STEM Interest on Rise Among High Schoolers, Report Finds

A good reminder of the importance of providing STEM opportunities for girls:
By Erik Robelen on January 30, 2013 10:20 AM

High school students are increasingly interested in pursuing STEM majors and careers, a new report finds, with about 1 in 4 now stating such an inclination. But a longstanding gender gap is widening, the data show, with fewer females than males signaling STEM interest.

Overall, STEM interest has climbed by 21 percent among high schoolers when comparing the class of 2004 with the class of 2013, according to the report from My College Options and STEMconnector.

Mechanical engineering was by far the top major or career choice in 2012 for students interested in the STEM fields, selected by 20 percent of respondents. Second place goes to biology, at 12 percent.

Meanwhile, female interest in STEM began to decline starting with the class of 2010, the data show, while it is climbing for males. In all, 38 percent of males in the class of 2013 report a STEM interest, compared with just 15 percent of females.

Organizers are hosting a live and virtual townhall meeting today at 3 p.m. Eastern to discuss the report’s findings, with guest speakers to include Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds. Although there is no charge for the townhall meeting, and a briefhighlights summary of the report is available for free, the full report, which includes national and state-by-state data, costs $195.

Recovering from a ‘Dramatic Dip’

The report comes amid strong and growing national interest in the need to encourage more young people to actively pursue advanced study and careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In fact, President Obama himself has made a point of repeatedly using his bully pulpit to talk up STEM education, and has begun hosting an annualWhite House Science Fair to generate more awareness. In 2010, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report, “Prepare and Inspire,” which also highlights the need to get more young people to pursue the STEM fields, especially minorities and females.

On the gender gap, here’s a few more data points. Surveys of current high school students for the graduating classes of 2014, 2015, and 2016 show the gap widening even further. For the class of 2016, 45 percent of males say they’re interested in a STEM major or career, compared with 13 percent of females.

Leaving aside the troubling gender divide, the news about the overall gain in STEM interest among U.S. students may not be as encouraging as it sounds to those worried about ensuring a strong STEM workforce. That’s because the national increase really only bring the United States back to where it was at an earlier point in time, said Ryan Munce, a vice president at My College Options, an organization operated by the nonprofit National Research Center for College and University Admissions that collected this data.

“The biggest part of that is the dramatic dip in the early 2000s, and what we’ve seen over the course of the last decade is it really coming back to historical averages,” he told me.

The new report is not just focused on STEM interest. It also highlights national and state-by-state data on job prospects in the STEM fields. Experts tell me that the data on future STEM jobs have been available for some time, but that the survey information on student interest has not. In any case, the report cites a federal estimate that there will be at least 8.7 million U.S. STEM jobs in 2018, up from 7.4 million today.

The report probes differences in STEM interest not just by gender, but also by race and ethnicity. These differences, however, are less pronounced. Here’s a snapshot of the share of students indicating a STEM interest:

• Asian: 32.8 percent
• American Indian: 29.6 percent
• White: 27.1 percent
• Hispanic: 25.1 percent
• African American: 22.5 percent

Differences by household income level were slight, less than 2 percent.

Geography appears to have little impact on STEM interest among current high schoolers, whether by region or state. At a regional level, it ranged from 25.1 percent in the West to 26.0 percent in the Midwest. The state with the lowest reported interest among high schoolers was Nevada, at 22.4 percent, and the highest Montana at 29.5 percent. Most hovered right around 25 percent. (The report says the national average for all current high school students is 25.5 percent. For the class of 2013, the figure is 25.2 percent.)

This finding surprised Robert S. Boege, the executive director of STEMconnector and ASTRA, the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America.

“What struck me is how closely aligned most of the states are” in the level of STEM interest, he said.

Diving deeper into STEM preferences, as mentioned, mechanical engineering was squarely on top as the most popular discipline. Least popular? Energy technology at 0.1 percent.

