STEMbeats Blog

A Gym Membership for Nerds and Visionaries

March 28, 2011

"It amazes me that nobody's done this yet.... It seems like a dumb, obvious idea that there should be these things all over the place."

That's Jim Newton talking about an idea that you probably wish you had come up with 10 years ago. He's the founder of TechShop, a huge facility full of high-end industrial equipment where anyone can pay "as little as $100 a month to...invent whatever they can imagine." Think of it as a gym membership for nerds and visionaries.

By putting so much industrial power into the hands of, well, anybody, Newton hopes to create what one website calls "an entrepreneurial uprising." One example of a new product that began life at a TechShop: a smart phone that allows anyone to accept credit cards. The company that created the device now processes over $1 million in credit card transactions a day.

If the TechShops live up to their promise, it could become easier than ever before to make it big with meager capital but generous smarts. So now a kid with a few hundred bucks can build a high tech prototype. But if she wants to succeed in that kind of venture, she had better brush up on her math, science, engineering and technology skills.

Let's hope that Newton's great idea spawns many, many more.


Tags: technology

The Case for College

March 27, 2011

It's a perverse state of affairs: At a time when more people aspire to college than ever before, college seems farther out of reach than ever before. Some conclude that college itself has become a bad investment, and that the push to get many more young people into college is wrong-headed. That conclusion jumps the gun.

This is not to argue that the college critics don't have a point. College tuition and fees have continued to rise much faster than inflation over the past 10 years. It's hard to imagine a more pitiable figure than the first generation college grad, who, saddled with crushing debt, tries to land a job in the current market. That is, until we consider the huge numbers of college dropouts who have only debt to show for their foray into college.

College costs are weighing heavily on more than just low-income students. Almost three in four college applicants surveyed by the Princeton Review this year said "the economy has affected their decisions about college." Eight in ten of their parents expect to spend more than $75K on four years of tuition, room and board. (The Review drew its survey sample from people who bought its college guides, so the sample might skew towards wealthier families.)

Such bracing numbers have fueled strong criticism of the "college for all" agenda. Many young people who struggle to get BA's for which they're neither financially or academically prepared, the argument goes, would be much better off going to technical school. The broader argument? Some kids--smart and motivated kids at that--are just not cut out for college.

That may well be true, but we have to consider just who does and doesn't go to college. How many upper middle class parents would say that their kids are not cut out for college? How many of their kids would agree?

The reality is that class and income still determine who does and doesn't attend college. Low-income kids have fewer role models, less money, and less knowledge about what it takes to get into and succeed about college. All too often, they also leave high school without the academic foundation they need to succeed in higher education. Unless we change those conditions, we will succumb to what Anthony Carnevale has called "the intergenerational reproduction of elites and a society of BA haves and BA have-nots." Say what you will about the value of a BA, it is still a gateway to the lion's share of high paying jobs.

So let's not simply push low-income students into expensive BA programs whether or not they have any chance of succeeding in them. But above all, let's not give up on the goal of preparing all students for college regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make.

We can't count ourselves successful until income has nothing to do with college attendance and success.


Massachusetts Raises the Bar

March 24, 2011

Note to next year’s high school freshmen: If you want to attend a state university in Massachusetts, you had better have four years of high school math under your belt by the time you graduate. Massachusetts has joined 10 other states in beefing up math requirements for admission to college.

What would four years of math look like? According to the Boston Globe:

The plan mandates that public universities’ admissions standards require students to take algebra I and II and geometry or trigonometry or comparable course work. They must also take math during their senior year in high school.

The Globe reports that the state's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education recommended that high schools require four years of math. Since then, the number of schools following the recommendation has risen from 74 to only 94.

Massachusetts has already set the highest K-12 proficiency standards in the country. Officials hope that a higher bar for college admissions will prompt more students to take more advanced courses and reduce the need for remediation in college.


Tags: math

Moms and Dads: Does Your Second Grader Think Math Isn't for Girls?

March 24, 2011

Gender stereotypes take root early. According to a new study in the journal Child Development, girls' and boys' attitudes about math begin to diverge as early as second grade.

Many have argued that girls and boys alike are awash in messages that math is for boys. The new study reminds us just how early children can respond to such cues.

The researchers studied 247 children in Seattle-area grade schools: "Boys associated math with their own gender while girls associated math with boys. In the self-concept test, boys identified themselves with math more than girls did."

Perhaps this shouldn't surprise us, but second grade is awfully early. So what is a parent to do? Raising our children in bunkers seems like an attractive option sometimes, but the researchers have a more practical idea: "Parental and educational practices aimed at enhancing girls’ self-concepts for math might be beneficial as early as elementary school, when the youngsters are already beginning to develop ideas about who does math."

In other words, buck those stereotypes early and often.


Tags: math, women & girls

Change the Equation: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Headed

March 23, 2011

Did you ever wonder where Change the Equation got its start, how it differs from other business-education coalitions, and what improvements it’s working to achieve in STEM ed? The March issue of the K-12 Partnership Reportis a good place to get answers to these questions and more.

Brett Pawlowski, editor and publisher of the K-12 Partnership Report, interviewed CTEq CEO Dr. Linda Rosen for the current issue of the newsletter.  The published Q and A begins with a look back to the November 2009 launch of President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign and the announcement that he had selected  five individuals to work together to create a business-led coalition that focused on STEM learning. Dr. Rosen then shares how CTEq is currently working on a set of design principles for its member companies to evaluate the effectiveness of their current STEM philanthropy and ensure their investments (more than a half a billion dollars a year) are improving STEM learning outcomes.  

You’ll also learn how CTEq is committed to creating 100 new STEM ed programs nationwide by the end of 2011 in communities where the need is greatest as well as how the CEOs of its member companies are committed to partnering with state policymakers to improve STEM ed so that children are achieving at high levels regardless of their future career choices.

For an organization that hasn’t even celebrated its first birthday, CTEq is serious about its pledge to be the conscience of America in progress around STEM ed. Learn more by reading the full article.