STEM Beats - May 2016

The STEM You Don't See

May 27, 2016

The workplace looks different than it did 50 years ago. I’m sure you’ve noticed. Maybe they replaced your static building directory with a touch-enabled digital display directory or the lights in your copy room go off when no one’s using it. But there are likely other innovations that you haven’t noticed. Maybe your building’s water supplier switched to digital meters that better measure your usage to ensure your bill is accurate. Maybe the electricity powering your computer runs on a smart grid that “automatically responds to failures and disturbances” to reduce the chances of a power failure.

Digital infrastructure refers to these oft unseen and yet essential advances woven into our daily interactions. But behind all innovations to our infrastructure are STEM innovators--the makers, the doers, the tinkerers—who improve old systems and create new ones. STEM professionals with ideas change the way we do our jobs and how we live our lives.

One such example shows how Indy 500 pit stops ran in the 1950s vs. how they run now—thanks to STEM.

Even though we’re not all pit stop technicians, we witness constant evolution in the workplace.  And we can only ponder how we’ll be working tomorrow.

Tags: science, technology, engineering, math, video

New CTEq Report: We Can't Leave Americans' Technology and Engineering Literacy to Chance

May 24, 2016

When we in the United States get news that our students bring up the rear in international tests of academic performance, we often console ourselves with the belief that Americans are somehow different. We may not do well on tests, but we're practical problem solvers and innovators who all but invented the modern age. Think Henry Ford or Thomas Edison.

The first-ever Nation's Report Card for Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) should dispel that illusion. U.S. eighth-graders just aren’t very adept at solving problems through technology and engineering, and a new Change the Equation report reveals why they aren’t:  they have precious little opportunity to tinker, troubleshoot, build, fix things, or design their own solutions to challenges.

Today, CTEq released Left to Chance: U.S. Middle Schoolers Lack in-Depth Experience with Technology and Engineering, a report that analyzes results from survey questions TEL test takers answered after they completed the test. Among the findings:

  • Only 9 percent of schools report placing “a lot” of emphasis on figuring out how to fix something;
  • Only 26 percent of eighth-graders have taken something apart to fix it or see how it works more than 3 times in their lives—whether in or out of school;
  • Forty-four percent of eighth-grade white boys, but only 19 percent of eighth-grade Latina girls, have taken something apart to fix it more than five times in their lives;
  • Forty-one percent of white boys and 61 percent of Latina girls have never  taken a technology or engineering class in or before eighth grade.

Note that the report does not define technology or engineering as something only computer scientists or engineers need to know. Everyone needs these skills to thrive in the modern world. According to TEL, technology is any modification of nature to meet human needs, a definition that encompasses smart phones and pencils. Engineering is any attempt to design a thing, process, or system that meets human needs. The nation's prosperity depends on skills like these.

We cannot just leave American’s experience with technology and engineering to chance. Americans aren't simply born with an innovation gene. CTEq's report offers concrete and actionable strategies for confronting this problem head on. Check it out!

Tags: technology, engineering, minorities, women & girls

STEMtistic on Display: Algebra II Doubles the Odds

May 19, 2016

If you're interested in increasing college readiness for all students, one way is to guarantee access to Algebra II courses during highschool. According to the National Math & Science Initiative, taking Algebra II in highschool makes students 50 percent more likely to finish college and earn four-year degrees.

Source: National Math & Science Initiative, STEM Education & Workforce, January 2014.

Tags: math, STEMtistics, K-12, higher education

Games Like Minecraft Strengthen our Future Workforce

May 18, 2016

Throughout the U.S., STEM education advocates work tirelessly to expand quality coding initiatives, provide students with effective STEM mentors, and teach engineering and critical thinking skills. Markus Persson managed to create a video game that does all three as well as teach civic literacy by his 30th birthday! 

If you are not familiar with Minecraft, you will be soon.  Minecraft is a virtual land where gamers use building blocks to create unique worlds that promote endless possibilities.  Users dig or mine different kinds of 3D blocks within a large world of varying terrains and habitats. Gamers must go about their daily operations, which can include gathering materials, making tools, or raising animals, while standing up to the elements, such as lightning storms.  Minecraft gamers may also find themselves in dangerous or challenging situations: in a face-off with criminals, for example, or foraging for food.

Last month, the New York Times Magazine described the STEM skills that Minecraft builds among gamers of all ages, kindergarten through adulthood. Microsoft acquired Persson’s company in 2014, recognizing that the game encourages creativity, tinkering and problem-solving in the digital world. In other words, it provides a digital ‘apprenticeship’ for existing and yet-to-be-defined jobs.   

In Minecraft worlds, gamers are swiftly introduced to a computerized maker experience.  Gamers test code to design traps within Minecraft worlds, develop engineering skills and use logic and deductive reasoning to troubleshoot why a set design may or may not work.  Gamers use trial and error to learn the game and survive in the user designed worlds.

Not everyone has the resources to purchase the game or access to a device on which it can be played. This is why it is so important for schools and afterschool programs to provide analogous experiences that ensure all young people are digitally savvy. Informed citizenship and job success depend on it. But is this really happening?

Register for Change the Equation’s May 24th webcast releasing results of a student survey which is part of the first-ever assessment of Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL).  This report examines whether eighth-graders have opportunities to acquire literacy in technology and engineering and what to do for those who do not.

Tags: technology, engineering, jobs & workforce

The Bad News and Good News About Technology and Engineering Literacy

May 17, 2016

Some bad education news hit the airwaves today: millions of young people in the United States are not literate in engineering and technology, and that unsettling fact has real implications for the future of our nation. But there’s good news, too: the very fact that we can measure people’s tech and engineering literacy bodes well for the future of testing, and maybe even for the future of teaching.

A nationally-representative sample of U.S. eighth-graders took the new Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) Assessment, the nation’s first-ever test of young people’s literacy in technology and engineering. Here are some of the top-line results:

  • Only 43 percent are proficient or above;
  • Girls do better than boys: 45 percent vs. 42 percent proficient or above. The difference is small but statistically significant;
  • Enormous gaps separate students by race: 56 percent of white and Asian students, 28 percent of Hispanic students, and 18 percent of Black students are proficient or above.
  • Enormous gaps separate students by income: 59 percent of higher-income students and 25 percent of lower-income students are proficient or above.

In other words, millions of U.S. young people—low-income and minority students least of all—are not prepared to thrive in a world where technology remains one of the main engines of social and economic change.

So where’s the good news? The TEL assessment itself offers a vision for what tests can be. The computer-based test eschews tired testing formats in favor of real-world scenarios that gauge students’ problem-solving skills. This is not the kind of standardized test that has drawn so much scorn from parents and students. In fact, it might not be all bad if more teachers taught to a test like TEL, which requires students to think critically, interpret information, apply knowledge, and come up with solutions to problems they have never encountered before. Here’s hoping that states follow the lead of tests like TEL as they consider the next generation of standardized tests.

By the way, stay tuned for CTEq’s in-depth analysis of results from survey questions TEL test takers answered when they completed the TEL assessment. On May 24th, we will webcast the live release of a new report examining whether eighth-graders have opportunities to learn the skills TEL assesses. Register here.

Tags: technology, engineering, minorities, women & girls