From a teacher’s perspective, what gaps do you see in STEM education?

In summary: Many are unable to visualize or sketch a situation that is described to them in writing, for example something like "A cylindrical glass is half filled with water and covered with a flat sheet of plastic. Immersed in the water there is a marble that's covered in ..."This is problem because many exam questions in physics and also problems in real life are presented like that.Maybe one could have exercises in sketching or building situations described like that and/or exercises in reformulating the descriptions.Hello, Thank you for writing in! I think that this is an excellent idea and something that could really help supplement classroom STEM education. I think that it could be especially helpful for students who are struggling with the
  • #1
lyra-stem
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Hello everyone! I’m a college student interested in starting a nonprofit organization centered around supplementing classroom STEM education. After working with a few schools and teachers in my area (Northern NJ), I’ve been told that students could benefit from more learning opportunities dedicated to exploring interdisciplinary and non-traditional career pathways.

I’ve had some success in giving short presentations on these topics, but I’m still trying to figure out what other needs and solutions exist in STEM for high school and middle school students.

One solution I have considered is making a “kit” paired with a presentation to give students the opportunity to work firsthand on a career skill and to receive guidance as they do it. For example, students interested in forensics could go through a presentation on forensic technologies and have the chance to “apply” some of them through a guided forensic case. Do you think this is something that could work?

Sorry if this is the wrong forum for this post, but any suggestions you could provide would be greatly appreciated!
 
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  • #2
lyra-stem said:
Hello everyone! I’m a college student interested in starting a nonprofit organization centered around supplementing classroom STEM education. After working with a few schools and teachers in my area (Northern NJ), I’ve been told that students could benefit from more learning opportunities dedicated to exploring interdisciplinary and non-traditional career pathways.

I’ve had some success in giving short presentations on these topics, but I’m still trying to figure out what other needs and solutions exist in STEM for high school and middle school students.

One solution I have considered is making a “kit” paired with a presentation to give students the opportunity to work firsthand on a career skill and to receive guidance as they do it. For example, students interested in forensics could go through a presentation on forensic technologies and have the chance to “apply” some of them through a guided forensic case. Do you think this is something that could work?

Sorry if this is the wrong forum for this post, but any suggestions you could provide would be greatly appreciated!
Something many students (at least in Sweden) lack is being able to understand texts, especially "technical" ones.
Many are unable to visualize or sketch a situation that is described to them in writing, for example something like "A cylindrical glass is half filled with water and covered with a flat sheet of plastic. Immersed in the water there is a marble that's covered in ..."
This is problem because many exam questions in physics and also problems in real life are presented like that.
Maybe one could have exercises in sketching or building situations described like that and/or exercises in reformulating the descriptions.
 
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  • #3
Welcome to PF.

lyra-stem said:
I’m a college student interested in starting a nonprofit organization centered around supplementing classroom STEM education. After working with a few schools and teachers in my area (Northern NJ), I’ve been told that students could benefit from more learning opportunities dedicated to exploring interdisciplinary and non-traditional career pathways
"I've been told" is not a valid reference in the technical PF forums. Please provide some links to the professional literature for what you have been reading on this challenging subject.

Thank you.
 
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  • #4
berkeman said:
"I've been told" is not a valid reference in the technical PF forums. Please provide some links to the professional literature for what you have been reading on this challenging subject.
I took the OP to mean teachers and administrators at the schools he or she has dealt with suggested the idea. The perils of passive voice...
 
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@Philip Koeck which includes following instructions for laboratory work.
 
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  • #6
While such a program is well-intentioned one must be careful. Is the subject around which this program is centered too specialized or a viable career path for many people? Forensic science for example may be oversold since it was first introduced years ago. In the rush to excite students a firm foundation in the basics (math and science) may be neglected. Walking students through crime scenarios may not be as valuable as originally planned. The student may miss the basics but important aspects including the actual effort required in a real situation. At least up to about five years ago about half of STEM college students dropped out of STEM programs.

I would be inclined to augment current math and science courses with applications to various career paths. Forensics for example takes from math biology, chemistry, and physics.
 
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  • #7
I've noticed that the students at the high school or middle school level that aren't interested in STEM are focusing on different classes or are too busy with their own lives.
 
