05 September 2009

Getting a Boost

Is it just me, or is STEM shaping up to be the Acronym of the Year for 2009 - 2010 schools? If it's new to you, it represents "Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math," both as individual pursuits and collectively. (Maybe it should be "S, T, E and/or M.") There continues to be some voices of concern about the lack of U.S. graduates in these areas, although other evidence suggests that the country is doing just fine. We can't compete with the sheer number of graduates from China and India due to population number differences as it is. However, student interests should be fostered, no matter where they might occur.

Two tools have recently emerged to guide schools in their efforts to identify and support STEM students.

Via Education Week (Science Panel Seeks Ways to Fan Innovation), it appears that the National Science Board has been focusing on "how can schools produce more mathematics and science students with a distinct and harder-to-define skill: the ability to innovate and become future innovators in American business, science, medicine, and other areas..." noting that policymakers have "become increasingly keen in recent years on providing new and different academic challenges for elite students...Members of the expert committee said their final report will likely have to address several questions. What are the characteristics of an innovator—ability, interest, determination, curiosity, or all of those traits? What separates innovative ability from other, related skills, such as creativity? And can math and science classroom instruction and assessment in the United States realistically be revamped to nurture innovation among students?"

Should be an interesting report to keep an eye out for.

Meanwhile, over at eSchool News, there is a report on an open-source (but not free) tool from the Gates Foundation that "will simulate how schools can draw students to STEM fields most effectively--a trend that would bolster the science and engineering workforce...The program can test more than 200 variables that could better inform policy makers about how programs should be funded. The model measures graduation and dropout rates, gender gaps in STEM fields, teacher and STEM industry salaries, and educator attrition rates, among other factors. 'Whether it's the answer, I don't know," said Sternheim, director of the STEM Educational Institute for 20 years. "But it could be a piece of the answer. It might even make a real difference.'"

That quote doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in me, but there are some guinea pigs in Ohio, Arizona, and California who will use the software first. If it "might even make a real difference," we should know in a few years...although by then, we could well be looking for some real way to give STEM students a boost.

1 comment:

Roger Sweeny said...

This may sound silly but I suspect the best thing we can do for STEM students is to make sure they read early and well (and I don't mean remediation in 3rd or 5th or 7th grade after they've had years of failure and "I hate reading.")

Feeling comfortable in reading leads to intellectual independence, to being able to pursue your interests and find information you care about.

My gut says it is important that they can do that before puberty hits and their interest turns to sex and drugs and rock and roll.