Here’s a top ten list:

• Mechanical engineering: 20.4 percent
• Biology: 11.9 percent
• General engineering: 11.0 percent
• Science: 10.6 percent
• Game Design and Developer: 9.4 percent
• Electrical engineering: 8.4 percent
• Computer/information sciences: 8.1 percent
• Mathematics/statistics: 8.0 percent
• Marine Biology: 7.6 percent
• Computer engineering: 5.9 percent

Girls Like Biology, Boys Like Engineering

The report also reveals some gender contrasts in areas of interest. For instance, biology was far more popular with girls, and mechanical engineering with boys.

Here’s a quick sampling of particular STEM fields in which gender discrepancies were especially evident. Sadly, many of these are rather predictable.

• Biology
Girls (24.7 percent)
Boys (6.3 percent)

• Mechanical Engineering
Boys (27.5 percent)
Girls (4.8 percent)

• Game Design and Developer
Boys (12.4 percent)
Girls (2.8 percent)

• Marine Biology
Girls (14.6 percent)
Boys (4.7 percent)

Finally, here’s an odd one. A lot more females (18.0 percent) than males (6.4 percent) selected “science” as an area of special interest.

There’s plenty more to mine in this report, both at the national level and for given states. The results on STEM interest are drawn from annual survey data collected by My College Options. Each year, the organization collects data on high school students through a survey of some 5.5 million high school students, which covers 95 percent of American high schools.

Boege said the new report is a “first stab” at trying to map out the national and state landscape when it comes to student interest in STEM and the needs of states to build their STEM workforces to meet job demand and grow their economies.

“We try to link the information in a way that is comprehensible to the general public,” he said. “There will be many, many questions raised by what we have put together, and hopefully it will stimulate debate.”

UPDATE: (5:02 p.m.) One dimension of the report I neglected to mention was the large number of high school freshmen who eventually abandon their plans to pursue a STEM major or career. Nearly 28 percent—roughly 1 million freshmen—declare an interest in STEM each year, but more than half of them, 57 percent, lose that interest by the time they graduate, the report says. The authors suggest this is a phenomenon worth careful attention, as it’s a lot easier “to maintain interest than to create new interest where it is not present.”

At the same time, this data point does not tell the whole story. Fifth-three percent of high school seniors became interested in STEM after their freshman year, the report shows. In the end, it says, high school seniors are about 10 percent less likely than freshmen to declare an interest in a STEM field.


How Are We Preparing Students to Be Tomorrow’s Innovators?

Suzie Boss

Education Journalist
Suzie Boss
Posted: 01/29/2013

Follow the discussion on Empowering Education Leaders to Innovate onWednesday Jan. 30 at 3pm PST.

According to the just-released Gallup-HOPE index for 2012, developing a world-changing invention is an aspiration shared by 42 percent of youth in grades 5-12. That’s good news. Given the scale of challenges facing us–in our own backyards and around the globe–it’s easy to see that we’re going to need every good idea the next generation has to offer.

What are schools doing to prepare today’s students to be tomorrow’s innovators? I recently went on a hunt for schools that are serious about teaching students to innovate. I found many promising examples (described in Bringing Innovation to School). There’s plenty we can learn from these “skunk works” for a new kind of teaching and learning.

Given the right conditions, students eagerly step up to the challenge of becoming not only better thinkers, but also makers, doers, and problem solvers. They’re developing mobile apps, designing neighborhood gathering places, reducing their schools’ carbon footprint, and reinvigorating Main Street with their economic analysis. Such projects typically involve serious academic study along with real-world problem solving, introducing students to a process for innovation that they can use again and again.

What can school leaders do to encourage more of these kinds of experiences? For starters, think about your own strengths and weaknesses as an innovator. How do you encourage–or discourage–innovative thinking among your staff? Who are your own role-models for innovation?

Are you willing to take risks? Innovators are willing to step out of their comfort zone. If a new idea doesn’t work as planned, they treat failure as a learning opportunity. How do you foster a fail-fast, risk-taking attitude among your staff (and among your students)? At High Tech High, a network of innovative schools in San Diego, Calif., teachers use a protocol for sharing student work together at the end of projects. They critically evaluate what worked well and where things fell short, which leads to ongoing improvements in projects. It’s part of a school culture that welcomes risk-taking.

