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Lesson 6.4

STEM:
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

Here’s jargon you should know: STEM

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Image: Liquid nitrogen frozen marshmallow at crime scene science camp CC Patrick Buechner

The 1957 launch of Sputnik dented America's sense of technological supremacy. In response, America built a long-term pipeline of rocket scientists and won the race to the moon. It also invested in colleges, scholarships and educational programs. International competition has been an important spur to investment in education in America. Beneath the high-profile space race with the USSR, the progress of science and technology in the marketplace gradually changed the world. Japan lost World War II and was never a participant in the space race, but found its niche in the postwar economy, beginning with innovations such as transistor radios and cheap motorcycles.

As described in lesson 1.3, the economy has changed thanks to technical innovation, and the changes are global. As described in lesson 1.2, America is no longer distinctive in the level of educational success that its students achieve in school.

So where does the future lie?

Science for the Next Generation

Today's students will drive tomorrow's breakthroughs, if they are ready. Unfortunately, despite its high-tech reputation, California has lagged other states in science education, ranking in the bottom five states in the nation in 2011.

NAEP-science-2011

Things may be changing. In 2013, the California State Board of Education adopted new standards for science education, known as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). (Although it might be tempting to pronounce this abbreviation "noogies," it would be terribly unscientific-sounding. The shortest abbreviation in spoken use appears to be "NextGen Science.")

As with the Common Core standards, a consortium of states developed the new science standards. California was a lead participant among the 26 states involved, but rolling out changes in standards is a significant undertaking that requires new learning materials and training for teachers. The State Board called for student testing based on the new standards to begin in 2018-19.

The NextGen science standards blend scientific disciplines with concepts of technology and engineering, defining eight science and engineering practices, seven "crosscutting concepts," and 44 disciplinary core ideas. Paul Anderson, a science teacher, has created a series of videos about the standards to help explain their purpose, structure, and usefulness for teachers.

Investing in STEM education

Today's educational investments in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (collectively known as "STEM" investments) will play a key role in the shape of tomorrow's economy. America’s schools have fallen dramatically behind other countries that have emphasized preparing students for work in STEM fields. Despite its high-tech reputation, California students do no better than most in these subject areas.

In 2010 as part of the economic stimulus package that followed the Great Recession, the Race to the Top program offered states the opportunity to compete for federal grant funding. California failed in its bid to win these funds partly because the judges felt the application lacked a coherent plan to make STEM education more effective.

This is, to say the least, a multi-faceted challenge.

California lags in Math

Math (the “M” in STEM) creates the educational foundation for the other three disciplines. Of course it is routinely characterized as one of the “basic” school subjects. It’s also an area where California lags most other states according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

2012 NAEP proficiency rates by state for grade 8 math 2012 NAEP proficiency rates by state for grade 8 math (States in Motion series on EdSource.org)

State officials hope that California’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards will help improve students’ math performance. In comparison to how math was taught for more than a decade under the old standards, the new ones focus more deeply on fewer topics. This “less is more” idea is consistent with mathematics instruction in countries that are doing far better in the STEM areas.

In the area of math, as in English language arts, the Common Core emphasizes students’ development of “habits of mind” in tandem with subject matter content. The documentation of the standards label these “mathematical practices” in which students will increasingly develop expertise throughout their years in school.

The Common Core Mathematics Practices

  • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  • Model with mathematics.
  • Use appropriate tools strategically.
  • Attend to precision.
  • Look for and make use of structure.
  • Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Wondering how this kind of content can be introduced to young students? This video series can help:

Algebra: California students have made progress

For years, California officials, opinion leaders, educators, and parents debated whether students should take Algebra 1 in 8th grade and how much math is enough in high school. The transition to the Common Core is changing the nature of this conversation about algebra. First, the standards implicitly raise expectations, aiming for all students to successfully complete Algebra 2 (or the equivalent). They also suggest a variety of math course configurations that would enable students to get to an advanced level in math before graduation. More than previously, however, the state is leaving decisions about graduation requirements to local districts and communities.

Compelling evidence suggests that the state should focus more on early math instruction

At the same time, mastering algebra doesn’t just happen. Compelling evidence suggests that the state should focus more on early math instruction. More students succeed when elementary teachers, and even preschool teachers, have stronger backgrounds and skills in teaching math to the youngest children.

In 2013, California adopted a curriculum framework to accompany the new standards. The framework will guide school districts in developing new approaches to the math instruction based on the Common Core, including their selection of math textbooks and other instructional materials based on the new standards.

Getting 9th Grade Math Placements Right

Math concepts build on one another. It is important to get the sequence right; if a student doesn't advance when ready, the missed opportunity permanently affects his or her success. The Noyce Foundation put a spotlight on "math misplacements" in an influential report in 2010, establishing that large numbers of students of color and students in poverty were being made to repeat algebra in ninth grade, even if they passed it in eighth grade. This finding led to passage of SB359 (Ed Code 51224.7 when active) in 2015 to address the problem.

Where are the teachers?

Excerpt from Excerpt from "The STEM Teacher Drought" (Click image to view the report.)

