Jane Larson, PhD
BSCS Colorado Springs, CO
Schools Like Ours: Realizing Our STEM Future
Lundgren, Dennis D., Laugen, Ronald C., Lindeman, Cheryl A., Shapiro, Martin J., Thomas, Jerald (Jay).
National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science and Technology (NCSSSMST) 2011 The National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science and Technology (NCSSSMST) was established in 1988 to provide a network of support for schools dedicated to preparing students as leaders in the fields of mathematics, science and technology. With over 100 institutional and 100 affiliate members, NCSSSMST now supports an annual professional conference and student conference/research symposium, as well as publishing a newsletter and biannual journal and hosting a website (www.ncsssmst.org). In recognition of the current emphasis on educating students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), the organization has prepared a guide to assist those interested in establishing their own STEM high schools. Schools Like Ours: Realizing our STEM Future is a timely addition to the literature on STEM education, written by NCSSSMST past presidents and members experienced in all aspects of administering these specialized institutions.
The compact, yet comprehensive volume is divided into 8 chapters that provide detailed advice on starting and sustaining a STEM school from initial considerations of governance through programs, standards, facilities, curriculum, students, and internal and external sustainability. The introduction lays out the basic conditions for students to develop deep understanding, delivered through a “new design for teaching and learning” that includes: personalized and experiential learning; concept-centered and integrative curriculum; inquiry-based and problem-centered instruction; generative, multidimensional, authentic and performance-based assessments (pp. 2-3).
Of special interest are examples of different school structures described in Chapter 2, entitled Types of Program. With different missions, student populations and communities, schools fall into four general STEM models: schools within schools; pullout schools; stand-alone schools, and residential schools. Each model is described through an actual representative program and followed with a list of benefits and opportunities and another list of issues, needs and concerns. Chapter 6, entitled Students in Specialized Schools, presents an informative discussion on giftedness, from characteristics of gifted students to considerations for selection and development of faculty and staff. The book’s succinct checklist-style provides the reader with facts, guidelines, and questions that stimulate thoughtful reflection on the purposeful creation of a successful STEM school.
Two areas of concern arise at the conclusion of the book. First, it is recognized that specialized STEM schools naturally attract academically talented, motivated students who often represent more privileged levels of society. Although the challenge of diversity in faculty and students is discussed in chapters 6 and 7, the student selection procedures for many of the schools seem to work against inclusion of under-represented groups. A recent Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant funded a study on diversity in NCSSSMST member schools and resulted in ‘increased awareness’ to develop strategies that take in more students from under-served populations. A description of these strategies in the book would be helpful to administrators seeking to establish “schools like ours.” Secondly, current emphasis on STEM curricula is often represented as STeM, with problem-solving, models-based features of engineering receiving less attention than the three other traditional areas. NCSSSMST has expanded its focus from mathematics, science and technology to STEM. Thus, additional descriptions of engineering as a content area would be useful in the book’s descriptions of relevant curricula and facilities.
Schools Like Ours: Realizing Our STEM Future is an informative and comprehensive manual written by experienced specialized high school administrators in a readable format. It should be considered an indispensable tool for anyone interested in creating a specialized STEM secondary school.
The following NCSSSMST publications are available.
Schools Like Ours~ Realizing our STEM Future
Published by NCSSSMST October 2011
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