STEM Beats - engineering

K-12 Engineering and Technology Classes Have Hit the Big Time

August 29, 2017

K-12 engineering and technology have gone mainstream. A new poll from Phi Delta Kappa shows that "technology and engineering classes" top the list of Americans' priorities for school school quality.

Results: aspects of school quality

This is a startling finding. Not long ago, teaching engineering or technology classes in grade school or high school was an exotic idea. Neither subject fit easily into most school curricula, and few states' academic standards acknowledged either. Engineering was the stuff of college, and computer science seemed to atrophy within high schools as rapidly as it overtook the world beyond them.

The polling results crown years of effort. Pioneering initiatives such as Engineering is Elementary and Project Lead the Way have exposed millions of K-12 students to engineering. Computer science has seen a more recent resurgence, fueled by efforts of organizations such as Microsoft, Oracle, and Code.org. The Next Generation Science Standards, which most states have either adopted or adapted, have enshrined engineering and technology in states' formal expectations for what their students should know and be able to do. We at CTEq joined with these and other advocates to make the case for careers in engineering and computing.

And now the obligatory disclaimer: We still have far to go to deliver on Americans' new vision of school quality. Computer science classes remain scarce, and most students still go through school without learning much about engineering. Even so, the nation has made big gains in a relatively short time.

And now public opinion is on our side.

Tags: engineering, technology, computer science

Shark Week: 20,000 Careers Under the Sea

July 26, 2017

In honor of Discovery’s Shark Week, Change the Equation wants to take a deeper dive into STEM career prospects for budding marine scientists. As you can imagine, some deep-sea careers have higher supply then demand. In fact, internationally recognized shark expert R. Aidan Martin once compared aspiring to be a shark scientist to aspiring to be an astronaut. Just about all of us are intrigued by sharks but only a lucky few get the opportunity to work with them. Other STEM careers for ocean lovers, however, expect above average growth in the next 10 years and could earn you well above average wages. And they’re careers you may not have thought of! Check out our list of STEM careers under the sea.

(1) Marine Engineer

2016 Median salary: $93,350 per year| Projected job growth: 9%| Education needed: Bachelor’s degree*

What do they do? Marine engineers test, produce and maintain equipment and vessels used at sea including ships, underwater craft, and drills. 

(2) Naval Architect

2016 Median salary: $93,350 per year| Projected job growth: 9%| Education needed: Bachelor’s degree*

What do they do? Naval architects design, construct, and operate marine vessels and structures.

(3) Marine Geoscientist

2016 Median salary: $89,780 per year| Projected job growth: 10%| Education needed: Advanced degree*

What do they do? Marine Geoscientists develop deep knowledge of natural ocean processes on Earth and other planets. They keep an eye on the imapct of changes to climate. 

(4) Hydrologist

2016 Median salary: $80,480 per year| Projected job growth: 7%| Education needed: Advanced degree*

What do they do? Hydrologists look at the movement, quality, and distribution of water across the Earth and other planets.

(5) Marine Biochemist

2016 Median salary: $82,180 per year| Projected job growth: 8%| Education needed: Advanced degree*

What do they do? Marine Biochemists study the chemical properties of the ocean using their research to develop things like medicines.

(6) Ocean Model Programmer

2016 Median salary: $102,280 per year| Projected job growth: 17%| Education needed: Advanced degree*

What do they do? These are scientists with strong programming skills that help develop and run ocean model software.

Looking for hands-on opportunities and work experience to see if an ocean career could be right for you? Check out the Shark Research and Conservation program at the University of Miami in our STEMworks database. The program's director, shark scientist and Shark Week regular Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, uses people's curiosity about sharks to get them interested in STEM while teaching conservation practices. See him and his team at work in some special Shark Week footage below!