Do you know how to network? The most innovative teachers and school leaders I’ve met regularly use blogs, Twitter, #edchats, and other Web 2.0 tools to think aloud about what’s working and what’s hard in their classrooms and communities. Their online reflections open a window on ideas at the formative stage, when they welcome feedback and invite suggestions from others in their network. They use their networks to expand opportunities for students, too. For instance, students in rural Oklahoma were mentored during a recent project by expert educators from around the globe. How did they connect? The teacher leading the project put out the word to her Twitter network. As a school leader, do you model how to use networks effectively? Do you encourage teachers to leverage their connections to create new opportunities for students?

Do you help good ideas grow? Innovators are eager to see good ideas take hold and spread. At Albemarle County Public Schools in Virginia, teachers are invited to submit innovation seed grants to fund classroom ideas they want to try. Superintendent Pam Moran uses the grants as a way to encourage grassroots innovation, finding out in a low-risk way what works (and what doesn’t), and then spreading promising strategies.

In Support of Student Centered Education and Innovation Week

Elizabeth English

Head of School at The Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles.

Why So Many Schools Remain Penitentiaries of Boredom

Posted: 01/04/2013

“It’s harder to change a school than it is to move a graveyard.” Or, as it’s also been said, “It’s harder to change a history course than it is to change history.” I think we can all agree that our schools should be among our most dynamic and innovative institutions; but despite the endless talk about school reform, they remain among our most ossified.

Take a look at the typical American classroom, public or independent, urban or suburban, and what you will see looks very much like the classrooms of the 19th century. Yes, slates have been replaced (in most places) with digital tools, but the structure signals the musty past: teacher as authoritative source of knowledge, student as tabula rasa. Or take the structure of the school day itself, typically divided into seven 45 minute classes. Believe it or not, that schedule derives from Victorian factories where industrialist Frederick Taylor concluded that workers were most productive when they changed stations every 45 minutes.

And it’s not just the structure of schools that is chained to the past. It’s the very content we teach and our purpose for teaching it. This has been true for at least a century, but the technological revolution has brought our schools to the precipice; the mandate could not be more obvious: evolve or suffer extinction. We are seeing more clearly than ever that school as we know it is becoming irrelevant to an entire generation. Drop out rates remain high, especially here in L.A., and far too many college students, who are ostensibly prepared, give up before the end of their freshman year. Why? Because they’re disengaged. Even among our most educationally privileged, students arrive at college already burned out and cynical about the journey ahead. If college means another four years of primarily sitting and listening to someone else lecture, we’ve lost them already.

Authentic learning at its core is about doing, creating, constructing. Ask yourself, “What do I remember as the most rewarding and inspiring experience in school?” and the answer invariably involves something you created — poetry you wrote, a computer program you designed, an art portfolio you assembled, biology research you conducted. We learn by doing. Unfortunately, it is a lot easier for a teacher to deliver information than it is to design a lesson that deeply engages the learner and asks the student to transfer and apply the skills and concepts of the course rather than simply memorizing them.

Teachers no longer need to be the “black box” in which information is stored. Instead, educators must become designers of doing. In this sense, teaching is a highly skilled craft, requiring not only explicit objectives, but a beautifully designed and irresistible learning experience that asks students think critically, solve a problem, create a product. Take for example an undergraduate course at MIT on designing a wheel chair for use in the developing world. A real world, altruistic problem is posed and students are challenged to solve it. Along the way, they must learn and employ the chemistry, geometry, geography, cultural anthropology, physics, etc. to prevail. Now that is relevance. Without doing likewise, our secondary schools will remain penitentiaries of boredom — places where our children sit stupefied and often medicated so that they can remain silent and motionless long enough for the lesson to be over.

Our schools and teaching have to be worthy of a student’s attention. I talk to students about what it means to be fully present– to “attend,” which comes from the Latin attendere, meaning to take care or take charge, to bend toward. Attending means so much more than merely showing up and yet when we utter the word in the context of school, it evokes passivity. Likewise, learning has become synonymous with collecting information or possessing the kind of knowledge that can be readily measured on a test. For those who are college bound, that means a standardized test like the S.A.T. But the true test of knowledge and understanding is applicability. Students want and deserve knowledge which they can apply to an authentic experience. Don’t get me wrong, facts and content matter. But deep and enduring learning is always about more than mnemonics, and it’s time our schools and curricula reflect this.

