My current professor at ETSU, Dr. Nivens, asked this in response to this blog: How do you think educators can help level the playing field for both males and females in regards to STEM professions?
Well, first off, if I knew, and if I told you, and if I shared what I knew with all educators and policy makers in our country, would my advice be taken and system-wide changes made–even if it was well-grounded in scientific evidence, or even anecdotal evidence? Truly, many people have great ideas about how to accomplish this, and collectively, their message is strong. But the way our world works today, it seems important messages get lost in the deluge of Internet information, conferences and workshops, professional development, and even conversations over coffee. Even if the message is received, change is difficult because it not only happens through rules and policies on the grand level, but through internal, personal change such as stopping stereotypical thinking. So change will come slowly, at a grassroots level, or through little blogs like mine, or when one or two brave teachers set a new example in their school and are encouraged and supported, or when parents offer more than just baby dolls to their little girls. Maybe the change will come when students begin to understand what they’re not getting in school and rally for change–or maybe their parents will notice and storm school board meetings. However and whenever, it is a slow process.
I’m not trying to be sarcastic. I’m absolutely sincere in my response. I think many great ideas and examples circulate in the world of education. In the pursuit of a STEM certificate at ETSU, I’ve been introduced to amazing books and works of scholarship that hold the answers. I’m currently enjoying TED Talks that relate to educational revolutions, and not reform, mind you. (See my TED Talk summary/critique by tabbing over on the menu bar to “TED Talks” and scroll down until you find the first Sir Robinson video to learn more about the revolution idea.) These things hold many answers, but they do not cause change.
I also think that equity is being worked on at many different levels right now. For example, the #metoo movement opened up conversations about male dominance in general. Recognized female celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey often discuss issues of equity. It’s also about social justice, which is something Melinda Gates sinks her heart into. Influence can come from surprising places. When we bring equity and social justice into our culture as the norm and rid the workplace, social places, and homes of stereotyping, then students will easily adopt an equity mindset, so to speak, as it will be a natural assumption on their part and their teachers’ part. This is asking a lot of humankind, though, as it means people all over need to find it in their hearts to see all people as equal, doesn’t it?
The more exposure people get to positive ideas, the more likely they are to change. Yet how many educators have enough down time to soak in inspirational TED talks, or read Oprah’s magazine “O?” In my years of being a classroom teacher, I aimed for that 40-hours workweek club but never got below 60 hours per week. I was lucky to squeeze in a movie with my spouse or a phone call or chat session with any of my seven children.
Many people I talk to in the education world know things have to change–education must not be based on the factory model any longer. Many administrators and school districts are on the technology bandwagon, and my most recent school, Indian Trail Intermediate School in Johnson City, TN, briefly considered becoming a STEM-designated school but lost its momentum when a key person in that endeavor (or shall I say dream?) left for a new position. I also think most people will agree that educators and parents play a crucial role in raising up girls who believe they can succeed in STEM classes. Yet statistically, the change is happening at a snail’s pace.
So the question was, how do you think educators can help level the playing field for both males and females in regards to STEM professions? The bigger question, to me, is what will it take to bring about changes in thinking to eradicate negative stereotypes, racism, hatred, and so on? It’s very philosophical indeed. Change comes one person at a time, doesn’t it? So let’s begin with the youngest of all and teach them as parents and educators to see the value and potential of everyone. Let’s eradicate gender-typified toys and offer up similar play tools and explorations to boys and girls alike. Let’s change our speech to reflect the equity that we’ve come to believe in…and so much more. Wow. This is huge, isn’t it?
Fortune magazine (March 2019) just named the 100 best companies to work for and highlighted the fact that among those companies, 186,897 jobs are now open. The majority of these companies offer STEM positions that range from accountant to software developer to engineer. If this doesn’t indicate the need to increase STEM graduates from American schools, then nothing does! Data tell us that we aren’t doing a good enough job on that count as shown in the following graphic, but rather than digressing into that lengthy (but important) topic, I’d like to look at a couple of the companies that made the top 100 list.
Zoom in on Adobe, number 22 on the list. Fortune magazine reports that it has 2,500 open jobs. When I visited Adobe’s job site today, it listed 1,092 open jobs–607 engineering positions. When I researched the company further, what struck me immediately is its focus on an equitable work place, which is especially important in STEM fields. Check out this video.
Adobe’s website describes what engineers can expect if they join the company:
- Product development and product management As an engineer or product manager for the leader in digital marketing and digital media, you’ll get an unprecedented opportunity to work at the intersection of creative content, data science, and experience delivery.
- Cloud technology Join us on the cutting edge of SaaS delivery, where you’ll help bring together big data, analytics, cloud management, and digital content in a unified cloud platform that’s unlike anything else in the market.
- Research labs Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and content intelligence — join our team of scientists to explore these disciplines and everything that’s coming next.
- Information technology Come run the systems that run Adobe’s business. As a member of our IT team, you’ll deliver the always-on technology services and manage the telemetry and data that drive mission-critical decisions. You’ll use your technology chops, creative thinking, people skills, and end-to-end view of how the company operates to help us solve unique problems.
Look at the last sentence just above! Creative thinking – people skills! These are so critical to 21st century jobs, and integrated STEM is designed to teach students these skills through collaborative multi-week projects. As you can see, Adobe is all about having an equitable workplace and hiring employees with good people skills and creative thinking.
