STEMbeats Blog

Eye-Popping Gains in Computer Science!

August 2, 2017

All too often, stories about education reform start with herculean efforts and end with anemic results. Fortunately, the story of at least one large national reform movement is poised to have a happier ending. The push to expand computer science in K-12 is already yielding impressive results.

According to early data from The College Board via Code.org, the numbers of high schoolers taking any Computer Science AP more than doubled between 2016 and 2017. The numbers for girls and students of color grew even faster--135 percent and 170 percent, respectively. The College Board's new test--AP Computer Science Principles--contributed most of those gains. 

AP CS Exams chart
Source: Code.org

Girls rose from roughly 18 percent to 27 percent of all test takers from 2013 to 2017, and students of color advanced from 12 to 20 percent over the same period. If we keep to this pace, we can close the gaps in gender and race/ethnicity in just over a decade. For ed reform veterans who are used to the snail's pace of change in education, those numbers are eye-popping.

Technology companies, visionary state leaders, and organizations like The College Board and Code.org have fueled this growth through their full-throated advocacy and support. Employers raised a hue and a cry about computer science in schools and joined other advocates in urging states to guarantee computer science classes every high school. The College Board created Computer Science Principles to introduce students to "the underlying principles of computation," and organizations like Code.org have helped prepare students for the test through new courses and teacher training.

CTEq just included two such courses in STEMworks, our honor roll of programs that stand up to rigorous review. Code.org's AP Computer Science Principles course "introduces students to the foundational concepts of computer science and challenges them to explore how computing and technology can impact the world." 

Computer Science Discoveries, also from Code.org, targets seventh- to ninth-graders, empowering them "to develop digital and physical projects using creativity and problem solving in a fun, collaborative environment." Both courses are filling a vacuum in our nation's middle and high schools, where computer science courses have been as rare as hen's teeth, even as the tech revolution has raged just beyond their walls.

Indeed, last year, CTEq released grim data on access to computer science classes by race and ethnicity::

Race determines access to computer science classes

Given the new data on AP participation, we have high hopes that these numbers will change for the better:

Of course, that won't be the whole story. CS advocates have a monumental task ahead of them, even as they expand access: They must train thousands more teachers to teach the new courses, and those teachers need to lift their students over the AP tests' high bar.

No easy task, but we're off to a good start.

Tags: computer science, women & girls, minorities

Guest Blog: Girls Should Feel Like They Belong in STEM

August 1, 2017

STEM education is as crucial as the air we breathe. We can find its influence everywhere. Yet, there remains a low percentage of students graduating with STEM literacy. As told by the Business Roundtable, “thirty-eight percent of companies say that at least half of their entry-level job applicants in the U.S. lack even basic STEM skills.”  

http://changetheequation.org/sites/default/files/BasicStemSkillsGap_V2.jpg

It is our job as industry leaders, educators and communities to do more to expose and encourage students to these principles, especially young women. According to the U.S. Census, “women make up nearly half of the workforce, [and] they were 26 percent of the STEM workforce in 2011.” Techbridge Girls (TBG) and the 49ers STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) Education program are moving the needle to change not only the statistics but also the narrative and industry so more girls can feel they belong. Both programs focus on providing accessible, free, informal learning opportunities to populations that are under resourced. Our organizations are laying the foundation to bridge the gender and socioeconomic gap in STEM professions and removing barriers that prevent marginalized communities from reaching success. Techbridge Girls has a 17-year track record, reaching over 7,000 girls from low-income communities in Title 1 schools across our three regions (Pacific Northwest, California and D.C. Metro Area) with girl-centric and culturally-responsive STEM enrichment programming. TBG also builds the capacity of educators across the country so they understand how to deliver high-quality STEM enrichment programs that recruit, engage and retain girls – especially in low socioeconomic communities. The 49ers STEAM Education Program has served 150,000 participants in the three years since it’s been established, with half of all participating students coming from Title 1 schools. Among other STEAM focused initiatives, the 49ers have also wrapped up the second year of their teacher professional development platform in STEAM integration and Project Based Learning serving 190 educators to date.

Being intentional in exposing students to STEM ideas that connect to their everyday life can ignite and push students to new pathways in their education. In a Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) survey done by Nation’s Report Card, “It is more likely for students to tinker and troubleshoot outside of school than in school,” which are both key components of STEM. It is essential to craft relevant real-world experiences for students that go beyond the classroom in order to reinforce this type of thinking.

Techbridge Girls does this by offering year-round and summer-based afterschool programs for girls from low-income communities in grades 4 – 12. Techbridge Girls’ curriculum is research-driven and implements holistic interventions that engages girls through hand-on activities that bring STEM concepts to life so they can see how STEM is a vehicle to change their circumstances and the world around them. Similarly, the 49ers STEAM Education Program hosts students in grades K-8 and teaches STEAM concepts through a 49ers Museum tour, Levi’s® Stadium tour, standards-aligned STEAM lesson and a movement lab. During a five-hour session, participants can learn a variety of information, including all about the evolution of football equipment and how a material scientist contributes to its creation, to the importance of preserving history in relation to art, culture and the technology that helps make it possible.

