STEM Beats - January 2014

STEM of the Union

January 29, 2014

No, that’s not a typo.  We definitely meant to say STEM of the Union.  But we’ll get to that in a minute.  President Obama’s State of the Union last night mentioned many of the things we all expected: the economy, defense, minimum wage, and getting Americans back to work. It’s that last point that particularly hit home with us. 

We see a path to not just employment but prosperity via STEM.  STEM fields offer opportunity – even in the height of the recession, there were nearly two STEM-focused job postings for every unemployed STEM professional. And career opportunities for STEM-literate high school graduates are projected to grow significantly . But how do we ensure that people are poised to take advantage of these opportunities?  The President called for pathways from community college to the workforce, for on the job training.  And we agree.  But there’s more to it than that.  We’ve got to start on that path before students enter post-secondary education.  We have to start in grade school.


CTEq research shows that we’re not there yet. For example, our recent report, Science S.O.S., noted the amount of time elementary students spend on science: a national average of just 2.6 hours a week, or about a half-hour per day.  There are states that spend more (Texas at 3.8 hours) and those that spend far less (New Hampshire at 1.6 hours).  But it’s not just the time spent, it’s the quality of the learning. And we’ve got to ensure that all students have access to high-quality STEM learning opportunities, both in and out-of-school. 

President Obama said of STEM:

Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math.  Some of this change is hard.  It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test.  But it’s worth it – and it’s working. 

He invoked innovation as the American edge.  It’s an edge that we need to maintain – and STEM literacy is one way to do just that.  Today’s students need to be prepared for the new opportunities of tomorrow’s workforce.  The skills and thought processes taught through STEM subjects are just the kind of critical thinking that sparks innovation which will prepare them for that future.  It’s just the kind of thinking that we need in order to maintain our edge.  

When CTEq thinks about the state of our union, it always begins with STEM.

Tags: jobs & workforce

This Day in STEM: A Show about Nothing?

January 23, 2014

In this week's edition, rather than a scientific first or a technological discovery, we thought we'd recognize a different sort of notable event in STEM: on this day in 1991, famed TV comedy Seinfeld debuted on NBC. 

We know what you're thinking: Get out!  You might be surprised to learn that the notorious "show about nothing" actually explored many aspects of STEM, albeit veiled in memorable banter and situational hilarity. 

Still not convinced?  Think about it: what was George Costanza's pursuit to "do the opposite" but his use of the scientific method to correct his seemingly off-track life? 

And when Kramer tries out a polyphasic sleep regimine of only 20 minute-increments to maximize his "mossiness," he's really showing viewers the importance of the circadian rhythm to healthy rest.  Too bad for Cosmo, he learns that lesson a little too late.

While Seinfeld certainly illustrates many of the intricacies of human nature, even a scene depicting a broken social norm can have scientific implications.  George loses the infamous debate on the double-dip when science proves it's frowned upon for a good reason after all.

Even the show itself can be examined from a scientific standpoint.  Check out this analysis of whether the show is still funny and relevant after fifteen years of being off the air.  (Spoiler alert: it is.  The article finds that, if the seasons are watched in reverse order, the show remains relatable and cheeky.)  Jerry Seinfeld, the show's star and co-creator, once described it simply as a glimpse at "how comedians get their material."  Seinfeld revolved around the notion of observing everyday things and finding the humor in them.  The same can be said for STEM, in that one need only take a closer look at the world to discover how often we use (and need) STEM in our daily lives.  


Want to learn more about science and Seinfeld?  

Well, that's too bad.  No STEM for you!  (Just kidding.  We'll be back next week with all the STEM that's fit to print before you can say "yada yada yada.")

Tags: This Day in STEM, video

This Day in STEM: January 16

January 15, 2014

The Winter Olympics are just around the corner and, although the games date back to ancient times, one piece of modern technology has completely changed the way many athletes compete for glory.  On January 16, 1936, the first photo-finish camera was installed at the Hialeah Park Race Track in Florida.  While it was initially intended to determine the winners in horse racing, the use of this tech has expanded to other high-speed events including many of those at the Olympic games and is often pivotal in determining the difference between a silver and a gold medal.

High-speed camera technology involves capturing a series of photos - thousand per second! - at the instant that competitors cross the finish line.  Interestingly, these photos are only a few pixels wide.  Ever wonder why the backgrounds of the images are usually white, unlike the actual track?  The cameras are painstakingly positioned to capture only the width of the finish line, oftentimes painted white, and reveal the entire moment once a computer stitches them into a composite image. 

Photo finish 


The precision of this process means that the difference between winning and losing is often only a matter of milliseconds.  Despite the fact that photo finish technology has meant a complete reinvention of the way athletes train, there are still times when even the fastest camera can't dispute an absolute dead heat.

We’re looking forward to the Sochi Olympics even more now that we understand the science and technology behind the photo finish!  We’ll have even more information on how STEM impacts the Olympics in an upcoming blog post, too.  Are you interested in STEM and the Olympics?  Tell us in a comment what you’re looking forward to seeing and learning when the Olympics kick off on February 7!  

Tags: This Day in STEM, technology

Science S.O.S.!

January 7, 2014

With the New Year now upon us, it’s the perfect time to look inward and identify ways to improve, strive, and broaden, even in STEM.  In this spirit, Change the Equation is challenging states to make (and keep) a resolution: enrich the school days of U.S. students by encouraging schools to spend more time on science in 2014 and beyond.

In our new Vital Signs data release, CTEq can gladly report that, overall, elementary schools increased the amount of time spent on science from 2.3 hours per week in 2008 to 2.6 hours per week in 2012.  However, when you consider the steady decline from three hours per week in 1994 and the fact that, currently, students are exposed to such a critical subject for only about a half hour per day, it's easy to see why we're sending out an S.O.S. for science.

Many states are dedicating more time for science education.  Schools in Texas, for example, spend 3.8 hours per week, up from 3.3 hours in only four years.  Unfortunately, though, we’ve seen other states’ science-committed classroom time plummet: New Hampshire, from 2.9 to 1.6 hours in less than 20 years; Colorado, from 2.9 to 1.8 hours; Nevada, from 2.8 to 1.7 hours. 

Science SOS gif

Perhaps the most telling (and concerning) evidence comes with the recent release of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) findings on science scores: in the last three years, the U.S. has fallen even further in the global rankings, from seventeenth to twenty-first place.  Beyond that, only half of states actually hold schools accountable for meeting science standards, which can vary greatly and often set a very low bar for proficiency.

Low stakes

The issue here is not only dedicating more time to science but using that time well and setting consistent benchmarks for achievement.  Some states are adopting Next Generation Science Standards, which allow teachers to cover fewer, more essential topics in greater depth while still building skills in vital areas like reading and math, subjects that have commonly pushed science out of the curriculum.  These standards can help schools provide substantive and sustained exposure to science so that we can build the foundation of STEM literacy beginning in elementary classrooms. 

Want to see where your state stands on science and whether you need to sound the S.O.S.?  Download the full Science S.O.S. infographic and check out the brand new Time for Science data in Vital Signs under “Challenging Content."  You can also see all the state numbers and more by following the #ScienceSOS hashtag on Twitter. And let’s all resolve to get our states to spend more time on science in 2014!

Science SOS infographic

Tags: science, Vital Signs, infographic, STEM & the states, Next Generation Science