CS Crashes the Summer in STEM

Eric Iversen

Summer, in sum

The greater arc of education continued to bend in the direction of STEM over the summer. We don’t note this necessarily to celebrate it. The view of education as just pre-professional training often highlights STEM fields as the only ones worth students’ attention. Along with the Washington Post, we would certainly differ.

From learning to doing

Even so, active learning and applying knowledge to real-world issues do serve to capture students’ interests and can serve to close achievement gaps. They also happen to undergird principles of engineering and technology education.

In June, a big report called Students on STEM rang a loud bell for hands-on, real-world learning experiences.

Students on STEM called out science education for relying on textbooks and passive learning. Students, on the other hand, want to DO science and experience how it works in the real world.

Students on STEM called out science education for relying on textbooks and passive learning. Students, on the other hand, want to DO science and experience how it works in the real world.

The report, produced by the Amgen Foundation and Change the Equation, circulated widely online and in policy circles. Based on a November 2015 survey of almost 1,600 14- to 18-year-old students across the country, the report analyzed their experiences and attitudes about STEM studies. A strong theme in the results was students’ desire to understand how STEM fields related to the world and later work opportunities.

  • 86% wanted career-related content in their classes; 30% get it.
  • 83% would be interested in job-shadowing; 19% get it.
  • 79% thought career counseling would help; 34% get it.

Of course, a focus on “doing” science, not just reading about it, animates Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Moreover, NGSS features engineering as a prominent vehicle for students to demonstrate their learning in core math and science areas.

Spreading steadily across the country, NGSS now drives curricula in 17 states, the District of Columbia, and hundreds of local school districts. In late June, PBS NewsHour highlighted this trend in a report on how NGSS-inspired teaching practices are changing elementary-school science education in rural Wyoming. With official adoption on the docket for fall action, state number 18 seems about to join the NGSS roster.

#CSforAll

Every week this summer the profile of computer science in K-12 education seemed to rise.

Powerpuff Girl Bubbles in full-on coding mode, ready to take Silicon Valley by storm.

Powerpuff Girl Bubbles in full-on coding mode, ready to take Silicon Valley by storm.

Computer science has a strong policy wind blowing at its back, at the highest levels of government.

Or rather, #CSforWhom?

But who can actually take these classes ? A June Information Technology and Innovation Foundation report found that just one-quarter of U.S. high schools even offer computer science, mostly in better-off suburban school districts. Change the Equation found an egregious access gap in computer science, with minorities and rural populations at a severe disadvantage getting education in the field.

Staffing the classrooms is no simpler. Teacher certification in computer science is a chaotic mishmash, says the Computer Science Teachers Association. And despite the high national profile, learning standards are inconsistent or nonexistent. Education Week’s take on the realities of K-12 computer science shows a field far from following through on policy-makers’ visions for it.

Diversity matters

The end of the school year brought landmark news about women in engineering: Dartmouth College’s Thayer School of Engineering graduated a class of engineers that was majority female.

Women from the majority-female engineering class at Dartmouth work on an airplane wing. Dartmouth engineering students do not have to specialize in a particular discipline, gaining instead broad experience with many approaches to practice in the field.

Women from the majority-female engineering class at Dartmouth work on an airplane wing. Dartmouth engineering students do not have to specialize in a particular discipline, gaining instead broad experience with many approaches to practice in the field.

Very likely a first for a major research university, the majority broke out into 64 degrees for women and 55 for men. Nationally, women receive just under 20 percent of undergraduate engineering degrees but 57 percent of all degrees.

The news for women in engineering later in the summer struck a more familiar note about the challenges they face in the field. A long-term study tracked 700 women from college studies and into their first years as professional engineers. Over time, a combination of negative feedback from teachers and male peers, gender bias in tasking out and assessing work, and outright sexual harassment drove disproportionate numbers of women out of the field. These observations help explain why women’s actual participation in engineering has settled in at 13 percent, notably below even the lamentable rate of degree attainment.

But wait …

For African-Americans, the numbers are even worse. At just over four percent of U.S. students earning engineering degrees, African-Americans earn about 10 percent of all degrees.

As for working in, say, Silicon Valley? Slack Director of Engineering Leslie Miley, African-American and veteran of multiple tech companies, offered this pithy counsel: “Leave.” However, perhaps upon reflection, he found some reasons for hope, separately offering up these three ways to increase diversity in the tech industry.

The Baltimore Sun highlighted the legacy of Gene DeLoatch, recently retired as dean of engineering at Morgan State University. Credited with producing more black engineers than any other educator, anywhere in the country, DeLoatch was also the first African-American elected president of the American Society for Engineering Education.

How to make change

One challenge for members of under-represented groups in engineering and technology lies in imagining themselves working in fields where it seems nobody looks like them or shares their background.

In this vein, Hollywood, perhaps to the rescue. Hidden Figures is a movie set for Christmas release about three African-American women working in math and engineering jobs at NASA early in the moon-launch era. Check out the trailer. It looks kind of great.

Ready for some football?

To end on a seasonal note, we would observe what seem like increasing ties between football and, if you will, cheerleading for STEM learning.

What did you see going on in STEM education this summer? What do you think might lie ahead for the school year to come? Please feel free to share our thoughts with any interested friends or colleagues. And weigh in with your comments or be in touch directly with us.

 

 


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 eiversen@start-engineering.com

You can also follow along on Twitter @StartEngNow.

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Our Dream, Invent, Create Teacher’s Guide makes it easy to get started teaching elementary school engineering, even with no training in the field.

And for any outreach or education program, all of our popular K-12 engineering books, What’s Engineering?, Dream, Invent, Create, and Start Engineering: A Career Guide, can help deliver an accessible, engaging picture of engineering to all kinds of K-12 audiences.


Photos: Laptop on the beach, courtesy of Enterprising Oxford; Students on STEM graphic, courtesy of Amgen Foundation; Bubbles, courtesy of Cartoon Network; Dartmouth women engineering students, courtesy of Dartmouth College Thayer School of Engineering.