Many of the challenges involved in teaching math are human ones, such as recruiting and retaining teachers with the necessary subject knowledge and charisma. The STEM Teacher Drought, a report from EdTrust West, finds that African American, Latino, and low-income students in California have less access to STEM learning opportunities than their more advantaged peers, and they experience worse academic outcomes in STEM subjects.

Attentive and prepared teachers can present a student with the right challenge at the right time, but it is difficult to do so for many students at once. The Khan Academy and other online learning platforms are showing great promise partly because they create individualized challenges for students, making personalized learning possible. Students can take a lesson focused on a specific skill or problem and repeat it until they feel confident. (Note: In April 2011 Khan Academy became a Full Circle Fund grant recipient.)

Science and engineering education stands to benefit from individualized computer-assisted learning as well, if only because achieving mastery in these fields requires pairing competent instruction with clear problem sets. But there is a difference between reading about spectrography and actually firing up a Bunsen burner to sleuth the elemental content of a mystery substance.

From STEM to STEAM

Real tech jobs are multidisciplinary. Designing a manufacturing solution, for example, involves art, craft, teamwork, communication, project management, and problem solving. It almost certainly involves use of a spreadsheet and some kind of visual design tool. These sorts of varied skills are not easy to introduce without the right tools in the room and, crucially, a teacher with the right skills. The California STEM Learning Network (CSLM) supports partnerships throughout California working on these issues. (As a side note, when an acronym is used inside another acronym you just know it has either become universal or it has jumped the shark.)

Arts advocates have worked to add the arts to conversations about STEM by adding the letter A (for arts) to the acronym, making it "STEAM."

Next Steps

Review

Relative to other states, California students' scores on the math portion of the Nation's Report Card (NAEP) test are closest to:

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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Carol Kocivar October 27, 2016 at 2:13 pm
The 2015 Nation's Report Card results in science show that 8th grade California students continue to lag the nation.
About 56 per cent of students scored "at" or "above" the basic level: 32 percent proficient and 22 percent advanced. The average score was lower than those in 42 states.
Put that in English--they were at the bottom.
For a deeper analysis, go to: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/subject/publications/stt2015/pdf/2016157CA8.pdf
user avatar
Albert Stroberg May 1, 2016 at 8:00 pm
A huge part of this must be the teacher.
Basically none of our HS teachers were math/sci majors on college. Zero. I sat in those classes and been numbed by the lack of insight or enthusiasm of the teachers. One told me he was directed to be the science teacher by a colleague because it provided enhanced job security- "they'll can the social studies teacher first" was his explanation for his career choice.
user avatar
Carol Kocivar February 3, 2016 at 10:40 am
Resources for STEAM
Edutopia provides information, examples, and tools incorporating the arts, design, and the humanities into STEM-based school activities.
http://www.edutopia.org/article/STEAM-resources
user avatar
Carol Kocivar November 13, 2015 at 10:10 am
The Condition of STEM 2015 is now available on the ACT website.
This reviews the 2015 graduating class in the context of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)-related fields to determine student interest levels in specific STEM fields and readiness in math and science of those interested in STEM careers.
Here is a link to the report results for California: http://www.act.org/stemcondition/15/pdf/California.pdf
user avatar
smmezzo2 April 27, 2015 at 6:03 pm
STEAM, cool., first I've heard of that. Thanks Tara April 20 post
user avatar
Tara Massengill April 20, 2015 at 11:34 pm
I'm a firm believer in STEAM. Without the Arts, students aren't receiving a full education.
user avatar
digalameda April 5, 2015 at 1:08 pm
Being a math teacher this first round of Common Core is a shock to parents and teachers. It is difficult for teachers to change their engrained paradigm of teaching and get them to do fewer problems that are more thoughtful.

Students and parents in the higher grades are struggling with having to figure out problems. They prefer the old method they have been conditioned to use of demonstrate and replicate. Most quit or skip a problem knowing a teacher will show it later. Most also do not bother to correct their work to find their errors and learn from their struggles.

I firmly believe the roll out should have been progressive up the grades instead of across all the grades at once. Currently the students complain to their parents that the teachers are not teaching but in reality we are guiding them through their learning and they are not used to struggling or persisting.
user avatar
g4joer6 April 18, 2015 at 7:28 pm
Yes, yes to April 5 post suggesting progressive roll out of Common Core Math.
user avatar
cnuptac March 26, 2015 at 10:42 am
1 in 4 jobs require artistic skills. I would love to add the arts to this program.
user avatar
g4joer6 April 18, 2015 at 7:31 pm
Mar 26 above. I also believe we need to teach the arts to foster ingenuity and critical thinking skills. What is the citation source for the 1:4 jobs require artistic skills . I believe it, but wonder who/what resource to check for more information.
user avatar
Jennifer Anastasoff April 28, 2011 at 9:02 pm
If we are ready to truly invest in a high quality science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for every child, California will have to invest in developing strong STEM teachers.

Focusing on math and science for a moment, a 2007 study of California's math and science teacher pipeline showed a projected need for over 30,000 qualified math and science teachers by 2017. Traditional teacher pathways aren't currently preparing enough math and science teachers to meet this need. It's time to reach out to scientists, chemists, engineers and math experts to meet the challenge of engaging students in STEM as tutors, mentors & teachers.
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