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Articles: STEM

Singapore girls

If the results of the most recent international achievement tests were graded on a curve, U.S. students probably would rank somewhere in the B range.

When I was young, I loved puzzles. My favorite childhood toys were the Rubik’s Cube and the wooden tangram set my grandmother gave me. I’d request logic problems over bedtime stories from my father. He preferred withholding puzzles until morning to prevent me from staying up all night solving them.

The lack of stem [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] educators is a national crisis, according to education leaders such as Martha Cyr, executive director of the newly created STEM Education Center at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts. So WPI is one of many higher education institutions nationwide focusing on preparing its undergraduates to teach STEM topics inside the classroom and, ultimately, prepare students for careers in science or math.

Of American teens, 78 percent have broadband Internet at home, while 62 percent of all Americans have broadband at home.
—Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project

For many, an instinctual reflex is to marry the term “college town” with images from the movie Animal House. While stories of youthful exuberance make for interesting water cooler conversation, they serve to conceal real opportunities for public schools to collaborate with postsecondary institutions.

Making the most out of fewer resources is a mantra recited by nearly every school district these days. So when Vickie Hallock, supervisor of elementary education at the Penn Manor (Pa.) School District, realized there would be a shortage of physical education teachers at the elementary level this school year, she saw it as an opportunity to introduce a new 21st-century skills course.

  • Lead from the top, suggests Hamilton City (Ohio) School District Superintendent Janet Baker, who continues the tradition of holding district science fairs. "I think the expectations for anything you want done have to start at the board and superintendent level," Baker suggests.
  • Look for ways that the skills involved in creating science projects match state standards in science, math and even language arts. (With language arts standards in mind, Hamilton City requires sixth-graders to include a research paper with their mandatory science exhibits.)

Celina (Texas) Independent School District, roughly 100 miles north of Dallas, has 2,000 students across its four school campuses—and they're all Bobcats, says Lizzy Kloiber, secondary curriculum director, referring to the district's unifying mascot. The community is tight knit, she adds, with most teachers having grown up in the district, and families regularly mingle at church or at high school football games each weekend.

As states now begin their transition to the Common Core State Standards, seven organizations have united to provide advice on issues related to the implementations of the mathematics curriculum and assessments.

Solve for x. While many of us first encountered this enigmatic instruction in high school, the last 20 years have seen a strong push to get students to take algebra in eighth grade or even before. Today, concerns about the economy highlight a familiar worry: American eighth-graders trailed their peers in five Asian countries on the 2007 TIMSS mathematics assessment, and American fourth-graders were outperformed by students from eight other countries, including England, Latvia and Kazakhstan.

For more than half a century, the annual science fair has been a fixture in many a school's academic life, both for science teachers, who guide classes through the hands-on experience of researching topics of interest, and for students, who often hectically put the finishing touches on their work the night before it is exhibited in the school gym or other public space. From there, winning submissions can advance to district or regional science fairs and—with enough scientific know-how and inspiration, as well as school and parental support—to national science competitions.

By the fall of 2012, the Next Generation of Science Standards will be available for states to adopt. Part 1 of the process, the Framework for K12 Science Education, was released July 19 by the National Research Council (NRC), an arm of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Traditionally, states have developed their own individual standards by extracting components from science benchmarks set forth by organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In a major address on educational policy last March, President Barack Obama underscored his priorities for the pending reauthorization of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. "We will end what has become a race to the bottom in our schools, and instead spur a race to the top by encouraging better standards and assessments," he promised. "This is an area where we're being outpaced by other nations. They are preparing their students not only for high school or college, but for a career. We are not."

Girl doing chemistry exercise

Three years ago, sophomore environmental science students at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia needed a problem to solve. But they weren't just looking for any old problem; they wanted a big one, a real-life one that could make a difference in the world—one that would challenge them to be creative, to work in teams, to think and plan and build, and, by the way, to allow them to meet all of the state and local standards for the class.

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