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osilmag said:
I've noticed that the students at the high school or middle school level that aren't interested in STEM are focusing on different classes or are too busy with their own lives.
I've noticed students in High school and middle school who are interested in STEM pursuing other classes and busy with their own lives. I do not understand the point you are trying to make.
 
  • #9
hutchphd said:
I've noticed students in High school and middle school who are interested in STEM pursuing other classes and busy with their own lives. I do not understand the point you are trying to make.
Maybe things changed in the year since he posted... :oldbiggrin:
 
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Thought I would stir the pot.....
 
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Something I've seen since I went back into the classroom as an adjunct is many students do not have a well defined sense of visualization which is key to setting up problems and analyzing data. Another major shortcoming that I can add is that the manual dexterity just isn't there. My students in many cases have not had any introduction or exposure shop class, either wood or metal, where you learn skills and work with your hands.

Before I got to high school, we had mandatory shop classes for at least a portion of the school year in grades 6-8, these were co-ed also. I didn't have time in high school to continue that education, but living and working in a semi-rural area, we did do a fair amount of manual labor. I built houses after I got my degree, so I reinforced those skills as well as adding to them while I was in the army.
 
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  • #12
Dr Transport said:
Something I've seen since I went back into the classroom as an adjunct is many students do not have a well defined sense of visualization which is key to setting up problems and analyzing data. Another major shortcoming that I can add is that the manual dexterity just isn't there. My students in many cases have not had any introduction or exposure shop class, either wood or metal, where you learn skills and work with your hands.

Before I got to high school, we had mandatory shop classes for at least a portion of the school year in grades 6-8, these were co-ed also. I didn't have time in high school to continue that education, but living and working in a semi-rural area, we did do a fair amount of manual labor. I built houses after I got my degree, so I reinforced those skills as well as adding to them while I was in the army.
I think this is a really good point.

You know those posts, where the student is asking, 'but why is the work mgh?' -- I always think, "carry shingles up to the roofers for a week and then get back to me."
 
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  • #13
This semester I had a student in class, he claimed to be a math major with a physics minor (we don't have a physics major where I teach) who couldn't do a basic freshman lab without immense amounts of help, he couldn't handle the math nor the physics.

We did an acceleration with an inclined plane, one of my other students set the plane to a single height then adjusted his release point to take 5 sets of measurements with varying lengths while measuring the height at the release points to calculate the sine of the angle. He couldn't understand why all the accelerations were equal. I said you've just confirmed the law of sines and similar triangles.

Another group would continually mess up units (usually the entire class did this), but in this case they calculated a moment of inertia for two masses on a rod to be 3*10^6 kg m^2. When I worked the numbers out with them for the equivalent sphere, the mass of the sphere was something like 10^6 kg. This group would fill in a table with the raw masses measured in grams when the units were kg, thus being off by 3 orders of magnitude to start with.

From what I can see, the lack of this physical awareness of magnitudes coupled with carelessness really hurts them. Maybe we need to go back to the old slide rules so they learn how to figure out orders of magnitude when they start doing a lab exercise.
 
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  • #14
Perhaps this is another example of the result of making STEM subjects too much fun in school and neglecting to show/teach the students what is involved in doing them well.
 
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  • #15
gleem said:
Perhaps this is another example of the result of making STEM subjects too much fun in school and neglecting to show/teach the students what is involved in doing them well.
It can be fun, but there needs to be a balance. As my PhD advisor always told me, "right is right and wrong is wrong." There is a right way to teach it and a wrong way. I find every semester that there is another aspect that I need to emphasize and maybe this coming semester I'll add to my intro what the order of magnitude is for their various calculations.
 
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  • #16
It took all of us time and experience to learn these skills. I'm surprised when educators think they can instill within their students these same skills by some other method, such as a well-planned lecture. The students are the victims here, they are not to blame for the results of their misguided but well-intentioned educators.
 
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  • #17
In general STEM programs seem to be ill-conceived by making them look like fun, casting the net far and wide to find the students who might have a latent interest in STEM. A lot of things look like fun until you try to do them and you find out what it takes to accomplish what you saw.