Yes, you need knowledge of the periodic table to do chemistry, but you don’t need to memorize it if it’s on your desktop — electronic or otherwise. What matters is the ability to do something with the elements in the periodic table. But ask yourself, what’s easier to design: a fill in the blank test for recall or an authentic chemistry experiment that may well have a messy outcome? This is just one of the tragedies of No Child Left Behind, or as I like to call “No Child Left Untested.” Few experiences in life are less authentic than a standardized test. The humble times-tables were once memorized by a sort of chanted catechism; today, our youngest math students make lightning-fast calculations on an array of electronic devices which, ironically, most large-scale assessments forbid. Quick, what’s 12 x 7? It’s actually okay if you don’t remember, offhand, because you no longer have to. Isn’t that great?

Educational leaders have to have the courage to reinvent our schools for real this time. And our teachers must be teachers of children as well as teachers of their subject area. This means possessing pedagogical knowledge — the tools in the tool belt to design a lesson for the students of the present and the problems of the future. Here’s the bottom-line and the good news: the vast riches of the world’s cumulative knowledge are literally at our fingertips every day, via tablet, desktop, laptop and cell-phone. True, there is such a thing as classified information, not accessible via our search engines, and there is plenty of misinformation on the web, too (for instance, I don’t recommend that you diagnose your own appendicitis, etc.) But still, if you’re interested in what the ancient Egyptians ate for breakfast, or how to carve a duck decoy, or simply want to learn to speak Portuguese, a few persistent mouse-clicks will summon this and virtually any other form of knowledge you desire, as if you have conjured an obedient djinn from a magic lamp. It’s all there for us, and we don’t have to remember much more than our new lexicon of user-names and passwords to enter what truly is a wonderland of information impossible to imagine a generation ago.

And here’s where our schools become relevant once more: in teaching our children to evaluate and use that information in ways that are important and meaningful and to satisfy their fundamental human desire to construct solutions for the world full of engaging and pressing problems they will inherit.

Teaching Without Tests

By Nick Provenzano on January 21st, 2013 

As the semester draws to a close, I look back at my grade book and I see all of the assignments, essays and projects I have given and a smile appears on my face. I have not given a test the entire first semester. Not a single quiz or unit exam shows up in a column. My students smile just as wide when they look at their grades as well. It’s been an amazing year so far, why ruin it with an ugly bubble test?

A few years ago, I wanted to see what it would be like if I spent one marking period not giving my traditional multiple choice exams at the end of units and see what would happen if I gave my students options to demonstrate their knowledge. At the end of those ten weeks I saw higher engagement and a much stronger demonstration of skill and knowledge than any multiple choice exam had ever shown me. I think there are a couple of reasons for that that I want to share.

I am pretty sure that my tests were terrible. I think most multiple choice tests are not well-written. I think the primary reason for that is that most teachers do not have the training or experience to write a really good multiple choice test. There are so many things to consider when writing these types of exams, and I know I was not thinking about all of them. I was focused on creating questions that were possible to answer that would show me whether or not they knew the information. It was basically a reading check. When I moved to a project-based system, I needed to evaluate what was important to me. Remembering the character’s hometown was nice, but demonstrating the importance the hometown played in the story is far more important. A multiple choice test cannot do that, at least not the tests that I was capable of writing.

Students are yearning to show their teachers their talent and knowledge. They are bursting at the seams to show the world what they can do. The traditional classroom of lecture and test does not allow them to do that though. The minute I started to let my students choose their projects and express their knowledge in different ways, engagement and the overall energy of the students went through the room. They felt part of the process and that investment is critical for engagement and learning. They no longer felt like just another body in a seat being told what was important, they were active participants in their learning. High-school students are eager to participate. They are looking for chances to show off their talents. By moving to a project-based system in my classroom, students have chances every unit to show off what they have learned to me and the rest of the class.

I have been watching my students prepare for a mock trial of Mark Twain this past week. They have been furiously searching the Internet for primary sources to see if there is any evidence that Mark Twain was for or against slavery and if he wrote a racist book in Huck Finn. This delicate topic and very difficult book to read for sophomores has been firmly embraced and has generated amazing discussions that are not possible with the standard multiple choice test or traditional class lecture format.

