STEM Hub meets with Regents

February 17, 2016

8x8 inches (full size)

Members of the Finger Lakes STEM Hub Steering Committee met with Regents Andrew Brown and Wade Norwood in separate meetings over the past few weeks to talk about the upcoming science learning standards and other STEM issues. Dr. Joseph Marinelli, the new director of the Finger Lakes STEM Hub, described the group as a “catalyst for collaboration” in the greater Rochester region that brings K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and the many STEM-focused industries of the area to the table. “We bring together a diverse group of people,” Dr. Marinelli explained, “all focused on college and career readiness for students, and that has had a profound impact on STEM in the Finger Lakes region.” The opportunity to also include a broader state perspective from two Regents took the conversations to new heights.

Regent Norwood

Regent Norwood

Both Regent Brown and Regent Norwood described STEM issues as some of the most critical for the educational future of New York State. “We are entering a period of incredible uncertainty,” Regent Norwood warned in reference to new members of the Board of Regents, continuing disruption around APPR issues, and the upcoming changes to science standards. Speaking further about the standards, Regent Norwood also cautioned that “the Next Generation Science Standards have been very tricky for New York State. In some ways they represent what people are scared about in a state wide adoption of a national approach.” The real concern here is that the national standards might be watered down compared to where New York can and is going. “It is wise to move slowly,” Regent Norwood said, “to engage with the field to make sure that as we adopt our vision of Next Gen [Science Standards] we aren’t going backwards in any areas.”

Regent Brown

Regent Brown

The need to move forward also resonated in Regent Brown’s remarks. “There are many reports of STEM field jobs that cannot be filled. Can’t be filled now, and we are adding more jobs.” Regent Brown was cautiously optimistic for a rollout of the new state science standards in the next few months. “It seems like the science world has been looking at science standards in New York forever,” he said, “and that is a blessing and a curse.” Regent Brown was pleased with the incredible opportunities for involvement from the field through surveys and planning groups, but noted that the time had come for action. “We are getting final feedback, and once this survey completes there will be a report back to the Board of Regents. Then the hope is to move forward swiftly.” His optimism comes from a lack of pushback from the field regarding the current draft standards – a situation he credits to the long term involvement of stakeholders.

When the conversations turned to science teachers, both of the Regents noted the need for new pathways for certification that would allow STEM professionals to fill empty teaching positions. “I love science, I read about science, I follow science, but I can’t teach science,” Regent Brown stated. “We need teachers certified in the areas they teach.” At the same time, Regent Brown also called for “better ways of linking what is going on in the classroom with the real world.” He praised the efforts of the STEM Hub around industry visits noting that “bringing teachers out into the real world is a constant reminder of what students need.” Regent Norwood echoed this, calling for a renewed focus on the multiple pathways to graduation and the importance of career readiness as well as college readiness. “Focusing on school to career,” he said, “is not relegating people to lower class lives but rather opens the door for young people to have an entering wage in a career without incurring massive debt from a four year degree that isn’t being used.”

The underlying issue is that of student readiness as they enter a global society and prepare to compete in a global economy. “Readiness is quite frankly of more concern to me than graduation rates,” Regent Brown noted, “We could have 90%, even 100% graduation rate but if students are not ready for what comes next it is a meaningless piece of paper.” Regent Norwood called for Boards of Education to pledge support for STEM and STEAM and not to give in to the pressure to compete around test scores. “The song running through my head keeps my mind occupied and not the idle playground of the devil as my mother would say,” Regent Norwood said. “By sixth grade,” he challenged, “all students must understand the scientific method of inquiry and the world around them.” This includes, he went on to explain, more outdoor experiences to counter the “nature deficit disorder” he sees in many children as well as a continued need for exposure to arts and music.

In terms of outcomes, both conversations left the STEM Hub with new action items to work towards. Regent Brown encouraged the STEM Hub to continue “making connections between the education world.” This includes, he noted, “formalized connections between schools and businesses with teams of committed volunteers who understand education needs and know community resources to bridge the gap and bring services to where they are needed.” Regent Norwood welcomed greater involvement from STEM professionals in crafting the instructional materials for the new science standards. “The Social Studies Framework shows that moving to a more compelling curriculum with a more rigorous approach works against the bubble sheet regime,” Regent Norwood claimed. “Going for rigor,” he cautioned, “means going for rigor not only on the part of the students but also the adults that fund and run the education system.” Regent Norwood strongly supported the idea of the STEM Hub being involved in a collaborative effort between education and industry in the Rochester region to build new instructional materials using open source content and resources from providers like CK12.org.

