More try STEM majors — and quit

More students are trying — and quitting — STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors, reports USA Today.

Interest is up, says UCLA Professor Mitchell Chang. Persistence is not.

Many students aren’t prepared for the rigors of introductory chemistry and calculus, says Clemencia Cosentino de Cohen, a senior researcher at Mathematica Policy Research. Women are more likely to drop the major.

“If women get a B, they think they’re failing. A man gets a B, and he’s happy. They say they’re acing the class,” Cosentino says. “Women who go into hard sciences, they’re very driven, they’re very high achieving, and if they’re not performing at that very top level, they become discouraged, and they think that it is not for them.”

Tough grading in science classes leads to attrition, a 2010 Cornell study found. STEM students realize they can work less and earn higher grades in liberal arts courses.

The S in STEM has been oversold, writes Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews.

“Employers are paying more, often far more, for degrees in the fields of technology, engineering and mathematics (TEM),” College Measures President Mark Schneider wrote in his report, “Higher Education Pays: But a Lot More for Some Graduates Than for Others.”

But “evidence does not suggest that graduates with degrees in biology earn a wage premium — in fact, they often earn less than English majors,” Schneider wrote. “Graduates with degrees in chemistry earn somewhat more than biology majors, but they do not command the wage premium typically sought by those who major in engineering, computer/information science, or mathematics.”

A TEM bachelor’s degree qualifies a graduate for a good job. An S bachelor’s degree usually isn’t enough on its own, though it can be the first step to a medical degree.

Higher ed pays — for engineers, nurses

Higher education pays — for technical graduates, concludes a new study. However, “The S in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is oversold,” the report found. Biology and chemistry majors can expect to earn as little as liberal arts majors.

Fordham: New science standards need work

Next Generation Science Standards are coming fast. Public comment on draft 2.0 just ended. The final version is due out in March. Then states will be urged to adopt NGSS, as most did Common Core State Standards in English and math. It’s too soon, advises Fordham, which has been reviewing state science standards for years. ”This important, ambitious, but still seriously troubled document” needs more work, write Checker Finn and Kathleen Porter-Magee.

In an effort to draft “fewer and clearer” standards to guide curriculum and instruction, NGSS 2.0 (like NGSS 1.0) omits quite a lot of essential content. Among the most egregious omissions are most of chemistry; thermodynamics; electrical circuits; physiology; minerals and rocks; the layered Earth; the essentials of biological chemistry and biochemical genetics; and at least the descriptive elements of developmental biology.

. . . Real science invariably blends content knowledge with core ideas, “crosscutting” concepts, and various practices, activities, or applications. . . . (But) authors have forced practices on every expectation, even when they confuse more than clarify. For example, high school students are asked to “critically read scientific literature and produce scientific writing and/or oral presentations that communicate how DNA sequences determine the structure and function of proteins, which carry out most of the work of the cell.” Here as elsewhere, the understanding of critical content—which should be the ultimate goal of science education—becomes secondary to arbitrary and peripheral activities such as “critical reading” and “oral presentation.”

Appendices explain “what is and isn’t present and why,” but the structure is “complex and unwieldy,” Finn and Porter-Magee write. “Will a fifth-grade teacher actually make her way to Appendix K to obtain additional (and valuable) information about science-math alignment and some pedagogically useful examples?”

Science students won’t have to learn much math, leading to “dumbing down,” especially in physics, they fear. And the “assessment boundaries” will ensure that students aren’t challenged.

The new standards don’t require chemistry labs, complains Harry Keller, a chemist. The word “chemistry” is never used, though “chemical reactions” can be found under physical sciences. Without labs.

Physicists also are dissatisfied, reports Ed Week.

Why we flipped chemistry class

Flipped Classrooms Are Here to Stay write two teachers who flipped chemistry classes at their Colorado high school. Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams recorded lectures and told students to watch the videos as homework.

