NSF Looks At STEM Education In Practice
The NSF has been making measurable headway in its efforts to improve STEM education from Kindergarten to Grad School and beyond, but it still has a long way to go. Education grants have helped states craft public awareness campaigns, teacher training programs, new curricula, and job-training programs. On Jan. 15th and 16th, the NSF held a conference in DC entitled “Science Education and Workforce Development: Key Challenges for Innovation in the States,” focusing on progress and challenges in the overlapping fields.
Aside from funding and grant-making, the NSF is also in the early stages of coordinating these state and local efforts through an upcoming “Science and Innovation” website, developed as an “experimental tool for decision-makers and users in the states.” The prototype version that premiered at the conference featured an interactive map of the U.S. along with different categories of programs according to grade level and subject area. Designer Joni Falk, Co-director of the Center for School Reform at TERC Inc., noted that the website features program “highlights with replicable knowledge and contacts…so [educators] don’t have to re-invent the wheel.” She also said that the prototype version currently has 60 projects, but that the final website will have thousands. She boasted that the project makes the NSF the “first federal agency to actually document impact.”
Dr. Jan Kettlewell, Rosalind Barnes, and Sheila Jones of the University System of Georgia highlighted the University System of Georgia Math and Science Partnership, which created a public awareness campaign called “math + science = success.” The campaign grew from market research demonstrating that the strongest influence on children’s educational choices comes from their parents. This led the program to disseminate a free parent’s guide with information about science and math education. They also aired TV commercials and advertised on billboards about the impact of science and math education in preparing students for the workforce. Mini-grants enabled schools to hold “Math/Science Family Nights,” and provided incentives for scholars from higher education to research and work with elementary school teachers. Since the inception of this program, Georgia has seen higher test scores, a higher graduation rate, and a lower dropout rate.
Ruth Wooden, of the research firm Public Agenda, also presented findings from her report, “Important, but Not for Me,” which noted an “immense” gap between the beliefs of policy-makers who say that STEM education needs improvement, and the general public that thinks things are fine. Wooden said that “parents’ concerns about math and science have fallen since the 90s.” A bright point from the study found “no significant difference between boys and girls” in terms of numbers of students claiming they wanted to go into a math or science-related job. She also echoed the team from Georgia when she reported that “parents have a much greater influence on students than they think,” especially “parents of youngsters in grades 4 through 8.”
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