STEM Beats - November 2012

Our STEM wish list

November 30, 2012

In the spirit of the season, we've come up with a few STEM-Ed items that we'd like to see happen in 2013. Some are state initiatives, some federal, some private, some public, and they're listed in no particular order:

1.) Strong implementation of national standards

Over the next year, many states will be more fully incorporating Common Core State Standards into their curricula, with an eye toward full implementation in 2013-2014. Adopting the new standards will mean new textbooks, new materials, new assessments, and new technology. All of these may, without proper funding, face significant barriers. 

To complement Common Core, the Next Generation Science Standards (Next Gen) are also coming down the pike. They'll be in the final stages of review early next year. Both sets of standards get students, teachers, and schools across the country on the same page when it comes to math and science skills, and have incredible potential. But the devil's in the details, and it's important to get those right, too. 

2.) Continued innovations in STEM education 

The latest round of Investing in Innovation grants put a strong emphasis on STEM programs, whether it's STEM professional development or early learning. It's clear that a strong STEM background can be the root of a strong career and strong economy. Without continued support and research for innovation, though, 

3.) Partnerships between business and education 

We've seen some great examples recently of what happens when business and education put their minds together: IBM created P-TECH, a high school that strongly aligns a high-school curriculum to the demands of a tech workforce, and Microsoft employees have started partnering with local high schools to offer their expertise in hard-to-staff subjects, like computer science. Programs like these, that get students engaged and passionate about the opportunities in STEM, 

4.) Greater access to rigorous courses 

Our Vital Signs analysis showed that -- unsurprisingly -- students in the highest-need schools often have the least access to the rigorous courses. They need these to meet that college- and career-ready bar, like calculus and physics. Nationwide,  one of every two schools does not offer calculus. Students of color are far more likely than their white peers to be affected by this statistic. Four in ten schools do not offer physics, and, again, it is students of color who are most likely to attend these schools. The achievement gap is an opportunity gap; finding ways to grant greater access to these courses is a necessary step in ensuring all children the future they want and deserve. 

5.) Increased focus on science 

While math has gotten a lot of love lately, it's time to turn our attention to science. Nationwide, time for science in elementary school has dropped by almost a third over the past 15 years, as schools squeeze time to focus on tested subjects. Enrollment in and access to rigorous science courses, like AP classes and physics, are limited by students' prior background in the subject -- you can't take calculus without mastering algebra, Only a handful of states hold their schools accountable for science when measuring Adequate Yearly Progress. Taken together, these signs mean that a huge portion of students aren't receiving the type of engaging, rigorous science education that leaves them interested and prepared to pursue STEM in the future. 

What else would you like to see on the list? 

Tags: standards, Common Core, Next Generation Science

DARPA dipping into K-12, funding high-school 'hackerspaces'

November 27, 2012

Saying "DARPA" might conjure up some sci-fi or high-tech images. But DARPA -- the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or the research arm of the Department of Defense -- invests far and wide in tech (one of their earlier investments was in a little thing called the Internet). And one of their most recent investments can help high schoolers get involved in tech research, with potentially huge implications. 

As reported by NPR, DARPA  has committed $10 million to "hackerspaces" -- or equipped, democratic workspaces designed to tech creation and innovation -- in high schools. These freewheeling spaces for students are like the shop classes of the 21st century, where students can experiment and create projects with cutting-edge technology. Next up, DARPA's issued a request for information on new ideas for approaches to teaching computer science from middle school on up.  

But what does this mean for teaching tech? For one, DARPA aims to support over 1,000 schools in the next four years, which can reach a substantial chunk of students. And it's a gamble, but promising technology could emerge with digital natives sharing ideas. But more broadly, pushing for new, broadly applicable ways of teaching computer science in middle school underscores the importance of growing tech-savvy kids. Right now, not enough students get exposure to computer science: Only about 14,000 take the AP Computer Science test, computer science doesn't count towards graduation requirements in many states, and only about 10 percent of schools even offer courses in the subject. Hopefully the research that may result will lead to a better understanding of why computer science is vital, and a strong collective push to get more classes in more schools.

Coincidentally, our next STEM Salon is on computer science in schools. Join us on Dec. 12 to learn more.  

Tags: technology, computer science

Science Time Still Sliding

November 26, 2012

A Kansas superintendent's doctoral research further confirms a trend CTEq's Vital Signs saw earlier this year: Time for science, particularly in elementary school, is declining dramatically. 

George Griffiths, the super of a western Kansas district, polled 900 teachers across five Midwestern states, and found that, on average, teachers have cut between 30 and 60 minutes of science instruction weekly. In fact, one in five teachers reported giving students grades in science but not even teaching or testing the subject.

His analysis took it a step further and uncovered the rationale, which should come as no surprise: More than 55 percent of teachers said that pressure to increase math and reading scores on high-stakes state tests, had led to the change in focus. 

The narrow scope, as we know, is ultimately harmful to students: Many are choosing not to pursue STEM, despite the fact that an increasing number of jobs rely on science and math education. 

It's time to start re-integrating science into both accountability frameworks and schools. States like Texas, which has long had science as part of its accountability, has seen little decrease in time for science, according to our analysis. Keeping students and schools focused on science will keep them focused on the future. 

Tags: Vital Signs, science

iONFuture helps students see the possibilities in STEM

November 19, 2012

Today Change the Equation is proud to announce the launch of iONFuture, our new STEM-focused online learning games. The free suite of games, at, is geared toward middle schoolers and early high schoolers and helps them discover the wide world of STEM and determine what STEM career path might be just right for them. 

The three games include: 


STEM Is Everwhere,  where students can explore the impact people with STEM jobs have on everything around them;

STEM Career Matchmaker, which allows students to determine which STEM career best fits their interests, and 

STEM Career Quest, which lets students follow real-life paths to different careers that use STEM. We based this game on the input of hundreds of STEM professionals. 

We are incredibly proud of these games and the impact they can have on young teens! Ensuring that students are given the exposure to develop an interest is vital to getting them college- and career-ready. Check out the trailer below to learn more about the games, and tell your favorite tween to check out the games.  

Can Schools Use Hip Hop to Teach Science?

November 19, 2012

Can schools use hip hop to teach science? Purists might blanch at the thought, but a group of schools in New York City are set to give it a try. Hip hop, say the project’s leaders, can create an ideal climate for learning.

Dr. Chris Emden from Columbia’s Teachers College is working with famed rapper GZA to launch the project in 10 schools. For Dr. Emden, the rapper’s “cypher” is the perfect “learning moment.” Participants stand in a circle and riff on each other’s lines in a sustained creative give and take.

GZA, who is known for weaving esoteric references to subjects like chess and philosophy into his songs, is working on a new album, “Dark Matter,” which takes science as its inspiration. GZA, who met with physicists from MIT and Harvard as he planned the album, sees himself as a “popularizer of science.”

It’s too soon to know what the results of the project will be. If it’s a resounding success, science teachers from around the country might want to start working on their rhythm and flow.

Tags: science