STEM Solutions Abound
As a landmark event on the STEM events calendar, the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference features an overwhelming volume of choice insights and stories from high-profile, creative people active in all territories of the STEM education world. It’s a bounty of knowledge and learning, ranging in scope from panoramic to x-ray level, a multiplicity of angles and opinions on where the field is now, where it’s going, and what might happen when it gets there.
In other words, it’s a form of hell, the apple bobbing above Tantalus’s head, the water receding below his knees, just at the moment of greatest hunger or thirst. Just about impossible to feel like you’ve got the most out of your time there, no matter how hard you try to cover the ground.
Full Coverage Helps
A compensating benefit of the meeting is that it originates with the same people who publish a major, mainstream media news magazine. The U.S. News editorial operation details a raft of writers to cover the major events of the conference. And they report back with highly useful, capsule versions of many of the major sessions and events.
For people attending the meeting, these summaries can fill in the gaps that you missed on-site. For people who don’t attend, they can keep you current with big ideas and trends in STEM education.
Below are selected highlights of the meeting, pointers to especially interesting panel discussions from the meeting. As well, a larger number of other panels are described, grouped by categories of our devising: STEM pathways, diversity in STEM, retention in the STEM workforce, and systemic change in STEM learning and work.
The Hall of Fame
“We should’ve done something more powerful long ago.” New inductees in the U.S. News STEM Leadership Hall of Fame gathered for an on-stage discussion about STEM education and workforce development and arrived at a consensus of impatience with progress. They also largely agreed on the keys to progress: knowledgeable, effective teachers; high standards of learning; accountability for teachers and administrators; high-quality materials.
None of this is hard to figure out, they noted. Rather, the obstacles like in the system of education being asked to change, one so complicated and bureaucratic and politicized that change requires sustained, well funded action on many, varied fronts in coordinated fashion.
In the end, noted honoree Shirley Malcom, what’s needed is, “a STEM movement,” people at the grassroots of education – parents, local school boards, teachers – demanding change as a matter of student and neighborhood survival.
STEM leaders and influencers need to impart widespread urgency to this issue and give these people tools to be effective where they can make change happen.
- Craig Barrett, retired Intel CEO and Chairman of the Board
- Stephen Bechtel, Jr., Senior Director of Bechtel Group and The Fremont Group
- Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College
- Shirley Malcom, Head of Education and Human Resources Programs, AAAS
- Eduardo Padrón, President of Miami Dade College
Early college high schools
Early college high schools bridge a gap between school and work. A tie-up among high schools, higher ed, and business, early college high schools lead students through a grades 9-14 model of schooling. Students graduate with an associate’s degree aligned with the needs of local employers in technical industries. A mix of core academic courses and technical education, the curriculum works especially well with populations that can get lost along the longer high school to four-year college to work pathway.
Sparkling role models
Role models to inspire students from under-represented groups. If you click on just one of these links … Nothing packs narrative punch like stories of persistence and talent combining to beat long odds and earn recognition and rewards for deserving individuals. Said one panelist, “It’s a strength to have a new perspective and a diversity that makes you special. It’s boring to all be the same.” True that.
Parents matter, a lot
The vital importance of parents. As is often noted, students spend much more time outside of school than in it. Parents play a dominant role in shaping and filling this time. To promote STEM interest and learning, parents can model inquiry and curiosity about the world around them and their kids. Morevoer, making learning a joint enterprise – in which parents admit to not knowing the answers and work with their kids to find answers – can fuel children’s enthusiasm and confidence in STEM areas.
- Real-world STEM work experiences help students understand connections between schooling and employment and imagine themselves in the workforce.
- Rich early-childhood learning environments can launch kids on high learning trajectories. Hearing vastly fewer words per day than their higher-income peers, low-income kids start off behind the first day of kindergarten.
- High-stress jobs demanding quick solutions involving technical materials make veterans strong candidates for STEM work. But they need special support in making the transition from military to civilian work.
Diversity in STEM
- The very fun Physics Girl, Dianna Cowern, preaches the importance of parents guiding and modeling STEM interest and achievement for girls, starting from the youngest possible ages.
- A sense of community and academic support along the way make STEM study more viable and compelling for under-represented groups. Such nodes of success breed on themselves and can make dramatic changes in the lives of students and graduation rates of schools.
Retention in the STEM workforce
- Workforce diversity is strong predictor of business success. Affinity groups and executives’ active engagement underwrite inclusive workplace environments.
- Culture is key to retaining women and minorities. From outreach to on-the-job learning to flexible workdays, companies have lots of options for driving change.
Systemic change in STEM learning and work
- Integrated STEM learning requires synthesizing and connecting disparate realms of teaching and learning. Math themes in English class? Reading standards in biology? Engineering through stories? Yes, to all.
- Flourishing STEM “ecosystems” have several common attributes: strong leadership vision, long-term funding, a vibrant afterschool partner, rich learning environment, and active public education partners.
- Technical education is an undervalued element in STEM pathways. Ever more academically demanding, it can repay attention from business and industry interested in aligning schooling with employment needs.
And even more links to even more goings-on, including the closing keynote session, are available.
Please feel free to share with any interested friends or colleagues.
We’re glad to hear of any other items to pass along or thoughts on these. Add a comment or contact us directly.
Eric Iversen is VP for Learning and Communications at Start Engineering. He has written and spoken widely on engineering education in the K-12 arena. You can write to him about this topic, especially when he gets stuff wrong, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also follow along on Twitter @StartEngNow.