STEM apprenticeships should be the future

Apprenticeships aren’t just for future construction workers, writes New America’s Nneka Jenkins Thompson on Ed Central. It’s a form of paid experiential learning that can help prepare students for well-paid, high-demand STEM careers.

A Corning technician tests Gorilla glass.

A Corning technician tests Gorilla glass.

Corning’s Technology Talent Pipeline pays students to study engineering and science at Corning Community College, while they work at least one day a week in company labs. “One hundred percent of Pipeline apprentices have transitioned to technician positions at Corning and remain at the company as full-time worker,” writes Thompson.

The company also has sponsored a new P-TECH school that will let teens train for technical careers while earning community college credits.

STEM requires a strong foundation in math, she writes. Yet only 20 percent of students who took the ACT in 2016 were prepared for entry-level math, ACT estimates.

“Apprenticeship can boost students’ confidence while building competence,” writes Thompson. Students learn to learn from mistakes, which are expected in hands-on learning environments. “When students see the results of what their own hands produce, they grow in confidence.”

Half of jobs that require STEM skills are in manufacturing, health care, or construction. Pay averages $53,000 a year — without a college degree.

Here’s more on the new model of apprenticeships.

US tells foreign kids: Don’t study STEM

The U.S. Department of Education’s new STEM initiative  is “designed to discourage students in other countries from choosing careers in science and math,” reports The Onion.

“U.S students have lagged behind in STEM fields for far too long, so now we’re taking steps to persuade kids in other countries that a degree in physics or biology or robotics just isn’t worth it,” said Education Secretary John King Jr., conceding the new measure is the only way our nation’s children can possibly keep pace with the rest of the world.

“Less Science, More Fun,” a multi-million-dollar ad campaign will debut in Singapore this week, The Onion reports. It will show “side-by-side footage of a haggard-looking mathematician toiling away in a windowless office and a group of young, attractive paralegals laughing together over happy-hour drinks.”

Moreover, the initiative’s chief strategists relayed plans for a “highly addictive” new gaming app to be made available in foreign countries that will require absolutely no logic or reasoning skills, instead awarding points based on a player’s ability to perform simple repetitive tasks in a virtual factory that assembles vacuum cleaners.

In Scandinavia, the campaign will focus on preschoolers.

“We’re already seeing positive effects from a children’s TV series we recently launched in Finland called Iggo, which follows the adventures of Iggo the foxhound as he explores the many wonderful facets of the service sector,” said Lillian Winslow, a senior advisor at the Education Department. “Kids really love it when Iggo plays tricks on his surly next-door neighbor, a loveless and chronically dissatisfied biochemist named Dulf.”“

European and East Asian engineering majors will be offered college scholarships if they change their majors to the humanities.

Job fairs and a lecture series will feature “speakers who quit school entirely to pursue artistic passions ranging from dance to homemade jewelry-making.”

Girls outscore boys on engineering test

Eighth-grade girls outperformed boys on the first national test of technological literacy, reports Education Week. The Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) exam, part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), was designed to measure problem-solving skills rather than knowledge.

Technology and engineering are stressed at Girls' Middle School, a private school in Palo Alto, CA.

Technology and engineering are stressed at Girls’ Middle School, a private school in Palo Alto, CA.

Overall, 43 percent of students tested as proficient or advanced.

The largest gaps were the familiar ones: Black, Latino, low-income and urban students did significantly worse.

Students were given “a series of virtual scenarios aimed at testing their problem-solving abilities and their ability to use information about technology and engineering to develop solutions,” writes Jackie Zubrzycki.

There was no evidence that the gap in scores was due to girls’ reading ability, said Peggy Carr, the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

As they take the test, students work through multistep scenarios that range from creating a historically accurate museum exhibit about a drought to developing safe bike lanes in a city. Students are provided with background knowledge about the topics before they are asked to answer questions about them: One of the scenarios included a background video about iguanas before students were asked to design an ideal iguana habitat.

. . . on a task related to designing a bike lane, 76 percent of students successfully identified components of a safe bike lane, the first step; 64 percent were able to identify potential adjustments to a sample set of bike lanes to make them safer by, for instance, expanding the lanes; 45 percent were able to successfully redesign the route using an interactive tool. But a smaller portion, 11 percent, could explain the rationale behind the route that they chose.

NAEP plans similar scenario-based tasks on other exams, starting with social studies or history.

Nearly two-thirds of test-takers said they’d learned about solving problems and fixing things at home rather than at school.

When I grew up, girls weren’t supposed to fix things and my father believed that Jews couldn’t fix things, so I didn’t learn much about how things work. Other than magic! I do have good problem-solving skills — if background knowledge is not required.

Take a look at the TEL task video and see if you think this is a useful way to measure technical and engineering skills.