Anders Ericsson the psychologist noted for introducing the 10,000-hour practice idea for success in a field notes that it is not only the time that is important but the guidance of a good teacher who can often reduce this time.

I think what is lacking are teachers with enough interest and knowledge to uncover these latent interests and abilities and provide guidance for their students not just lecturers and showmen.

Anecdote: After retiring I sent a letter to a couple of private high schools volunteering my experience and knowledge in any way that I might be of value to them in their science or math programs. Not only were they not interested but they did not even reply. Some time later one inquired if I was interested in teaching a math course when a teacher suddenly left but at that time I was moving from the area.

I just checked out the curriculum of high schools public and private in the two places where I have lived over the last 20 or so years. Only one of the schools a private had the education listed for its teachers, all three had BS's in biology with two also having MS's in education. The AP and/or honors physics courses in all schools were not calculus-based even though calculus was offered and one school was currently not offering a physics course.

If you want to get involved and help your local schools STEM programs you can go to the National Math+Sciencle Initiative website and peruse the information and programs and learn the latest STEM research. It seems many schools' STEM programs mean they are offering STEM courses. It also appears to me that a STEM program in many schools means computer/programming courses.
 
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  • #18
gleem said:
I think what is lacking are teachers with enough interest and knowledge to uncover these latent interests and abilities and provide guidance for their students not just lecturers and showmen.
The rest of your post seems to refute this claim! I believe the problem is that our society does not place enough value on recruiting and retaining the types of teachers you describe. Hence their lack of interest in what you had to offer.
 
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Mister T said:
Hence their lack of interest in what you had to offer.
If you are referring to my being ignored about volunteering, I think the administrators were probably being defensive concerning their programs perhaps feeling I might rock their boat. I do not know if as I suggested in the letters to share my letter with the relevant faculty. If so perhaps the faculty nixed it. Some teachers might have felt threatened.

I remember my first professional review as a medical physicist. I was a little anxious. Everybody does things a little differently and some are not exactly official standards of practice but defensible. With changing educational standards some of which might not be appreciated or even known it is not surprising a teacher may not want someone looking over his shoulders.

Schools are usually the most expensive service the community provides. Getting qualified teachers often upsets the pay scales. The National Math+Sciencle Initiative notes the lack of monetary support for STEM programs.

Another thing, I remember years ago while an undergrad hearing someone say that a teacher with a PhD would not be happy teaching high school. I know that not to be true since my Latin teacher had a doctorate.
 
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  • #20
Getting a STEM teacher with an actual degree in the discipline is difficult and even when they are available, the pay is so low that they go elsewhere.

I've been a proponent of mandating that at the high school level, the pay be increased and the teachers have a degree in their subject matter. Don't get me started on AP classes who are taught be people who do not have a degree in the subject and if they do, are not not qualified to teach at the community college level since they do not have a masters degree in their area. I wasn't hired for a teaching gig because they would have had to pay me more than the person with a degree in education who had a minor in physics. Incidentally, they are teaching the AP course and I've been made aware that the pass rate is minimal and has declined.
 
  • #21
This AIP study ( although dated) on What High School Physics Teachers Teach may be of interest. It also includes the educational background of the teachers. Of the 27,000 teachers who teach physics about one-third have a major in physics or physics education.
https://www.aip.org/sites/default/files/statistics/highschool/hs-whattheyteach-13.pdf

The AIP says about 9.000 undergraduate physics majors graduate each year from 754 colleges and universities. About 3000 go to grad school. The above report indicates about 1,000 begin high school teaching.
 
  • #22
Dr Transport said:
I wasn't hired for a teaching gig because they would have had to pay me more than the person with a degree in education who had a minor in physics.
This is another example of a scenario that plays out in a society that undervalues science education. And we are living through the consequences with our eyes tightly shut.
 
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  • #23
I just finished a podcast with Carl Wieman (Nobel Prize in Physics 2001, Yidan Prize in Education 2020) who has changed his field of research to physics education. He is a strong proponent of active learning and the founder of the PHET interactive simulation project. He also helped start CourseSource an open-access journal of peer-reviewed teaching resources for undergraduate biology and physics. His comment that HS students are not prepared for university study jumped out at me.

