STEM Beats - 2013

This Day in STEM: December 19

December 19, 2013

Here at Change the Equation, we love space and we love trivia, which is why we were particularly drawn to this little tidbit . . . on December 19, 1958, the first radio broadcast from space brought a message from President Dwight Eisenhower to the Earth below. 

The transmission aired continuously as the world's first communications satellite orbited the planet.  In March 2013, this recording was selected by the Library of Congress to join others in the National Recording Registry, marking its great historical significance. Eisenhower’s brief words relay the sense of awe at this scientific breakthrough, which ushered in a new age of communications capabilities, as well as wish for the joyful season. 

"Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you via a satellite circling in outer space.  Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind, America's wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere." 

And so, in the spirit of Eisenhower’s message, albeit not transmitted from space – merely from our humble blog, we’d like to wish you very happy holidays, and best wishes for a New Year bursting with innovation and wonder.

2013 CTEq Holiday Card

Tags: This Day in STEM, technology

December STEM Salon: Bridging the Gender Gap in Computer Science

December 16, 2013

Dec STEM Salon

In this month's STEM Salon, our panel discussed the alarming state of women and girls in computer science.  Change the Equation's newest Vital Signs brief, Half Empty: As Men Surge Back into Computing, Women Are Left Behind points out the sizable gender gap in computing and illustrates the dire need for an increased flow of talent through the pipeline in order to meet current and future demand.

Panelists Kimberly Bryant (Black Girls Code), and CTEq members Allyson Knox (Microsoft), and Alison Derbenwick Miller (Oracle) tackled this issue, examining its causes and outlining ways in which the gap can be surmounted. 

Check out the discussion below and make sure to join us for more STEM Salons in 2014!


Tags: STEM Salon, computer science, video, Vital Signs

Code Red: Where Are the Women in Computing?

December 9, 2013

Here at CTEq, we're issuing a "code red."

As STEM educators, students, and enthusiasts across the country begin  celebrating Computer Science Education  Week, we've taken a step back to examine the big picture with our newest Vital Signs brief, Half Empty: As Men Surge Back Into Computing, Women are Left Behind, and the outlook is alarming:

Graph of degrees/certificates to women

The number of women in computing has not only dropped to a mere quarter of the workforce, but its further decline could lead to a disastrous shortage of computer science talent that will fail to keep up with rising global demand.

Computing Jobs graphic

Worse yet, one of the main contributing factors to this growing issue is a troublesome societal message that women and girls are getting: computers are not for you.

Luckily, intrepid organizations like Girlstart, she++, and Black Girls Code are working to stem the tide and empower female students to pursue their interests in computing.  Their efforts, coupled with vital, 21st-century enhancements to graduation requirements and standards, can breathe new life into the future of women and girls in computer science. 

Check out our new infographic on women in computing:

Women in computing infographic

Tags: Vital Signs, computer science, women & girls, infographic

Common core: a solution for education stagnation

December 3, 2013

The results of a major international test of 15-year-olds came out this morning, and the U.S. doesn’t have much to brag about. In the Programme for International Assessment (PISA), our teens were only about average in reading and science, and they trailed the international average in math. Worse, the U.S. has just been treading water since 2003, while other countries, most notably in Asia, have shot ahead.  But the PISA report did point to one U.S. strategy that could vault us forward: Common Core State Standards.

The Common Core State Standards, which 45 U.S. states have recently adopted, are more likely to expose U.S. students to the kinds of math students in high-flying countries tend to master. The PISA report finds that U.S. teens are relatively good at easier mathematical tasks like “handling well-structured formulae.” Yet they are weak in “performing mathematics tasks with higher cognitive demands, such as taking real-world situations, translating them into mathematical terms, and interpreting mathematical aspects in real-world problems.”

In other words, they have trouble applying math in complex real-world contexts. Common Core standards are much more likely to boost these higher cognitive skills: “a successful implementation of the Common Core Standards would yield significant performance gains also in PISA,” the report concludes.

That is good news, indeed. U.S. employers need workers who can use what they have learned to solve knotty problems in world where global competition is constantly changing the rules of engagement. Our students’ stagnant scores on PISA provide yet one more proof that states should stand strong for high standards.

Tags: Common Core, standards, STEM & the states

New Math Scores: Are We Losing Steam?

November 7, 2013

Results from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) came out today, and they tell a somewhat depressing story. The math scores of U.S. fourth and eighth graders rocketed upwards from at least 1990 until about 2005, when they began to level off. Why are our students losing steam? Perhaps the big reforms states launched more than 20 years ago have delivered all the results they can. The message here? It's time for another shock to the system.

Here's what the trend in 4th grade math scores looks like (and 8th grade is pretty similar):

NAEP Graph

In the early '90s, most states started adopting standards for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. Those standards lent coherence to what schools taught and helped teachers spot areas where students were falling short of the mark. For the next decade and a half, students made substantial gains. 

Yet the standards movement was far from perfect. Many states' standards weren't all that great. All too often, states set a low bar for passing the tests that measured how well students learned what was on the standards. Many teachers didn't get the support they needed to teach to those standards. The gains are petering out.

Now we might get another bite at the apple. Forty-five states have adopted Common Core State Standards, which are more challenging and coherent that most states' previous standards. The lion's share of those states are developing common tests to measure how well students master those standards, and they will probably come together to set a high bar for passing those tests. Now, states also have an opportunity to give teachers the support and training they need to help students clear that high bar. If all those stars align--and there are no guarantees that they will--we might see more big gains.

This is all a bit speculative, of course, but the anemic growth of the last five or so years should make it clear that we're due for another big reform. (See this 2012 paper from the Fordham Foundation, which made that argument in pretty convincing terms.) Time will tell whether Common Core standards will deliver on its promise, but we're optimistic.

Tags: math, standards, STEM & the states