It’s math anxiety, not gender inequality

Math anxiety, not gender bias, explains why girls are less likely to pursue education and careers in STEM fields, according to a new study of student performance by 15-year-olds in more than 60 countries.

In less-developed countries, boys and girls fear math, the study found. The anxiety gap appears in developed countries with more gender equality, writes Rebecca Klein in the Huffington Post

Many believe that “as society became more gender equal, with more women in politics … and [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] fields and so forth, this would provide more role models, and therefore the gender differences in math anxiety and math performance would disappear,” David Geary, a University of Missouri psychology professor told Klein. “We found the opposite.”

The study found no link between the proportion of women working in STEM fields and teenage girls’ math anxiety.

Even when researchers control for performance, girls “still have more math anxiety than they should,” he said.

Science fairs aren’t open to everyone

President Obama reacts as Joey Hudy of Phoenix, Arizona, launches a marshmallow during the 2012 White House Science Fair. Photo: Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

At this week’s White House Science Fair, President Obama showcased young scientists and inventors and urged girls to pursue STEM fields. “We’re not going to succeed when we’ve got half the team on the bench,” he said. “Especially when it’s the smarter half.”

“Diversity is important,” said Jo Handelsman, associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “We need more STEM workers, and we need to recruit the best talent of the world, and some of the talent will come from people who have not been traditionally involved in STEM.”

Science fairs have “became an exercise in privilege,”writes Carl Zimmer, a science writer, in STAT. Girls aren’t excluded. But children who don’t have educated parents and access to high-quality labs won’t go very far.

Veronica was able to carry out her science fair experiment in a Yale lab.

Told her seventh-grade science fair experiment required expert supervision, the author’s daughter was able to use a Yale lab. Photo: Carl Zimmer

His daughter decided to compare different ways to clean a toothbrush for her seventh-grade science fair.  She planned to brush with a new toothbrush,  clean it with water, lemon juice or vinegar, then see how much bacteria grew on a Petri dish.

Her proposal required filling out “an avalanche of confusing paperwork,” Zimmer writes. It was considered “so potentially dangerous that Veronica would have to carry it out under the supervision of a trained expert, who would first have to submit a detailed risk assessment.”

Most kids would have quit there. But Zimmer knew a Yale microbiologist who agreed to let the seventh-grader work in his lab. She ended up winning an honorable mention at the stair fair.

“When you look over the projects that win the Google Science Fair and the Intel Science Talent Search these days, it’s clear that they’re mostly the products of very bright, motivated students lucky enough to work in university labs where they can take advantage of expertise and equipment,” Zimmer writes. Kids without those connections are out of luck.

Algebra II vs. ‘numeracy’

Teach “numeracy” for 21st-century citizens instead of Algebra II, argues political scientist Andrew Hacker in The Math Myth: And Other STEM Delusions. The algebra-to-calculus track is a waste of time for everyone but future mathematicians and a few engineers, he argues in a New York Times op-ed.

Calculus and higher math have a place, of course, but it’s not in most people’s everyday lives. What citizens do need is to be comfortable reading graphs and charts and adept at calculating simple figures in their heads.

Teacher Wars‘ author Dana Goldstein, hated math in high school, she writes in Slate. She’s sympathetic to Hacker’s argument that requiring students to learn abstract math is driving up dropout rates, especially at colleges that serve disadvantaged students.

“We are really destroying a tremendous amount of talent—people who could be talented in sports writing or being an emergency medical technician, but can’t even get a community college degree,” Hacker told her.

He teaches at Queens College, part of the City University of New York system, which enrolls many students from low-income families. Fifty-seven percent of CUNY students fail the required algebra course, according to a 2009 faculty report. The failure rate fell to 44 percent (still very  high), when students were allowed to substitute statistics, a later study showed.

For two years, (Hacker) taught what is essentially a course in civic numeracy. Hacker asked students to investigate the gerrymandering of Pennsylvania congressional districts by calculating the number of actual votes Democrats and Republicans received in 2012. The students discovered that it took an average of 181,474 votes to win a Republican seat, but 271,970 votes to win a Democratic seat.

Goldstein found Hacker’s argument “pretty convincing.” However, her math-loving husband, a computer programmer, wasn’t sold. “Math helps us understand the world around us!” he said.

Daniel Willingham, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia, also was dubious “about any call to make math—or any other subject — less abstract.”

Some community colleges are using Carnegie’s Statways and Quantways courses — statistics and numeracy — to move more remedial students to college-level  math. I think it makes sense for students who aren’t pursuing STEM careers. But I’d hate to give up on algebra in high school. That shuts the door early.

