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STEM—the catchy shorthand for "science, technology, engineering and mathematics"—has been part of the school improvement discussion for more than a decade, as educational leaders and policy makers have underscored the importance of these areas in preparing students for an internationally competitive, 21st-century economy.

PROBLEM

Maryland’s high school assessment (HSA) exams indicated that students in Prince George’s County Public Schools learning STEM subjects were not as prepared for graduation as their statewide counterparts. Just sixty-five percent of first-time takers passed the state’s Biology HSA, indicating a disconnect between the content and the skills and processes portions of the exam. Secondary science instructional specialist Godfrey Rangasammy felt that students were having a difficult time making interdisciplinary connections and interpreting science data they were learning.

All the rhetoric urging the U.S. education system to up the ante to remain competitive in a global economy came to a sobering point with the release of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results on Dec. 7, 2010. In 2009, the United States, along with 65 other countries, joined PISA to assess the performance of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics and science. The United States remained just average in reading and science, while lagging a bit in mathematics on the global scale.

 

Dear Educator:

I invite you to participate in the upcoming Disney's Planet Challenge, a hands-on, environmental learning experience for grades 3-8.

 

Disney’s Planet Challenge began in California in 1994 and has since expanded to Florida, the Cayman Islands and Hong Kong. This year, the program will be launched nationwide. Here are examples of winning projects from past years.

A movement to spread scientific learning in a casual environment that started in Britain in the late 1990s has gotten a foothold in the United States. At science cafés, adults gather at a restaurant, bar or other nonacademic spot to listen to a presentation on a scientific topic while enjoying their favorite beverage.

 

The subject of science lends itself naturally to lab experiments, field experiences and other “hands-on” activities. If well implemented, such activities can engage students and significantly increase learning. But if science education is to prepare students for life and for possible careers in science, providing hands-on activities is not enough.

 

Last year, when the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) put Rockland High School in Massachusetts on probation—largely because of its outdated science labs—it didn’t surprise Principal Stephen Sangster.

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