STEM: Defying a Simple Definition

In today’s NSTA ReportsJonathan Gerlach, an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator working on federal education policy on Capitol Hill currently on leave from Hillsborough County (Florida) Public Schools, gives his perspective on varying definitions of STEM:

On its surface, “STEM” is the acronym of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. However, when you pull that first layer away, you reveal the most elaborate puzzle in the education world. Most educators know what STEM stands for, but how many really know what it means? […]

As educators, we seem to consider STEM singularly from an educational perspective in which success in science and mathematics is increasingly important and technology and engineering are “integrated” when appropriate. When you start to divide STEM by subject (the silo approach), it gets even murkier. Can science and mathematics alone be STEM? Does using an electronic whiteboard during a lesson make it a STEM lesson? When my kindergarteners are playing with building blocks, is that a STEM center? If you ask 10 different science, mathematics, technology, and engineering teachers to define STEM, each will give you a very different and unique answer.

Governors Urged to Tap Into “Informal” Science Education

Via Education Week, a new report from the National Governors Association identifying  “informal science education” (i.e., science learning outside the classroom) as a frequently overlooked vehicle for helping states advance their STEM goals.

The [National Governors Association] document urges governors to “explicitly” include informal science education on their action agenda to improve STEM learning among young people and have representatives from informal science institutions (such as museums and zoos) be a part of state STEM advisory councils. […]

Opportunities for such “informal” learning come through a variety of venues and activities, such as science centers and museums, zoos, robotics and rocketry clubs, online games, and science competitions, to name a few. […]

The NGA issue brief suggests that “informal science offers states a powerful, low-cost way to help achieve the goals of an overall STEM strategy.” It notes that most quality programs “involve little if any direct state funding and do not compete with other state education dollars or classroom time.” […]

[A] key challenge is that many states fail to recognize and promote the role informal science learning activities can play in “buttressing” other state activities in STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“Thus, the state may be adopting more rigorous math and science standards, and providing more rigorous preparation for STEM students, while not taking full advantage of after-school programs or teacher professional-development opportunities provided through informal science institutions,” the report says. “As a result, school districts engage with the informal science community in a patchwork fashion, with robust activities in some areas and none in others.”

STEM Coalition Blasts Plan to End Science Testing Mandate

Not a good sign.  Via Curriculum Matters blog at Education Week:

A Republican proposal to end the federal mandate for science testing in public schools is coming under fire from a broad-based coalition that supports improved STEM education. […]

A draft bill released last month by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, would abolish the current requirement in the No Child Left Behind Act that states test students in science three times before they graduate high school. It would keep, however, the law’s mandate for testing English/language arts and mathematics in grades 3-8 and once in high school. […]

[T]he draft bill would [also] strip out the $150 million Mathematics and Science Partnerships program at the U.S. Department of Education without offering any new, STEM-focused program in its place.

Bulking up STEM comes with a price tag, educators say

From the Tampa Bay Times, via NTSA WebNews Digest:

STEM education—science, technology, engineering and math—is being touted by lawmakers and business people as the key to future job creation and international competitiveness. But as campuses move to aggressively bulk up their STEM programs, they are grappling with a perpetual question in K–12 education: How to pay for it?

STEAM: Experts Make Case for Adding Arts to STEM

Just when we think we’re getting a handle on all the acronyms, someone comes up with a new one.

From today’s Education Week, making the case for adding the arts into STEM:

The acronym STEM—shorthand for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—has quickly taken hold in education policy circles, but some experts in the arts community and beyond suggest it may be missing another initial to make the combination still more powerful. The idea? Move from STEM to STEAM, with an A for the arts.

Although it seems a stretch to imagine STEM will be replaced in education parlance, momentum appears to be mounting to explore ways that the intersection of the arts with the STEM fields can enhance student engagement and learning, and even help unlock creative thinking and innovation.

Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)

From The New York Times, via NSTA WebNews Digest:

[I]t turns out, middle and high school students are having most of the fun, building their erector sets and dropping eggs into water to test the first law of motion. The excitement quickly fades as students brush up against the reality of what David E. Goldberg, an emeritus engineering professor, calls “the math-science death march.” Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash out.

Studies have found that roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree. That increases to as much as 60 percent when pre-medical students, who typically have the strongest SAT scores and high school science preparation, are included, according to new data from the University of California at Los Angeles. That is twice the combined attrition rate of all other majors.

For educators, the big question is how to keep the momentum being built in the lower grades from dissipating once the students get to college.

GRAIL Naming Contest

What the heck is a “GRAIL,” anyway?  From NASA’s project website:

Now that the GRAIL mission is underway, the two robotic spacecraft, currently dubbed “GRAIL-A” and “GRAIL-B,” need real names — ones that capture the spirit and excitement of lunar exploration.

Students, choose names for the two GRAIL spacecraft and explain your choice.

Your justification can be any length, from a short paragraph to a 500-word essay.

The Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission is designed to create a gravity map of the moon, using two spacecraft that orbit the moon at very precise distances. The mission will enable scientists to learn about the moon’s internal structure and composition, and give scientists a better understanding of the moon’s origin. Accurate knowledge of the moon’s gravity could also be used to help choose future landing sites on the moon.

GRAIL’s student-run MoonKAM cameras will provide close-up views of the lunar surface, taking tens of thousands of images and sending them back to Earth.

Contest Deadline is Friday, Nov. 11, 2011