*Salary, job growth, and education data found in the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Tags: science, engineering

The High Stakes of Diversity for Washington State

May 18, 2017

Washington State may have a bright future if it maintains its dominance in the tech sector, but that could be a tall order. Lack of diversity in the STEM workforce could be the state’s Achilles heel, and that challenge has its roots in K-12.

It should surprise no one that STEM jobs pay in a state with companies like Microsoft and Boeing call home. STEM jobs in Washington State may well grow 15 percent in the coming decade, and the state’s STEM wage premium is enormous:

Washington State STEM Earnings

Unfortunately, people of color are least likely to reap these rewards. Notice for example, who earns degrees and certificates in computing or engineering:

WAshington State diversity of computing credentials

WAshington state diversity of engineering credentials

The green line in each chart represents minorities as a percentage of the college-aged population. The blue line represents the percentage of degrees and certificates that went to minorities. The wider the space between the two lines, the less well represented minorities are.

If you squint, you might seem some improvement in the last half-decade or so, but the gaps remain enormous. Black, Latino, and American Indian Washingtonians at state colleges and universities are still much less likely than their white or Asian peers to receive credentials in STEM.

The problem starts early, and it might get worse. For example, science scores for white eighth-graders in the state have climbed steadily since 2009, while those of black and Latino students have languished:

WAshington State science scores

Math scores follow similar trends, and black students fare the worst.

One possible reason: Underrepresented students of color seem to have less access to STEM learning opportunities. Teachers of African American students are less likely to say they have the resources they need to teach science:

Washington State resources to teach science

Access to lab equipment and supplies is also very uneven, and again students of color get the short end of the stick:

Washington State lab supplies

Even those students of color who have the potential to succeed on Advanced Placement tests in STEM often don’t take them:

Washington State Students who could thrive in AP don't take tests

Many may attend schools that don’t offer AP classes or their equivalents.

These disadvantages can add up over time and exacerbate the gaps. In Washington State, Blacks and Hispanics hold only seven percent of computing jobs and five percent of engineering jobs, even though they make up 15 percent of the state’s working-age population. For a state that will need all the STEM talent it can get, such inequities can be devastating.

Fortunately, STEM advocates in organizations like WashingtonSTEM have worked with state leaders to put STEM education at the forefront. The state has embraced robust new science standards. It aims to increase students’ access to computer science education. It is bringing STEM into early childhood education. It will take time for policies like these to affect the workforce, but they are a vital down-payment on the state’s prosperitys.  

To learn more about STEM in Washington State, check out our STEM Vital Signs page, or download our data presentation on the state.

Tags: computer science, engineering, diversity, jobs & workforce

Michigan Tackles its STEM Challenge--with CTEq's Help

March 9, 2017

In the past few years, Michigan has roared back to life as a magnet for STEM jobs like engineering, and the state's employers are right to wonder if they will be able to fill those jobs with qualified people. Fortunately, we see strong signs that Michigan leaders are on the case.

On Tuesday, I was honored to testify before Michigan's House Education Reform Committee about Change the Equation's efforts to help the state identify and scale K-12 STEM education programs that are most likely to have an impact. CTEq's STEMworks has already helped rigorously-vetted programs, such as Engineering is Elementary and Project Lead the Way, receive $1 million in state funds. We have high hopes for much more to come.

Efforts like these are very timely. For a state that was ground zero in the Great Recession, Michigan has an uplifing story to tell about STEM jobs. For example, it has been a great place for engineers. The number of engineering jobs in the state grew 11 percent from 2006 and 2016, compared to a meager 2 percent for the nation as a whole. Engineering jobs will probably grow another 13 percent between 2016 and 2026, faster than the 11 percent projected for the nation. That amounts to tens of thousands of engineering jobs.

Will employers be able to find the engineering talent they need over the coming decade? That's a harder question to answer. There is some reason for concern. First, they cannot fully tap the state's minority talent. Black, Latinos, and American Indian Michiganders make up 23 percent of the state's college-age population but receive only 5 percent of engineering degrees and certificates:

Underrepresented minorities in engineering

Women are almost as scarce in the field:

Few female engineers

There's good news on the horizon: In late 2015, the state adopted academic standards in science that formally incorporate engineering principles. If other states that have adoped similar standards are any indication, all Michigan students, regardless of race or gender, will soon learn the fundamental principles of engineering.