Christopher Harris is the Director of the School Library System of the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership and a Fellow for Youth and Technology Policy Issues with the American Library Association.  He is an active participant on the STEM Hub Steering Committee.

 

Advertisements

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


Imagine RIT Festival

April 17, 2009

imagine-rit-2009

This is the second year of  the Imagine RIT Festival which includes displays of art and science, sometimes combined.  It will have more than 400 exhibits.  It also includes food and entertainment for children and adults.  It’s going to be fun, entertaining and educational. What more do you need?

Location: RIT campus, Henrietta, NY

Day: May 2

Time: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: FREE of CHARGE

I plan on attending and may post some pictures on this blog afterward.  Make plans with your family and make sure you don’t miss this festival!

For more information or to see pictures of last year’s Imagine RIT Festival go to: Imagine RIT


Keep Your Kids Interest in Science with Holiday Gifts

December 8, 2008

Do you have a kid that is interested in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM)? Do you want to get your kid interested in these subjects?

When I was a child, I always had an interest in putting things together. I still do! I don’t know if it is a learned behavior or not. I loved puzzles. I wanted to help my dad put the bike (or anything) together. I saw my older brother putting together his toy model car and I wanted to do that! But that was a boy toy. I couldn’t play with it or get one for myself! Now, when I buy or someone gives me something that needs to be put together, I don’t go to sleep until it is. Just in case you’re wondering, I got BS in Computer Science and now I’m studying to be a High School Math Teacher.

I also collected bugs. Yes, I was a girl who collected bugs! I don’t remember why I started doing this. It may have been for a school science project and then I made it a habit. But, whenever I saw dead bugs around my house or on my way home, I picked them up and put them in a yogurt cup in the kitchen closet. They may even still be in my mom’s house! After a while, I was able to see the bones or interior structure of some of them. Even though it’s not what I studied, I love biology, the Discovery channels, all doctor’s programs on TV and nature.

My older niece got her first camera when she was in Kindergarten. It was a Polaroid. She kept on getting upgrades often, until she got a video camera, taped it to a remote control car, turned the camera on and off it went to record. We’re hoping she gets an engineering or a science related education. She still has a couple of years to think about it.

What are your kids into? What are you doing to keep them interested in STEM subjects?

dinoworks

One way to keep your kids interested in STEM subjects is by giving them games related in the STEM subjects they like. To find STEM related games, go into your favorite toy store web site. Look in the learning category and then in science and discovery. Then, it’s probably going to be divided into specific science categories. It may also have an option to select by gender but I don’t think it’s necessary to use this selection by gender with science “toys”.

Here are MY PICKS of toys that may get your kids interested in science at an early age or encourage them to pursue a science related career, if they’re already interested in science.

Subject

Ages

Toys

STEM

Babies & Toddlers

Blocks, Shape Sorters, Stacking Shapes, Farm Animals, Counting/Number Games

STEM

Preschoolers

Mazes, Puzzles, Towers, Legos, Counting/Number Games

Dinosaurs

4 to 10

Big Bucket of Dinosaurs

Nature, Physics, Chemistry, Air and Water

5 to 9

Little Labs: Stepping into Science

Geology

5 and up

The Young Scientists Set #2: Weather Station – Solids, Liquids, Gases – Volcano

Astronomy

7 and up

Planet Quest

Dinosaurs

8 and up

Dinoworks: Cast & Paint – 19″ Tyrannosaurus Rex Casting Kit

Anatomy & Biology

8 and up

Edu Science Human Body Learning Game with Bonus Stethoscope

Bug Science

8 and up

Backyard Safari Night & Day Bug Habitat

Chemistry & Physics

8 and up

Edu Science Junior Scientist Kit

Microscopes

8 and up

Edu Science Quick-Switch Microscope (comes in different colors)

Electricity

10 and up

Electronic Playground and Learning Center

Can you share with us how you got interested in science, technology, engineering or math or some of the related things you did as a kid?