A Theory of Action for STEM Education

by Guest Blogger:
Dr. Tom Peters
Executive Director and Devil’s Advocate
South Carolina’s Coalition for Mathematics & Science

Nearly everyone I know has a story to tell about their first encounter with a four letter word.

Invariably, the humor underlying the story is derived from failure of the novice user or the person hearing the word to fully grasp its meaning.  STEM is my current favorite four letter word and I’ve noticed that it gets tossed about in our profession much like other sorts of four letter words are used to fill otherwise empty space in rap song lyrics.  Perhaps we should have stuck with SMET?

Like other four letter words I know, STEM is rather versatile.  It is a noun, a verb, an adjective, and all the other parts of speech I’ve long forgotten how to name.  Maybe that’s ok.

All humor aside, STEM is also a word now used in our profession in a matter of fact way even when there is little agreement as to what the word really means, especially when it comes to enacting STEM in real, live classrooms.  We read the latest STEM report, attend the big STEM conference and hear the word uttered by anyone seeking a grant.  We politely nod as though we understand and think, “I got to have me some of that STEM stuff.”  Or maybe some STEMS or STEAM or STREAMS?  Those have more letters so they must be better words. Continue reading

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Book Review: Schools Like Ours: Realizing Our STEM Future

Review by:
Jane Larson, PhD
Science Educator
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). Continue reading

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Educator Edition–2011 National Survey on STEM

Earlier this year, the Corporate Edition of the 2011 National Survey on STEM Education was published covering topics such as: STEM funding priorities, professional development, and key issues facing STEM educators. That survey has now been used by dozens of STEM companies to help define the products and services available for STEM students in the United States.

In the meantime, many STEM educators have followed this blog and asked the question, “Can I get a free copy?”. Now you can.

Thanks to a sponsorship by Learning.com, the Educator Edition of the 2011 National Survey on STEM Education may be downloaded here.

Topics include:

  • Top challenges facing STEM education
  • STEM integration: currently and in the next 1-3 years
  • STEM courses currently offered and those likely to be offered in the next 1-3 years
  • E-book reader technology for STEM education
  • Professional development judged most helpful to STEM educators
  • Educator suggestions for STEM PD courses–over 250 detailed responses with PD opportunities


A big thanks goes out to our friends at Learning.com for making this research available for all those educators teaching the next generation of scientists and engineers. Go to Learning.com to get the full report.

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Demographic Disparities in STEM Education

The commerce department released a report today which looks at demographic disparities in STEM education. The report finds that educational attainment may affect equality of opportunity in these critical, high-quality jobs of the future.

Key findings of this report include:

• Non-Hispanic Whites comprise the largest group of STEM workers, accounting for about seven out of ten STEM workers, which aligns closely with their share of the overall workforce.

• Non-Hispanic Asians are most likely (42 percent) to graduate college with a STEM degree, while the propensities of other groups are all fairly similar (17-22 percent).

• Half of all non-Hispanic Asian workers with STEM degrees have STEM jobs, compared to 30 percent of Hispanics and non-Hispanic Black and American Indian and Alaska Native workers.

• One in five STEM workers is foreign-born, of which 63 percent come from Asia.

• STEM workers in all demographic groups, including the foreign-born, earn more than their non-STEM counterparts. Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks receive a significantly larger STEM premium than do non-Hispanic Whites.

The full report may be downloaded here.

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Why Students Choose STEM

Why do today’s students choose STEM over other fields of study such as business, law, or the arts? Income? Passsion?

According to a new study, most college students studying for degrees in science, technology, engineering or math make the decision to do so in high school or before. However, only 20 percent say they feel that their education before college prepared them “extremely well” for those fields, according to a a STEM Survey released by Microsoft and polling company Harris Interactive.

The survey, which asked college students pursing STEM degrees and the parents of K-12 students about attitudes toward STEM education, also found that male and female students enter the fields for different reasons: females are more likely to want to make a difference, while males are more likely to say they’ve always enjoyed games, toys or clubs focused on the hard sciences.


The STEM Study also found:

  • Just over half (55 percent) of college students said they were “extremely” or “very” well-prepared for college, with female students more likely to say they were well-prepared than male students.
  • The majority of students (57 percent) decided to study STEM subjects in high school, and students who felt they were “somewhat” or “not at all” prepared for college science courses were more likely to have decided in college to pursue a STEM degree.
  • Sixty-six percent of students, and 76 percent of parents of K-12 students, agreed that the U.S. is doing “a poor job” of teaching STEM subjects compared to other countries.
  • Despite the dissatisfaction with K-12 education, only 31 percent of college students said a good science education before college was “absolutely essential” or “extremely important” to college success. “Having a passion” and “studying hard” were the two factors most frequently cited as essential.
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STEM – Where is the Funding?

“It is time to restore science to its rightful place, . . . and to wield technology’s wonders to meet the demand of a new age.” President Barack Obama

This is a sentiment most of us can rally behind. We want our children to be able to compete in an increasingly competitive global workplace. However, the problem is systemic and the question is “Who is going to pay for it?”