An occasional PBL scattered throughout the school year is not conducive to producing graduates with people skills and creative thinking abilities!
To digress a bit, many fear in this day and age that young people are lacking in social skills since they stay buried in their electronics. (Read this short opinion piece on the subject or this well-researched article that includes a Tedx talk.) I know it is debatable, as some say they ARE socializing – just in ways unfamiliar to those who came before social media. Still, I believe that body language is integral to good communication, and surely those on their phones are not learning such cues. And to digress just a bit further, I’m all for using phones as a tool in school. However, with that said, the most important tool we can use is face-to-face communication while problem solving. How many classrooms do that regularly, as in daily? An occasional PBL scattered throughout the school year is not conducive to producing graduates with people skills and creative thinking abilities!
Could it be possible that integrated STEM pedagogy becomes the cure-all for what ails society today? It certainly can’t fix everything, but it sure does teach our students to work together daily, it engages students in meaningful and authentic learning, and the icing on the cake–it blends standards from so many subjects and realms* into one unit! However, such sweeping change in schooling doesn’t happen overnight. It takes policy change at the national level down to the school board level. It takes funding. It takes believers. It takes professional development for current teachers and a change in focus at teaching colleges. We have a long way to go.
It’s imperative that we work harder on making those changes because of the current and future job market and because of our shameful STEM-graduate statistics. Looking at the Fortune article’s list of the top 100, I’ve noticed that many companies would require proficient mathematicians or programmers, such as Intuit, Pinnacle Financial Partners, USAA, Veterans United Home Loans, Capital One Financial, and so on. Other companies delve into artificial intelligence, such as Nvidia. Surfing its website gives me goosebumps and makes me wish I were a better scientist and technologist. I only have to roll over the menu headings to see that Nvidia is all about autonomous machines, deep learning and AI, self-driving cars, gaming and entertainment.
To me, Fortune’s article is a menu of delicious jobs just waiting for our brilliant young people. So let’s get busy changing how we do school in the USA. We need to pump out STEM graduates so that companies do not need to go outside of our country to hire their workforce.
*I say “realms” while thinking about the P21 standards or the ISTE standards (to name just a couple)–not standards that all teachers are familiar with yet or that school districts fully embrace, so they’re standards that are out there in whatever realm.
cause for concern
Stephen Sawchuk writes on February 28, 2019 in Education Week:
The first independent review to weigh whether new science curriculum series are truly aligned to a set of national standards was issued this morning—and mostly, the materials fell well short of expectations.
Four of the series—Discovery’s Science Techbook, Carolina Biological Supply Company’s Science and Technology Concepts, and two versions of Teachers’ Curriculum Institute’s Bring Science Alive!—were deemed insufficiently aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards. One series, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Science Dimensions, was considered partially aligned. Only one series, Amplify’s Amplify Science, got top marks for alignment, coherence, and usability, according to the nonprofit EdReports, which conducted the reviews.
This is serious cause for concern at a time when we so desperately need schools to provide top-notch science education to our students. Publishers of curriculum ought to create materials that support the rigorous Next Generation Science Standards, which require students to use scientific and engineering practices and therefore prepare them to compete in the global marketplace of the 21st century–yet they fall short on many counts, as illustrated in the following infographic.
One approach to working with such curricula is team teaching that focuses on integrated STEM education, which combines science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into one “class” or pathway for teaching and learning that is based on connections between those subjects and real-world problems. Further, English Language Arts, social studies, and other subjects can and should be integrated into these learning pathways. It becomes a new way to conduct learning, yet most schools are not set up for this. Current schools still compartmentalize learning, making one subject disconnected from another.
This reminds me of the medical industry and its culture of compartmentalizing the body into disconnected parts that are treated in isolation from the whole body. At one time, medicine in the United States focused on the whole patient–back in the day of homeopathic doctors. This came to an end around the time that the American Medical Association formed in 1847. Slowly, homeopathic doctors got pushed to the side and new thinking blossomed in which doctors treated a stomach ache with one thing, a headache with another, and so on. They forgot about the harmony between all parts. They became specialists focused on one part of the whole–just like teachers today who know about science or math or language but don’t have experience or training integrating their specialty with other areas of learning.
Specialized teaching and learning in America began during the industrial revolution. This short YouTube video says it well:
Clearly, we don’t need this model any longer. We need a holistic approach to education that teaches children to think critically and allows them opportunities to make meaning of their learning through authentic problems and projects. That is to say, what we need is integrated STEM. The EdWeek article points out that the biggest problem with the curriculums it studied is that they do not consistently include crosscutting concepts and disciplinary content. They are not using an integrated approach.
If teachers are aware of the shortcomings of the standard curriculums they are told to use and are also versed in methods for teaching integrated STEM, a teamwork approach can provide what is needed to make learning a truly authentic, 21st century experience for students. Yet won’t this put a huge burden on teachers today? They must recreate themselves as teachers and often appeal to administration to allow them to go off the pacing guides, veer from standard curricular practices, and be innovative!
When light gets shed on inadequacies from curriculum providers, difficulties faced by teachers, and everything in between, it stirs up the desire for change. Even though the EdWeek article was met with denial, shining light on such shortfalls is a good start toward reform.