I went back and reread the posts to see what has risen in my mind as worth noting. @Philip Koeck mentioned a visualization problem which @Dr Transport also noted. This is one of those things we take for granted and if a student has a problem with this then it might go undiagnosed. Also noted was a lack of manual dexterity. Learning is usually an integration of seeing, hearing, doing, and thinking and for me saying. (I think out loud and it drives my wife crazy), As a kid, I spent a lot of time drawing and appreciating perspective rendering which I feel has helped me greatly in visualization.

Another issue is that words are not always interpreted the way they are intended to be because they might have been used differently by the student. I know I have criticized the use of the term fun to entice students into STEM. I enjoy science, to be sure, but I do not look at it as fun and never have. (OK call me a stick in the mud) When we speak as in a lecture we say things that are evident in our mind's eye not necessarily thinking about what the student might be thinking.

For the past several decades parents have been putting their kids in preschool early perhaps out of necessity but often with the idea of trying to give their kid a head start. Maybe too much organized activity and not enough unsupervised exploration are not letting them develop naturally to be what they should be. Sure they need guidance but do they need an itinerary?

Oops, my train of thought if any has been interrupted by dinner, Oyster stew, a salad, and a nice chardonnay which will be enjoyable but not fun.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

 
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  • #24
My boss at work is working on a Masters in Math education and he is a huge proponent of the visualization layering. Give the kids plenty of Lego's and the start with a point, then a line, then a plane etc. Build up the visualization skills one step at a time then get to FEM and facet modeling. I've got to look at his methodology again, but it builds step by step.

One of the problems I see it that students don't know how to set up a problem, they have been spoon fed so many years, they can't see how things interact. I saw the same thing in graduate school. One reason you are a teaching assistant in a freshman class is to learn how to set up problems, that is indispensable to passing comps or quals.

In my classes, I grade based on approach, how are they setting up the problem. One of my co-workers gives half credit on tests and homework's in his engineering dynamics class if they draw well thought out, reasonably accurate free-body diagrams.
 
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  • #25
gleem said:
Maybe too much organized activity and not enough unsupervised exploration are not letting them develop naturally to be what they should be. Sure they need guidance but do they need an itinerary?

I think this hits the nail on the head. Allowing students the latitude to contemplate the material on their own helps them cultivate their own intuition. And later on assignments test the ability of their intuition/thoughts to stay “in bounds” lest they become self-indulgent.

Reminds me of that George Carlin skit

 
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  • #26
The AIP says the US awarded 9000 BS degrees which seems robust. The question in my mind is how many engineers are we graduating and how many do we need. An old study (2007) by Issues in Science and Technology seems to have thought there were probably enough since the stats from China and India were not reliable.
https://issues.org/wadhwa-engineers...gineering,graduates 600,000 and India 350,000

Vanderbilt University says 3% new jobs in the next 10 years 0.12% per year.
https://blog.engineering.vanderbilt...cifically, employment,74,800 new jobs by 2029.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 188,000 openings will be created per year including those from retirements. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/home.htm

The National Center for Educational Statistics showed that the rate of increase for all engineering degrees from 2000 to 2017 increased by 4% per year.
https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/dt19_325.45.asp

Some of the information on the web is inconsistent but if we have continued to produce engineers at that rate it seems like we are meeting the needs.

There has always been a goal to make the general public more science and technology-knowledgeable but how attainable is this? Active learning techniques are aimed at holding the attention of the student on the subject and have shown to be effective during the course but has anybody shown that the information is retained much longer than the course? Will social media just undo what was presumably to be accomplished in a science or math course for the average student?
 
  • #27
gleem said:
There has always been a goal to make the general public more science and technology-knowledgeable but how attainable is this? Active learning techniques are aimed at holding the attention of the student on the subject and have shown to be effective during the course but has anybody shown that the information is retained much longer than the course? Will social media just undo what was presumably to be accomplished in a science or math course for the average student?

Problem solving is a skill. Like all skills, it will decay if not practised.

The same is true of "bullshit detection", by which I loosely mean the assessment of the credibility, accuracy and biases of sources, but this critical defence against pseudoscientific and similar nonsense is not often taught.
 

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