MIT Stem Pals
November 2012
Please forward this to friends and colleagues interested in STEM

Applying New Research to Improve Science Education
Dick LarsonThink of a learner studying some branch of science. She wants to 'go deep,' to understand at a fundamental level, not simply to regurgitate memorized facts on some multiple-choice exam. What does she have to do? Strength conditioning, that's what: "The learning of complex expertise is ... quite analogous to muscle development. In response to the extended strenuous use of a muscle, it grows and strengthens. In a similar way, the brain changes and develops in response to its strenuous extended use." This is a quote from Nobel Prize winner Dr. Carl Wieman’s recently written very readable and thoughtful article, "Applying New Research to Improve Science Education" in ISSUES in Science and Technology Online, published by the National Academy of Science (NAS). I urge anyone reading this to read Dr. Wieman’s entire article. Dr. Wieman is professor of physics and director of science education initiatives at the University of Colorado and the University of British Columbia, and he served as the associate director for science in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from Sept 2010 to June 2012. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2001. Read more.

EWeek—Celebrate Awesome
Rick McMasterEWeek or Engineers Week has been around for over 60 years — its first celebration of engineers and their contributions to society was in 1951. In 1990, EWeek introduced a new program called Discover "E" supported by a variety of companies and professional societies. Its goal was to get engineers and other technical professionals into K-12 classrooms to encourage students in their studies of math and science through hands-on engineering activities. Stephen Bechtel, Jr. of the Bechtel Group, Inc. was the chair in 1990 with ASHRAE as the honorary chair. I first got involved in EWeek when Mr. Bechtel approached Jack Kuehler, then president of IBM, about supporting this new effort. Mr. Kuehler went on to serve as the chair of the program in 1992 with the ASME as the honorary chair.

I moved to another position — and location — in IBM and drifted away from EWeek and Discover E for a few years until my manager approached me about being the local coordinator for both IBM and the greater Austin community. Only 3M and Texas Instruments were also involved in the local effort. Read more.



STEM Efforts I Am Thankful For
Megan RokopWe can surely all agree on one thing — working in STEM education can be a frustrating and challenging career. So I thought it would be nice to take a moment to reflect on 10 projects, announcements & meetings that have recently provided me with uplifting moments of inspiration & reflection, in an often-daunting field. Naturally (as with seemingly everything in the field of STEM education), there are complications, caveats & possibilities for debate hovering behind each of these issues. But just for a moment, I ask you to put those aside, don your “idealism hat,” and think about how much it means, even just to have these events initiated and underway. So without further ado, here they are — a combination of local, state & national efforts — listed below in no particular order:

  • International Teacher Scientist Partnership Conference: In Boston in February 2013 (right before the AAAS annual meeting), the 1st International Teacher Scientist Partnership Conference will be held. Proposals are due December 3, 2012. See here.

Read more.

Do U.S. Students Need to Struggle More?
Elizabeth MurrayJames Stigler is a professor of psychology at UCLA who studies teaching and learning around the world. I recently heard about his research on National Public Radio, and it resonated with me in explaining why U.S. students may be giving up on the study of challenging STEM subjects. He believes that from a very early age, American students see struggle as an indicator that a person is just not very smart. "It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity."

In Eastern cultures, both parents and students alike believe that struggle is an integral part of the learning process. Since it is assumed that everyone will struggle when learning something new, it is the persistence with which one faces the struggle that becomes a goal to attain and something to be admired. Professor Stigler recognized that it was this level of persistency that counted. It didn’t matter so much that a student "didn’t get it," what mattered more was that a student didn’t give up. Read more.