Poll: Math is most valuable subject

Math is the most valuable school subject in later life, say Americans in a new Gallup poll. English, literature, or reading came in second, but lost a few points since 2002. Science/physics/biology increased from 4 percent to 12 percent, passing history for third place.

Trend: Thinking about all the subjects you studied in school, which one, if any, has been the most valuable to you in your life? [OPEN-ENDED]

The importance of English rises with higher levels of formal education, tying math as the most important among four-year college graduates and coming in first among postgraduates.

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.

What colleges ask new students to read

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Politically-themed books published since 1990 dominate summer “common reading” lists for incoming college students, according to Beach Books 2012-2013, the National Association of Scholars’ annual report.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – about scientific research using a black cancer victim’s cells — was the most popular book by far for the second year in a row.

Reading the same book is supposed to build a sense of community among new students and provide something to discuss in orientation. But “so-called ‘common reading’ programs have become a tool for orienting students to progressive causes,” said NAS president Peter Wood.

The dominant themes in these books are race, gender, class, the evils of capitalism, and the ubiquity of oppression.

. . The popularity of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, for example, is based on its depiction of the American medical establishment as racist.”

Very few science books are chosen for common reading, the report finds. That suggests that “The Immortal Life owes its popularity not to being a book about science but to being a book about science whose subjects—the Lacks family—happen to be black and poor and furnished with a victimhood narrative.”

I think that’s an accurate description of the book, which would have been better if it had been a lot shorter.

Social justice, sustainability, diversity and economic justice are four major themes in common-reading books.

NAS lists 50 recommended books for common reading programs including Flatland, Camus’ The Plague and Augustine’s Confessions. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, about the denizens of Brook Farm, and Conrad’s Under Western Eyes look good to me.



Fordham; New science standards earn a C

Washington, D.C., Massachusetts and South Carolina earn A- grades in Fordham’s rating of science standards. The Next Generation Science Standards get a so-so C.

The NGSS fall short of excellence in several ways, including: overemphasis on practices over essential content; omission of much essential content; failure to integrate mathematics content that is essential to science learning; and use of “assessment boundaries” that put arbitrary ceilings on the content that will be assessed (and therefore taught) at each grade.

Most states are struggling to implement the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and math, Fordham observes. Adopting new science standards — even good ones — could be more than states can handle.

We caution against adopting any new standards until and unless the education system can be serious about putting them into operation across a vast enterprise that stretches from curriculum and textbooks to assessment and accountability regimes, from teacher preparation to graduation expectations, and much more. Absent thorough and effective implementation, even the finest of standards are but a hollow promise.

In Kentucky, NextGen Science Standards are controversial, reports Ed Week‘s Curriculum Matters.  Kentucky is among the 26 “lead state partners” that helped develop the standards, but issues such as evolution and climate change have “sparked some pushback.”

Fordham gives Kentucky’s current science standards a D, saying they’re “vague” and short on content.

Does science learning require labs?

Hands-on science — that is lab experiments — are supposed to be the best way to engage students and get them to think scientifically, writes Katharine Beals on Out in Left Field. But she wonders if labs are essential to learning what scientists already know.

Elementary students aren’t “little scientists” but ”novices who need a strong foundation in content before their lab experiences can be meaningful and memorable,” she writes.

For older students, labs can be slow, tedious and confusing, Beals writes. “Many students end up hating the lab component of courses they otherwise find interesting.”

One of her friend’s favorite science course was devoted to the psycho-neurology of the flatworm. The professor would present a topic, extend it to the flatworm and ask students how they’d set up an experiment to test their hypotheses. Once students designed the experiment, the professor would say, ”That exact experiment just happens to have been done, and here’s what they found.” The class never performed an experiment.

Beals’ commenters think “guided observation” is more useful than labs for young students.

Auntie Ann, who studied physics and engineering, recommends science activities for K-8 students:

– Look at various things under a microscope, sometimes with dyes. Cells, both plant & animal. Crystals, salt, sugar, etc. Pond water with small organisms. Every-day items: hair, cloth, paper, pencil lead, wood, etc.

– Do acid/base experiments.

– Basic battery & current experiments. Completing/breaking a circuit.

– Gravity experiments: dropping, pendulum, etc.

– Weather observation; during one day, during seasons.

– Star charting to see change during year.

– Observations of the phases of the moon.

– Usually get a shot at least one partial solar eclipse every few years. For that one I love to walk under a tree; the little gaps between the leaves act as pin-holes, and the ground becomes covered with the crescent of the sun.

– Grow a plant from a seed.

– Some cooking science: yeast, baking soda, caramelization, etc.

– Then just measuring things using different tools: mass, length, volume, time.

In most Mississippi schools, students don’t do much hands-on science, according to a Hechinger Report story.  Elementary teachers average 2.4 hours per week on science instruction — a hair over the national average –with much of the focus on teaching vocabulary.