In collaboration with Techbridge Girls, the 49ers STEAM Education Program hosted over 100 girls for a field trip to Levi’s Stadium to learn about the engineering and design process and its relationship to the game of football. Together, Techbridge Girls and the 49ers co-designed a field trip experience that aligns with both pedagogies and infused a mentorship component where a dozen 49er women employees were able to connect and draw parallels to their work and lives of the girls. This opportunity allowed Techbridge Girls participants to see STEAM in their day-to-day, from the concrete they walk on to graphics they see on TV. Most importantly, they saw that women contribute to the success of a sports organization.

This is just one piece of the puzzle. The 49ers and Techbridge Girls are working on lesson materials that will live in Techbridge Girls’ curriculum as well as collaborating on how both of their professional development platforms can reach a broader audience. It is not only important that girls get exposure to STEM but that educators and school programming give girls the tools to help them succeed. The Techbridge Girls and 49ers STEAM Education Program collaboration is a partnership that offers innovation, high-quality pedagogy and cutting-edge technology and it provides more students the opportunity to learn about STEM and all of the benefits it can provide.

Our end goal is to equip more young girls with the confidence to charge powerfully into school subjects and careers that are underrepresented by their gender. Bringing more and more girls into this equation will not only transform their life but the STEM industry and our world.

 Nikole Collins-Puri is the CEO at Techbridge. She co-authored this piece with Sofy Navarro, San Francisco 49ers STEAM Education Manager.

Tags: women & girls, guest blog

Schools and Districts Should Invest in What Works...but What if We Don't Know What Works?

July 27, 2017

Pity today’s school principals and superintendents. State and national leaders are urging them to focus their time and money on programs with very strong evidence that they work. That’s very sound advice, but it’s not easy to follow when such programs are few and far between. Fortunately, there are ways to help them school leaders navigate through a world where clear direction can be hard to come by.

Imagine for a moment that you’re a school superintendent whose mandates include beefing up computer science and engineering in your schools, a priority in your new state science standards. You head over to the two major websites that showcase education programs that meet the highest standards of evidence and find…nothing.

No offense to those two websites, The What Works Clearinghouse and Evidence for ESSA. Both provide invaluable information about programs that have proven their impact, and both should be required reading for school leaders everywhere. Yet of the literally thousands of STEM education programs in our schools in our schools today, both websites together feature only a few dozen, overwhelmingly in math.

Unfortunately, very few STEM programs have ironclad evidence that they work. That doesn’t have to mean programs that lack evidence don’t work. Many lack strong data on their outcomes for a host of good reasons. For example, their goals may be hard to measure with conventional metrics, or they cannot ethically create control groups without excluding students they need to serve. Most often, they simply lack the money for rigorous evaluations.

So what is a hapless school leader to do? She could choose the program with the slickest sales brochures, or she could choose from curated lists of programs that are likely to make a difference, even if data on impact are still hard to find. Change the Equation currently works with leaders in seven states and counting to create such lists. Our rigorous STEMworks review process helps state leaders review programs to find those that have strong theories of action rooted in research on what works. In Iowa, for example, schools and communities can apply for state funding to support STEM programs that have made it through the STEMworks review process.

STEMworks doesn't solve the problem that evidence of impact is so scarce, but others are on the case. Initiatives like Results for America and Project Evident are gearing up to help states, schools, and their nonprofit partners evaluate their efforts more rigorously and, in the process, build the base of evidence for what works. These efforts won't fill the evidence gap overnight, but we can imagine a future where clear evidence of impact can light the way forward for school leaders.

In the meantime, STEMworks offers state and local leaders a handy compass.

Tags: STEMworks

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

Doubly Disadvantaged in Massachusetts: High-Poverty Schools in a High-Flying State

July 18, 2017

Massachusetts has earned bragging rights for its successes in education.  Few other U.S. states have seen such swift gains in students’ performance over the past two decades. Massachusetts eighth-graders lead the nation in math and science, and they can even hold their own against students in high-performing countries like Japan and Singapore. These achievements are the legacy of bold and sustained school reform championed by visionary leaders.

Yet students in Massachusetts’s poorest schools might as well live in a different state. We took a closer look at data from The Nation’s Report Card and found that those students have not fared as well as their peers in wealthier schools—particularly in science.

In Massachusetts schools where more than 75 percent of students qualify for free or subsidized lunch, eighth-graders seem to have lost ground in math between 2013 and 2015:*

In science, students in high-poverty schools are barely keeping pace with their peers nationwide:

Students in the state’s high-poverty schools lack opportunities to learn math and science. For example, they have less access to teachers with the background and support they need to teach the subjects:

Students in the state’s high-poverty schools also lack facilities and materials for science:

(To read more about high-poverty schools in Massachusetts, download our Massachusetts PowerPoint presentation on the subject.)

We don’t mean to pick on Massachusetts, which has been a trailblazer in school reform. Rather, Massachusetts offers a stark reminder that deep inequities can lurk behind our most inspiring success stories.

Massachusetts suffers from a problem that afflicts the nation as a whole, as our recent brief on high-poverty schools illustrates. The solutions we suggest in the brief aren't easy--shoring up teacher preparation, making teaching resources more broadly available, expanding access to excellent afterschool programs, among others.

Still, such efforts are critical at a time when one in six Massachusetts students--and one in four students nationwide--attends a high-poverty school.

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