Elite degree doesn’t matter for STEM grads

Graduating from an elite college doesn’t boost earnings for science, math and engineering graduates, conclude Eric R. Eide and Michael J. Hilmer in the Wall Street Journal. A prestige degree does help business and liberal-arts majors, according to the Journal‘s analysis of a survey of graduates.

STEM grads with a degree from a low-priced state university earn as much as those from elite private schools, they found.

The analysis controlled for “factors that might influence earnings, such as family income, race/ethnicity, gender, marital status, SAT score, postgraduate degree and age at graduation and more.”

In STEM fields, “curriculums are relatively standardized and there’s a commonly accepted body of knowledge students must absorb,” write Eide and Hilmer. Employers seem to be looking for skills rather than prestige.

Assessing a job applicant’s competence is harder if the degree is in what we used to call “fuzzy studies.”

College graduates’ “well-being” — financial security, health, sense of purpose and other factors — isn’t related to their alma mater’s selectivity, size or whether it was public or private, concluded the Gallup-Purdue Index in 2014.

Gallup will use its Well-Being Index  to certify universities that produce the happiest graduates. George Mason is the first university to seek  certification.

No math, no money

Payscale’s new College Salary Report ranks colleges and universities, as well as majors for all degree levels, by alumni salaries.

Once again, petroleum engineering tops the list of bachelor’s degrees with the highest earnings. According to Payscale’s survey, petroleum engineering graduates start at $95,401 and reach $150,000 in mid-career.

It’s followed by Nuclear Engineering, Actuarial Mathematics , Chemical Engineering and Electronics & Communications Engineering.

Math teachers can tell students that all but one of the top 40 majors on the list require strong math skills. However, Government majors rank at #20 with a starting salary of $46,900 and a mid-career salary of $102,000.

Low-paying majors involve counseling, social work, ministry and, at the very bottom, early childhood education.

“TEM” degrees raise earnings, but “S” degrees may not, especially not with just a bachelor’s degree, writes Ben Casselman on FiveThirtyEight.

Engineering majors are nearly all high-paying. So are most computer and math majors, and math-heavy sciences like astrophysics. But many sciences, particularly the life sciences, pay below the overall median for recent college graduates. Students who major in neuroscience, meteorology, biology and ecology all stand to make $35,000 or less — and that’s if they can get a full-time job, which many can’t.

Zoology, with a median full-time wage of $26,000 a year, is one of the lowest-paying majors.

‘Girly tech’ tries to make coding fashionable

A New York City-based startup hopes its programmable friendship bracelet will motivate girls to learn to code, reports Benjamin Herold in Education Week.  Jewelbots users will be able to “program their bracelets to light up when their friends come near, communicate in Morse-code like languages, integrate with their social media accounts, and more.”

CEO Sarah Chipps previously founded and led a national nonprofit aimed at teaching women to develop software.

Nancy Butler Songer, dean of Drexel’s education school, told Ed Week that Jewelbots are “very cool,” but don’t require real programming to get started. It’s easy to set up the bracelet to vibrate or light up when a friend is near.

However, motivated users “can download a free app that allows for more complex functionality (think: added colors, coordinating with groups of friends, etc.),” writes Herold. They can also use an arduino, or small microprocessor, “to write and upload their own code to program the bracelet in myriad ways—for example, to light up when your friend posts a photo of you on Instagram.”

Chipps, the company’s founder, compared Jewelbots to the uber-popular computer game Minecraft, in which users can either play in an existing online universe or write their own modifications, create their own worlds, and even set up their own servers.

“It’s a super-profitable game that has taught tens of thousands of kids how to code,” she said. ” We’re trying to do the same thing, just targeted towards girls.”

Some complain that “girly tech” perpetuates stereotypes.

Girls get engaged when they can use programming to solve real-world problems, said Lisa Abel Palmieri, who created a renowned coding- and computational thinking program at a girls’ private school in Pittsburgh.

“The best way to engage girls in coding and STEM is by making learning contextualized,” she said. “We should help them understand what the big picture is and how learning technical things can help improve the lives of others.”

Teens must save the world from ‘DUST’

NASA has launched an alternate reality game called DUST to get teens excited about analyzing data, testing theories and communicating ideas. It’s also supposed to attract girls and minority teens to STEM problem-solving. (I wonder why the kids in the promo trailer are white.)
NASA's 'DUST' Gets Students, Young Women Excited About STEM

In the game, dust from a meteor shower puts every adult in a coma. “It is up to the players, whose target ages are 13-17, to save the world [and their parents’ lives] by the end of seven weeks of play.”

Players receive new parts of the story and science clues every few days through social media, email and game apps. They interact with other players and with fictional characters.

NASA, Brigham Young and the University of Maryland developers collaborated on the game with help from college students.  Middle schoolers tested mobile apps and the player community website.