Our students were on a block schedule, meaning they had 95 minutes of class time every other day. Every other night our students watched one of our videos—either online, from a flash drive, or on DVD—as homework and took notes on what they learned. We conducted laboratory experiments during class just like we had always done, but instead of rushing through the lecture and setup to get to the actual hands-on work, we were able to use the entire period to conduct in-depth scientific experiments.

“Flipped” students earn higher scores on tests, they write.  Teachers can give more attention to struggling students in class. At home, “students can watch the instructional videos as many times as they need to, pausing and rewinding to take notes or read Powerpoint slides at their own pace.”

 As flipped teachers, we spend our class time answering questions, monitoring experiments, probing deeper into the content, and guiding the learning of each student individually.

Sorry, that story is subscribers’ only on Ed Week Teacher. Here’s another version that’s open to all.  Bergmann and Sams are the authors of Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day.

I wonder: Would flipping work as well in other kinds of classes? If students won’t read the textbook, will they watch an instructional video?

Chocolate science is a motivator

Colorado students are studying the chemistry and biology of chocolate — including determining the DNA fingerprints of different cacao beans — at a summer camp hosted by the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Most are entering eighth or ninth grade.

Chocolate was the key ingredient in labs and work sessions that covered forensics, thin-film chromatography, spectroscopy, DNA fingerprinting, robotics and cyber sleuthing.

. . . Students used tools such as microscopes and liquid chromatography equipment in situations that many college students don’t handle until a few years into their coursework.

“The Case of the Recipe Rip-off” focused on solving the fictional disappearance of a prized chocolate recipe. The story including feuding companies, counterfeit candy and even a murder.

Students enjoyed field trips to Patsy’s Candies and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. When I was in school, our only science field trip was to Volo Bog. No wonder I ended up as an English major.

The Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education designed the program with the chemistry and biology departments, and the UCCS Center for Homeland Security, reports The Gazette. Homeland Security? Are the terrorists trying to contaminate our chocolate?

Appreciate a teacher today

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Day, the 2011 teachers of the year were invited to a reception in the White House Rose Garden. President thanked them for their service and remembered his fifth-grade teacher, Mabel Hefty, who helped him adjust to school in Hawaii after several years in Indonesia.

Michelle Shearer, an AP chemistry teacher at Urbana High in Maryland, is the 2011 national teacher of the year.  A teacher for 14 years, she previously taught chemistry and math at the Maryland School for the Deaf. Shearer earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Princeton.

On her application, she writes that “chemistry is for everyone,” not just college-bound students or high school students.

The teaching of chemistry can begin in a preschool classroom with household materials, as young students marvel at the bubbles, color changes, and visual “magic” inherent to chemistry. High school students demand to know, “What does this have to do with me?” I display a collection of random household items (sunscreen, laundry detergent, motor oil, shampoo, etc.) across the tops of cabinets as a constant reminder to my students of the practical role chemistry plays in their lives.

My favorite teacher was Mr. Parker in fourth grade, but I also remember Miss Anderson, who taught Great Books in high school. Come to think of it, my chemistry teacher, Mr. Carmichael was excellent too.

10,000 math, science teachers, but how?

President Obama wants to recruit 10,000 new math and science teachers over the next two years to improve STEM achievement in line with an advisory council report.  The feds will develop “a new website and a partnership with Facebook to connect current and aspiring teachers,” reports Education Week, based on Secretary Arne Duncan’s conversation with Tom Brokaw on MSNBC.

In other words, Obama isn’t offering federal money to pay the salaries of new hires — or fund the early retirement of poorly qualified math and science teachers. He’s not talking about a federal bonus to lure chemists, physicists and mathematicians into teaching or jawboning districts to offer differential pay to teachers with hard-to-find skills. It’s a web site and a Facebook account.

Before the recent wave of layoffs, many middle and high schools, especially those in high-poverty and high-minority areas, have hired math and science teachers who didn’t major in the subject, Education Trust complains. I suspect the recession has increased the supply of well-qualified people interested in teaching math and science. Whether they’re able to get jobs is a different story.