Programs like those in STEMworks will only help.

Tags: STEMworks, engineering, women & girls, minorities

New Data: New Science Standards Are Boosting Engineering in Schools

February 21, 2017

Let's usher in this year's National Engineers Week with some good news. We've crunched some numbers, and it looks like efforts to make engineering part of the K-12 curriculum are beginning to pay off. 

Why? Our guess is that the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are succeeding in their aim to integrate engineering and technology into science classrooms. These standards debuted in April 2013, and eight states adopted them by the end of that year: California, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington State.

We had a look at data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) eighth-grade science test to see if schools in those eight states were teaching more engineering and technology. NAEP is a good tool for this exploration, because it surveys teachers and students about engineering and technology in the classroom, among other subjects.

What we found suggests that the Next Generation Science Standards are making a difference in schools. Between 2011 and 2015, teachers in the first states to adopt the standards increased the amount of class time they spent on engineering and technology:

NGSS is boosting class time

Sticklers might note that these gains could have occurred before April 2013, when the new standards burst upon the scene. Unfortunately, we can't settle that question definitively, because we lack data from that year. Still, the data we do have make a very strong case for NGSS. States that adopted the standards after 2013, or that never adopted them at all, saw smaller gains between 2011 and 2015.

One striking finding from our analysis is that the early adopter states started from behind. This pattern holds when we examine each of those states individually. In 2011, eighth-graders in our eight NGSS states were less likely than their peers in the nation as a whole to spend at least "some" time on engineering and technology. The picture looked dramatically different in 2015:

Individual states ramping up engineering & tech

What does it mean to spend "some" or "a lot" of time on engineering and technology? The results of another NAEP survey question offer at least some insight: "About how often do your science students discuss the kinds of problems that engineers can solve?" Here again, it appears that the NGSS states started well behind their peers but caught up:

NGSS boosting engineering in classrooms

These data reinforce our conclusion that teachers in NGSS states have grown more likely to focus on engineering. So far, so good. But are their students noticing the difference? The results of another NAEP survey item suggest that they are...but only up to a point.

NGSS students more likely to notice tech & engineering

Again, the NGSS states have made swifter progress than other states, but it seems a tad early to declare victory. Even though more than half (52 percent) of eighth-graders have science teachers who spend time on engineering and technology, far fewer (31 percent) seem to have noticed that fact.

Of course, students may still be learning about engineering and technology without realizing it, but their lack of awareness is troubling. After all, the Standards themselves specify that students should "understand the work of scientists and engineers" and "recognize" that what engineers do is "a creative endeavor." We know we haven't reached the goal line if so many students don't yet recognize engineering or technology when they see it.

On balance, though, we should be optimistic. We have strong evidence that standards can make a difference in the classroom, and in a relatively short time. In fact, engineering and technology are probably more pervasive now than our numbers suggest: almost two years have passed since the 2015 NAEP test, and more states have adopted the Standards.

The ultimate test of the Standards' success, of course, will be students' performance. That verdict will have to wait a bit longer. States are still developing tests that incorporate engineering--and they can use federal money to do it. And a representative sample of U.S. eighth-graders will take NAEP's next Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment in 2018.

In the meantime, states and districts must continue the hard work of creating teaching materials, training teachers, and providing supplies to make engineering real in the classroom. If they succeed, future Engineers Weeks will bring even better news.

NOTE: We were not able to assess the impact of NGSS on another jurisdiction that adopted them before 2014: Washington, DC. Unfortunately, the 2015 science NAEP did not include state-level results for DC.

Tags: engineering, computer science, Next Generation Science Standards

Pages