In the 2011 National Survey on STEM Education we asked STEM leaders that question. Respondents could choose from: district-led initiatives, ESEA, grants from private foundations, Investing in Innovation funds, Race to the Top, school discretionary funds, state-led initiatives, and Title I funding. Over 400 STEM leaders responded. The top answer?

The most frequently identified funding sources were grants from private foundations (31.9%) and district-led initiatives (25.9%).

Public/private funding partnerships are a part of a growing trend in STEM Education. Several states including, Washington, Oregon, Texas, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Tennessee, Arizona, California, and Idaho have developed STEM alliances that rely on both public and private funding.

Massachusetts, often considered a leader in STEM Education, has published the Massachusetts STEM Plan which relies on a foundation of public/private governance.










The Massachusetts plan looks at systemic reform from Kindergarten through college and focuses on outcomes that can be measured. The plan calls for businesses and the community to be part of the solution from funding to job mentoring.

Many business are stepping up and supporting STEM education in their state. Leaders see the opportunity to be part of the solution and to help nurture scientific and engineering talent that can help solve the global issues we face.

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2011 Report Indicates STEM Jobs on the Rise

A 2011 STEM Report from the Department of Commerce indicates that job opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math fields (STEM) are increasing in America. Additionally, the report goes on to say that STEM workers earn 26% more on average than their non-STEM counterparts.

Good news? The report does a great job of providing data to support the need for a highly educated STEM workforce. But are employers able to recruit and hire the highly skilled employees needed?

The STEM Vital Signs published by Change the Equation indicate that the U.S. needs to increase both the rigor of coursework, and the expectations for testing in order to produce a workforce capable of competing in the global market place.

So it seems that news is mostly good. Looking five years into the future, there will be more STEM jobs, and the workers lucky enough to fill those jobs will experience higher wages and lower unemployment. The real question becomes, “How do we ensure that our schools are ready to graduate students that are career and college ready in STEM?”


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NRC Publishes “Successful K-12 STEM Education”

Last week, The National Research Council announced the publication of “Successful STEM Education”. The report recommends ways to improve K-12 STEM Education and calls on policymakers to raise science education to the same level of importance as math and reading.

The report responds to a request from Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va) for the National Science Foundation, which sponsored the Research Council report, to identify highly successful K-12 schools and programs in STEM fields.

Outlining key aspects of STEM schools and programs, the report identifies a number of strategies for improving overall STEM education.

What aspects of STEM are addressed in “Successful STEM Education”?

“Although there are a variety of perspectives on what STEM education in K-12 schools entails, for the purposes of this report the committee focused its analysis on the science and mathematics parts of STEM. This decision was influenced by the fact that the bulk of the research and data concerning STEM education at the K-12 level relates to mathematics and science education. Research in technology and engineering education is less mature because those subjects are not as commonly taught in K-12 education. Although integrating STEM subjects is not the focus of this report, the committee recognizes the variety of conceptual connections among STEM subjects and the fact that science inquiry and engineering design provide opportunities for making STEM learning more concrete and relevant. The nature and potential value of integrated K-12 STEM education are the focus of an ongoing study of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council by the Committee on Integrated STEM Education. It is expected to be completed in 2013.”

“Successful STEM Education” may be downloaded from STEMReports.com by clicking on the name of the report. It also may be downloaded from the National Academy of Science. Hard copies of the report are also available for purchase from NAS.


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Whitepaper on STEM from Learning.com

Learning.com recently published a whitepaper on STEM Education authored by Diana Laboy-Rush.

The ten-paged paper covers the basics of the math and science education crisis and then tackles the challenge of defining what integrated STEM looks like in the classroom.

Below is an excerpt from Learning.com’s whitepaper on STEM Education:

Integrated instruction is any program in which there is an explicit assimilation of concepts from more than one discipline (Satchwell & Loepp, 2002). Integrated STEM education programs apply equal attention to the standards and objectives of two or more of the STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. There are myriad ways that a school or class can approach improving math and science education, but too often educators address the topics in silos, separate from any other subjects. When teachers expose students early to opportunities to learn math and science in interactive environments that develop communication and collaboration skills, students are more confident and competent in these subjects. This not only makes higher education more attainable for students, but also contributes to a well-prepared society.

The whitepaper also does a nice job of defining a 5-step process for a STEM activity.

  1. Reflection
  2. Research
  3. Discovery
  4. Application
  5. Communication

A definition of each step along with a citation to support it is included.

Download the whitepaper from Learning.com here.

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Top Priorities for Race to the Top States

Recently published by the Center on Instruction, this STEM report is a great overview of activities in states receiving Race to the Top Funding.

In addition to a detailed breakdown by state taken directly from the RttT applications, the report analyzes broad categories covered by the winning states including:

Adoption and Revision of Standards
New STEM Academies and High Schools
STEM Programs and Curriculum
STEM Courses Taught including AP
Virtual Schools
Pre-service Preparation
Professional Development and More

Download this report:
STEM Summary of RTTT Applications

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