Category Archives: Curriculum

STEM education in the media spotlight

In the wake of his State of the Union address this past week, President Obama is touring the country and speaking, among other topics, about the relationship between STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and the American economy.

For instance, yesterday, Obama toured a new Intel manufacturing plant in Arizona that has struggled to find qualified workers in the U.S. and thus has had to outsource some parts of the manufacturing process overseas, as PC Magazine reports. The president addressed the issues of STEM education and the American workforce’s readiness to participate in the high technology economy in his State of the Union speech (see Scientific American’s roundup of expert reactions to Obama’s STEM-related remarks).

Perhaps due to the attention brought to this topic by the president’s speech, a number of STEM education-related news items have surfaced in recent days:

  • A new survey conducted by M.I.T. uncovers reasons why American secondary students decline to pursue STEM studies (and, hence, STEM-related careers). Reasons include the perception that STEM fields are “too challenging.”
  • The National Center for Science Education has announced it will “fight efforts to slip incorrect climate science information into school lessons. ‘We are seeing more efforts in legislatures and schools to push climate misinformation on teachers and students,’ says NCSE head Eugenie Scott.” [Source: USA Today]
  • In a new podcast, the New York Times reports “an increasing number of parents are turning to outside organizations to supplement science education in the schools.”
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Science teachers face students skeptical about climate change

The Huffington Post reports:

Around the country — from Washington State to Oklahoma— pressure and pushback from skeptical students, teachers and administrators pose challenges.

In 2008, Louisiana voted to allow public school teachers to teach both creationism and the views of climate change skeptics. Last May, a school board in Las Alamitos, Calif., voted unanimously to require environmental science teachers cover “multiple perspectives” on climate change. That decision was later rescinded…

The National Center for Science Education, long-touted for its efforts to help teachers address evolution in the classroom, has recognized the predicament and announced this week that it would add climate change to its repertoire, offering teachers a range of tools and legal support.

Arizona judge upholds Tucson district’s finding that ethnic studies program is illegal

The Associated Press (via the Washington Post) reports:

An administrative law judge ruled Tuesday that a Tucson school district’s ethnic studies program violates state law, agreeing with the findings of Arizona’s public schools chief.

[Judge Lewis] Kowal’s ruling, first reported by The Arizona Daily Star, said the district’s Mexican-American Studies program violated state law by having one or more classes designed primarily for one ethnic group, promoting racial resentment and advocating ethnic solidarity instead of treating students as individuals.

Researchers develop new tools for learning computer programming

The New York Times reports:

New and more sophisticated tools are changing the way that the next generation learns to program computers. Children can now create elaborate scenes and games without the cryptic commands that were once the only way to tell computers what to do. The most talented children can also use some of the sophisticated tools normally used by professional programmers, because the tools are now often easy enough for someone to pick up with only a few months of study.

Despite often poor job prospects, college students seek out ‘easy’ majors

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Time will tell if the poor job market persuaded more students to push into disciplines such as engineering and science. Although the number of college graduates increased about 29% between 2001 and 2009, the number graduating with engineering degrees only increased 19%, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Education. The number with computer and information-sciences degrees decreased 14%. Since students typically set their majors during their sophomore year, the first class that chose their major in the midst of the recession graduated this year.

Research has shown that graduating with these majors provides a good foundation not just for so-called STEM jobs, or those in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields, but a whole range of industries where earnings expectations are high. Business, finance and consulting firms, as well as most health-care professions, are keen to hire those who bring quantitative skills and can help them stay competitive.

New report: State assessments generally less challenging than national standards

The Wall Street  Journal reports:

States have increased the difficulty of their elementary-school math and reading tests, but the standards are still far below what students are expected to know on national achievement exams, according to a federal report released Wednesday.

The data help explain the disconnect between the relatively high pass rates on many state exams and the low scores on the national tests, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)…

Virtually every state uses math and reading exams that are far easier to pass than the national test.

The report, from the U. S. Department of Education’s National Center on Education Statistics, is available here (PDF).

At the college level, does the teaching method matter more than the teacher?

The Associated Press (via the Washington Post) reports:

A study by a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, now a science adviser to President Barack Obama, suggests that how you teach is more important than who does the teaching.

He found that in nearly identical classes, Canadian college students learned a lot more from teaching assistants using interactive tools than they did from a veteran professor giving a traditional lecture. The students who had to engage interactively using the TV remote-like devices scored about twice as high on a test compared to those who heard the normal lecture, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

The research study, by Carl Weiman of the U. of British Columbia, is available here (subscription required).