Watching students explore and learn on their own is an amazing thing. Somewhere along the way, education lost its way and started to focus heavily on memorization of facts and not the actual act of learning. To me, MC tests, fill in the blank exams, etc. as the only means of assessment are a symptom of that larger problem. I was part of that problem but chose to take a leap of faith and trust that my students could show me more. Three years later I can look back at my decision and feel like I have done a great job in reaching more of my students. I can say that I’ve got 99 problems, but a test ain’t one.

Nicholas Provenzano is a high-school English teacher and a technology-curriculum specialist for the Grosse Pointe Public School System in Michigan. He has a master’s degree in educational technology from Central Michigan University and is a regular presenter for the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning and ISTE. When he is not writing on his blog or tweeting @TheNerdyTeacher, he is working on an educational e-zine and a free “unconference,” Edcamp Detroit. He also blogs for Edutopia on the value of technology in education.

What’s Your Best Guess? Predicting Answers Leads to Deeper Learning

February 24, 2012 By 


Predictions pique our interest. Once we wager that our favorite sports team will win, we want to know the final score. Once we guess the identity of the murderer in a mystery novel, we keep reading to find out if we were right.

The same holds true, it turns out, in the learning of mathematics. A new study published by two Michigan psychologists reports that middle-school students asked to anticipate how linear and exponential factors work—before this information was taught—became more curious about the content of the lessons they then proceeded to learn. Even more importantly, the act of venturing predictions prompted them to understand the material more deeply as they engaged in reasoning and sense-making about math instead of mere memorization.

Students who view mathematics as only memorizing facts and procedures are often unsure of when or how to apply what they have learned.

To test their theory that making predictions would facilitate learning, Lisa Anne Kasmer of Grand Valley State University and Ok-Kyeong Kim of Western Michigan University designed a lesson plan in which the teacher started off the class with a series of prediction questions. Students were asked to imagine, for example, that a boy named Alejandro was cutting a paper ballot in half, then in half again, and so on. “If Alejandro makes ten cuts, can you predict how many ballots Alejandro might have?” the teacher asked. “What is your reasoning?”

The pupils wrote down a prediction, along with explanations supporting their guess, and then discussed their responses with their classmates. After telling the students that it was theirreasoning that was important, not the correctness of their predictions, the teacher went on to teach them about linear and exponential factors. Only then did the students revisit their initial predictions to find out if they’d guessed right.

Making predictions, Kasmer and Kim explain, helps prime the learning process in several ways. In the act of venturing a guess, we discover what we know and don’t yet know about the subject. We activate our prior knowledge on the topic, readying ourselves to make connections to newknowledge. We create a hypothesis that can then be tested, generating curiosity and motivation to find out the answer. Most of all, making predictions leads us to think deeply, to “explore the ‘why’ that underlies challenging problems,” in Kasmer and Kim’s words. Students who view mathematics as only memorizing facts and procedures, they note, are often unsure of when or how to apply what they have learned. Making predictions requires students to actively grapple with new concepts instead of passively receiving them.

The authors suggest that teachers—and parents and learners themselves—make generating predictions “a habit of mind” that they engage in each time they approach a new learning situation. My prediction: doing so will make learning more effective, not to mention more fun.

Sacred Heart Greenwich Middle School Parent Blog

By Adam McLane

Snapchat: Good for teenagers?

A lot of youth workers have been asking me about Snapchat, a mobile picture sharing service that is popular amongst some segments of teenagers.

I know there are some innocent uses out there. I’ve even heard from youth ministry folks who use it to connect with their students and crowd-source ideas. But I also know of some horror stories. Stories of regret and exposure to things their eyes didn’t want to see.


Rather than respond to specific things I like or dislike about the service I think it’s better to respond with a few principles I’ve taught teenagers, parents, and youth workers for years.

  1. Everyone isn’t who you think they are online.Just ask Manti Te’o. Unless you are 100% confident that you know every single one of your Snapchat friends and they know every one of their Snapchat friends, you don’t really know who…

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