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Inquiry First.

Interesting New York Times article on women pursuing STEM fields as undergraduates quotes MIT dean of admissions Stuart Schmill: "The real issue is women are falling out of STEM fields all along the pipeline, starting in middle school and high school.  To increase gender balance, it’s all a matter of getting the right story out about science and engineering to young women, that it’s not about sitting at a desk doing math all day."

While 5.8 out of 10 recent college graduates with biology degrees are women, there's a greater gender gap in two of the other largest STEM fields: Engineering and computer science.

In the 2008-2009 school year, more American students received undergraduate degrees in visual and performing arts than engineering.  Among international students, however, the 2009-2010 school year yielded far more graduates in engineering, physical and life sciences, and math and computer science than in social sciences and fine arts. Click below for more complete statistics.  What implications does the persistent dearth of graduates in the sciences have for the U.S. economy?  How quickly do you think we can turn the tide?

When 8th grader Chance Williams found himself floundering in Spanish class, his tech-savvy father floated the suggestion that his son be allowed to take Java as a foreign language instead.  The school agreed, and permitted Chance and his dad to organize an independent study course.

Things have gone well: Chance hopes to get his Java certification by the end of 9th grade, and already has produced an app, Droidbox, which has been downloaded 500 times.

Even veteran educators are putting research into practice and testing the merits of inquiry-based approaches to learning versus lecture-style teaching.  At George Washington University, for example, physics professor William Briscoe -- a professor for 35 years -- took an apprehensive leap into inquiry learning, using small group discussions and hands-on activities to teach his introductory physics class.  He noticed that the average grade students in that class received on the first test he administered were 10% higher than those of students in his lecture courses.

More than 160 STEM-related proposals -- adding up to $737 million in requested funding -- are in the running to claim a slice of the $150 million in federal aid available through second round of the Investing in Innovation ("I3") program.  The first round of funding resulted in 49 I3 grants divvying up $650 million.

In the running for some round-two funds: Boston's Museum of Science, which has requested $2.9 million for its Expand the Gateway to Implementing Technology and Engineering Standards project.  The project aims to increase the number of Massachusetts and Maine school districts providing high-quality STEM education and ultimately the number of students pursuing careers in the STEM fields

Some food for thought: With the current emphasis on the high value of STEM skills for the workplace of the future, some feel that the importance of adding liberal arts to the mix can be lost.  At the World Entrepreneurship Forum held in Singapore yesterday everyone from Lockheed Martin's chief technology to the Senator-Mayor of Lyon, France highlighted the importance of offering learners an environment that fosters creativity.

Here's a handy list of some college aid options for students in science, technology, engineering, or math fields.

In a single year, enrollment of first-year women in Perdue University's College of Engineering reportedly increased 31 percent.  To what does the school attribute such a dramatic gain?  Although it's difficult to pinpoint with complete accuracy, Beth Holloway, director of the College's Women in Engineering Program, points to a likely factor: The college's use of the 2008 report, "Changing the Conversation: Messages for Improving Public Understanding of Engineering."

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Community colleges from across the nation are recognizing the need to spark students' interest in STEM subjects early in their education as a way of enticing them into science-, technology-, engineering-, and math-related professions.

Science fairs, STEM-focused summer camps,  and specialized teacher training are among the opportunities made available by community colleges to students and teachers interested in pursuing STEM subjects.    Central Community College in Nebraska, for example, has a program called Project SHINE (Shaping High-quality Integrated Nebraska Education) that has both a teacher-training component and a STEM summer camp for 9th and 10th graders. Project SHINE director Dan Davidchik says that he has noticed "tremendous changes in the way teachers connect STEM with what goes on in business and industry."
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