefits of bringing inquiry learning into the classroom, the question of how to do so while covering the curriculum can weigh heavy.

In a thoughtful blog post on the Canadian Education Association's web site, English teacher Brooke Moore explores that question -- among others -- concluding that, "there is a distinct difference between giving students the liberty to go in many directions and scaffolding them to move in a purposeful direction with confidence." Read more about Brooke's experience with inquiry learning in the classroom here:

Consider this sobering statement, made by Bill Gates in 2005: "When I compare our high schools to what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I am terrified for our workforce of tomorrow."  Headline after headline proclaims that STEM education in the US is broken.  But what, in fact, is really wrong with it?

A recent article in Slate tackles that question by uncovering five common myths and misconceptions that present barriers to STEM education reform.

Myth #1: "American schools have deteriorated in the past 30 or 40 years, as demonstrated by our poor performance on international assessments of math and science achievement. We need to restore American elementary and secondary education to their previous glory."  Slate takes the viewpoint that, far from having deteriorated, the American education system wasn't all that great in the first place.  "Incorrectly... Read More

Carlos Cunha, a teacher of physics and chemistry at an upper secondary school in Setúbal, Portugal, is leading an online discussion event this week about science education.  Specifically, participants are engaging in discussion about communicating innovative science teaching practices through social media.  Today is day two of the event, focusing on improving dissemination of science project results to teachers.  The third and final day of the online event is tomorrow, when the conversation will focus on what kind of information is most important to communicate to teachers in the information dissemination process.
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Here's a novel idea: a dollhouse complete with assembly-required furniture and working circuit boards.  The goal, of course, is to reach girls where they live, so to speak, and encourage an early interest in math and science.  The project, called "Roominate," is the brain child of three women who met as master's students at Stanford University. Noting the significant gender imbalance in their classes, Alice Brooks, Bettina Chen, and Jennifer Kessler cast their minds back to their own childhoods -- and the gender-neutral toys that entertained them.  Alice Brooks' father gave her a saw, for example.

The trio launched a Kickstarter campaign, which has raised more than $85,000, far surpassing the $25,000 funding goal they had set.  Look for Roominate soon for your future scientist in museums and online!
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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:... Read More

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.
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