May the STEM of learning be with you!

May 6, 2012

Kimberle Ward
Superintendent
Naples Central School District

Note:  This is first in a series of posts by members of the Finger Lakes STEM hub Steering Committee and Board of Champions.

Working with the Finger Lakes STEM Hub committee to prepare for this exciting launch has been a real passion of mine. After teaching Biology and Chemistry for 14 years my hope was to preserve the integrity of the sciences, along with technology, engineering and math as a school district administrator. Many of my colleagues have been overwhelmed with the Regents Reform Agenda, Race to the Top (RTTT), and the many mandates facing school districts that focus primarily on English Language Arts (ELA) and Math. I shared the vision of my peers serving on this committee and taking on the challenging work of creating a local Hub. I wanted to be sure there was a formal awareness and support for school districts to maintain a strong academic program for the Sciences, Technology and Engineering while meeting the demands of educational reform in the areas of ELA and Math.

The Hub is a collaboration of people that see the benefit in teaching our students how to problem solve, use inquiry, and participate in hands-on learning through STEM, and for many through STEAM (adding an “A” for the arts). There has been recent research to support the value of a strong STEM education that can be integrated into the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS). I recently read an article that voiced a real concern for Homeland Security and Secret Service type careers-they report that we do not have students pursuing STEM fields that will ensure progressive/modern improvements in the United States’ ability to compete with our global neighbors. Our job, as the Finger Lakes Hub is to work collaboratively with UPK-12 educators, Colleges and Universities, and more importantly workforce providers to make STEM learning interesting, inspiring, and fun for all students. This is hard work, but exciting work. May the STEM of learning be with you!

Kimberle Ward is a member of the Finger Lakes STEM Hub Steering Committee.


President Obama Hosts 2nd Annual Science Fair

February 13, 2012

On Tuesday February 7th, President Obama hosted the second-ever White House Science Fair. The science fair featured research and inventions from over 100 students from across the Unites States.  Inventions included a variety of projects such as robots,  rockets, and even a marshmallow cannon.

President Obama tests an invention by shooting a marshmallow out of an air cannon.

After viewing some of the displays and testing the inventions, President Obama addressed the audience about several new initiatives to boost STEM education in the United States.  These initiatives will increase the number of students studying STEM subjects, and prepare the 100,000 math and science teachers needed to teach our future engineers, inventors, and innovators.

Some of the steps to meet these initiatives include:

 

  • A new $80 million investment for STEM teacher preparation programs requested by the Department of Education.
  • A new $22 million investment from the philanthropic and private sector to support STEM education and teacher preparation programs.     
  • National Math and Science Initiative will prepare 4,000 new STEM teachers from 31 UTeach sites by 2015.
  • Teach for America will recruit 11,000 STEM Corps members by 2015.

 

President Obama is expected to put forward his full budget request for this initiative on Monday, February 13 for the 2013 fiscal year.   For more information on President Obama’s STEM initiatives visit www.whitehouse.gov.  


Unlearning Scientific Misconceptions

January 8, 2012

In an eye-opening video clip available  though Annenberg Learner, we see Harvard graduates unable to complete to complete a simple experiment taught in third-grade: how to light a lightbulb with a wire.  A one-hour video from the same series (“From Thin Air”)  shows the Harvard graduates unable to explain basic concepts about plant growth, and then goes on to investigate the sources of common misconceptions that prevent learning from elementary school on.

Misconceptions arise when students are confronted with scientific concepts that are counterintuitive. For example, many students never truly grasp the idea that the weight of a tree is mostly carbon absorbed from CO2. They have heard teachers explain photosynthesis but since they don’t believe that air has weight, they consistently assume the weight in a tree trunk must come from the water, or soil or minerals…something that has weight. Show them dry ice; a form of CO2 that clearly has weight and they are very surprised! This is an example of a discrepant event.

According to Binghamton University Professor Thomas O’Brien, experiencing a discrepant event, with its surprising, counterintuitive outcome “creates cognitive disequilibrium that temporarily throws learners mentally off-balance”. In his book, Brain-Powered Science: Teaching and Learning with Discrepant Events” (NSTA Press, 2010), O’Brien describes 33 hands-on activities that can lead students and teachers to question their implicit assumptions.

Effective inquiry teaching begins by finding out what students already know, including their misconceptions, and then guiding them to questions their assumptions and discover new knowledge for themselves.

As we all know too well, what typically happens in the classroom is that teachers “cover material” and students try to memorize as much as they can. Even hands-on labs often do not challenge students to solve problems and question assumptions. Some students are very good at memorizing and repeating information (the Harvard graduates in the video clip, for example) and others fail miserably, but neither is really developing a deep understanding of concepts, or learning science. Research shows that more is not better, when it comes to exposing students volumes of detailed information through lectures or textbooks.  The brain learns through making connections to prior knowledge, so dispelling misconception is an essential prerequisite for new learning.

See Dr. O’Brian’s keynote address: Misconceptions Matter: Where Do They Come From? Where Do They Go? at the Central Western Section STANYS Winter Workshop at Nazareth College, Feb. 9, 2012