Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Education 101 - Putting the Focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

If you've never seen the acronym STEM before, you will from now on and quite often. The letters stand in for science, technology, engineering, and math, four subject areas that have become a top educational concern and priority from the federal government on down to the preschool level.
And with good reason.
The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) tested one-half million students from 41 countries. On the science portion, American fourth graders came in third, but slipped to 17th place in grade 8 and sixth from the bottom in grade 12. In advanced science, our kids came in last.
In math, our fourth graders placed 12th, our 8th graders placed 17th, and our 12th graders scored sixth from the bottom.
It is for such reasons that the Obama administration has launched its "Educate to Innovate" campaign, focusing on improving America's performance in these STEM subjects and gaining the support of major corporations, foundations and non-profits--even Discovery Communications and Sesame Street.
Their aim: every child. Yes, even your preschooler. It's coming, of that you can be sure. Reassuringly, though, Temple University's Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pacek says, "Efforts to expand preschool science teaching need not necessarily conflict with young children's need for playtime. Science can be taught in the context of play."
And you can support those efforts at home by doing simple experiments right there in your kitchen, starting with your toddlers and then continuing as they get older. Such activities serve to pique curiosity and engage youngsters in seeking answers, as they learn more and more about how the world works. And that's crucial.
As President Obama has said, "Reaffirming and strengthening America's role as the world's engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation is essential to meeting the challenges of this century."
As you know, science has been included in the No Child Left Behind testing mandate since the 2007-08 school year. And now with "Educate to Innovate," there's an even stronger push to engage all of our students in thinking deeply and critically in STEM subjects, boosting our international standing and informing our kids about careers in related fields--opening up possibilities for girls, as well as boys.
According to the National Science Foundation, while women make up 46% of the American workforce, they hold only 25% of the jobs in engineering, technology, and science.
Helping to change those numbers is the stated purpose of the non-profit organization Expanding Your Horizons, which says it is "encouraging young women to pursue Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers." To that end, EYH coordinates 85 hands-on math and science conferences annually-and one is sure to come your way.
For instancee, open to middle school girls, an Expanding Your Horizons conference will be held on March 20th at Swarthmore College. "All workshops are led by female role models who not only have a deep knowledge of the topics they teach, but also serve as positive examples of successful women in technical fields... Our conference is perfect for girls who have already discovered a passion for math or science, but it is also a great opportunity to reach those who may be beginning to lose interest in these typically male-dominated fields. We hope you or the special young women in your life will consider spending a day learning and discovering with us." Average cost to participants: only $10.65.
Meanwhile, Wilkes University has received a $2.9 million Pennsylvania Department of Education grant to train middle-level teachers from five counties in math and science, including those in Montgomery County's Springford, Upper Perkiomen, and Perkiomen Valley school districts. This specialized program integrates content with teaching skills, thus enhancing our students' classroom experience in these core subjects--and the timing couldn't be better.

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