When I was in elementary school, we spent 2.4 hours a year on science till fifth grade, when we learned about the duckbilled platypus. I did grow a lima bean in kindergarten and learn to distinguish an oak leaf from a maple leaf in first, second, third and fourth grade.

I’d guess Mississippi’s real problem is that students in the state do poorly in all subjects.

Fred Flintstone didn’t ride a brontosaurus

Mental Floss exposes 50 Science Misconceptions. The brontosaurus never existed!?! I didn’t know that. Via This Week In Education.

Rapping about science at a STEAM school

Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA showed up at a Bronx Compass High School to rap about science, stunning students, reports Slate. (He apparently is very hot stuff.)  The visit was part of Science Genius, a  program created by Columbia Professor Christopher Emdin.

Bronx Compass integrates the arts with STEM to create STEAM, reports the New York Daily News.

The Castle Hill school, which opened last year, offers classes and programs in video game design, robotics, film, media and software engineering. It will add fashion design — or “intelligent clothing” with electronics — next school year.

Instead of using textbooks, students complete all their work in Google Docs. They write essays and create their own podcasts. They produce and screen films.

And on a recent day, students were immersed in finishing up video games they had created based on serious topics like the Holocaust and life in the Bronx.

In the music class, students used GarageBand and Audiotool programs to mix their beats.

Does STEAM make sense?

At the end of sophomore biology class, I made a movie with some friends that featured the Reproduction Song:  “Double your pleasure, double your fun, with reproduc -, reproduc -, reproduction.”

I also wrote a DNA Song: “Oh, the adenine’s connected to the thymine, and the cystosine’s connected to the guanine, and the helix goes around and around and around and the helix goes around and around.”

We also parodied those science films starring Dr. Research.

It was fun, but I’m not sure it was educational.

Few STEM-capable students want to teach

Very few young people with strong math and science skills want to be teachers, according to ACT’s STEM Educator Pipeline report.

The proposed federal STEM Teacher Pathway program seeks to produce 100,000 new, high-quality math and science teachers in the next decade, notes ACT. But, of 1.3 million ACT test takers in 2012, only 0.25 percent who’ve picked a future occupation want to be math teachers; 0.06 percent want to be science teachers.

Of the 3,877 who wanted to be math or science teachers, only 2,502 met ACT’s College Readiness Benchmarks in math or science.

Some college students interested in teaching might be persuaded to specialize in math or science, ACT predicts. But it will be harder to persuade math- and science-proficient students who aren’t considering teaching to change their career goals.

I’ve met Silicon Valley engineers who dream of becoming math teachers when they retire.  But it’s not easy to make that transition.

Fordham: New science standards get a C

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) deserve a C grade, concludes a Fordham evaluation. The new standards are “clearly superior” science standards in 16 states and the PISA framework, but “clearly inferior” to standards in 12 states, the District of Columbia and the NAEP and TIMSS frameworks.

Fordham gives an A to California and D.C. and an A- grade to Massachusetts, Indiana, South Carolina and Virginia, as well as NAEP and TIMSS. Wisconsin, North Dakota and Montana have the worst science standards, according to Fordham’s analysis.

The states with subpar science standards would be “far better off if they Xeroxed (and faithfully implemented) South Carolina’s excellent science standards or if they constructed new ones around the commendable assessment frameworks of TIMSS and NAEP,” Education Gadfly suggests.

Make science tell a story

When science tells a story, students remember more, writes Daniel Willingham.

In a recent study, 7th and 8th grade students read texts about the discoveries of Galileo OR the discoveries of Marie Curie. The texts were “as similar as possible in terms of syntactic complexity, vocabulary, accuracy, and other measures,” but varied in whether the information was presented in an expository fashion or as a story about the scientist.

For example, one section of the expository text included:

And with this simple, powerful tool [Galilean telescope], we can see many details when we use it to look up into the night sky. The moon may look like a smooth ball of light covered with dark spots, but on a closer look through this telescope, we can see deep valleys and great mountain ranges. Through the telescope, we can now see all the different marks on the moon’s surface. 

The narrative version read:

When Galileo looked through his new telescope, he could see the surface of the moon, and so he began his first close look into space. He slept during the day in order to work and see the moon at night. Many people thought that the moon was a smooth ball with a light of its own. Now that Galileo had a closer look through his telescope, he realized that the moon’s surface had  mountains and valleys.

Students who’d read the story remembered and understood more when tested immediately and retested a week later.

Narrative doesn’t have to be the story of an individual or group of people, adds Willingham. A narrative can show conflict, complications and the eventual resolution of conflict. In this broader sense, narrative is “more flexible, and gives teachers more options, and also better captures the aspects of narrative structure that I suspect are behind the advantage conferred.”

When I was in fourth grade, the advanced reading group read a biography of Marie Curie. It started with Curie learning Polish in a secret class because tsarist Russia wanted to stamp out Polish national spirit. I remember quite a bit and it’s been 50+ years.