kitchen table math, the sequel: STEM Education

Sunday, May 3, 2009

STEM Education

Is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics) education anything other than a NSF-funded way to get more Smart Boards in schools?

Not happy with redefining mathematics, it sounds like K-12 education is trying to redefine the educational needs of all scientific fields. However, they don't seem to understand the difference between science and technology; what is taught in college and what is taught in a technical school. The difference is math. The difference is theory versus hands-on skills. Students at colleges of engineering don't get degrees in "technology". It's engineering.


Catherine Johnson said...

Don't forget Project Lead the Way!

Catherine Johnson said...

I found out last week that our Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction, and Technology uses a rubric to evaluate new technology purchases.

Catherine Johnson said...

One of the techie moms here told me the district has apparently never heard of Total Cost of Ownership.

Then she pointed out that normally a technology purchase REDUCES expenditures.

That's why businesses buy technology.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think I'll request a copy of the technology rubric.

CassyT said...

Why, no. It's also a way to pay math teachers more, according to what Arne Duncan stated at NCTM. Hmmm, he promised exactly the same thing to science teachers the week before. When is the next literacy teachers conference?

ChemProf said...

Beware rubric creep! I am now having to write a rubric for my General Chemistry course as part of colleg-wide "assessment." The fact that I have a nice straightforward mathematical method for calculating grades where students can figure out how they're doing at any point isn't sufficient -- I have to have a rubric and "measurable criteria for meeting mission goals." The Ed School stuff is creeping everywhere, even in colleges where assessment is being mandated by the accreditation agency.

concerned said...


You are exactly right (once again!)

I'm wondering if you are referring to a particular grant program this your original post?

I might have some information to share.

Anonymous said...

Iim out of town right now, but our district has adopted STEM and Project Lead the Way. Since I have a math kid, I'll probably have more to say later as we get more into it.

I do know that our high school has built a whole new lab area. STEM has independent studies going on, apparently. I don't know the details, yet, but I'll report as I find out.

A lot of Project Lead the Way posters in the hall. I do love a curriculum that uses part of its money to sell itself just in case we don't know how fabulous they are.


SteveH said...

"I'm wondering if you are referring to a particular grant program this your original post?"

I'm not referring to any grant. I had just finished reading a newspaper column about STEM and realized that this is an ed school invention. I never hear about it in any of the engineering societies I belong to.

The article I read talked about motivating kids as if that's the main thing that's needed. It's all about hands-on work. I don't have any problem with that except that engineering school is NOT about hands-on or application work. It might really seem that way, but it isn't.

This is perhaps starting to change (which isn't necessarily bad), but application in college (Baja racers, human-powered submersibles, etc.) is completely different than application in high school or middle school. College students know something! It's not about motivation in college, it's about seeing how theory translates into reality. Hands-on work in college is not a replacement for or a path to theory.

I had some friends in college who went to the local community college to learn how to weld. They took summer jobs in construction. But that isn't what engineering in college is all about. It's not about how to design a refrigerator; it's about thermodynamics. It's not about designing planes; it's about airfoil theory.

College engineering is not the next level up from Project Lead the Way. It's math. Sure, you learn about trusses and bridges, but you also have to be able to determine a load curve and integrate it to get the shear curve, and then integrate that to get the bending moment curve. You have to know math. Barely getting to algebra II in high school is not enough. Having fun in Project Lead the Way is not enough.

Engineering is not technology. Technology is what you do in college for no credit. I had a course in finite element analysis where we had to use NASTRAN. Learning how to use NASTRAN was extra. The course was about theory. The professor didn't take time in class to explain how to use the program. Read the manual.

I can't imagine that colleges of engineering care much at all about Project Lead the Way classes and grades. It might give you a little advantage when you get to college, but not much. It's not going to help when you have to calculate complex flows through pipes. I just grabbed my college Fluid Mecahnics (Streeter) book off of the shelf and looked at all of the differential equations I had to solve. It looks like I had to do this in my sophomore year.

My big issue is that K-12 educators think that this is just about motivation. Maybe, just maybe, kids in PLTW classes will be a little more motivated to work harder in math. I suspect the opposite might happen. They will think that what they are doing is real science or engineering and find it difficult to concentrate on the boring math.

PLTW requires (I think) kids to keep up in their math classes. So the question is how many of the kids in PLTW didn't already get to algebra in 8th grade? What does PLTW do to help kids get to (at least) trig in high school? Do kids think that PLTW is worthy of more time and effort than fixing up their math skills? PLTW might be great for those kids who are already doing well in math and want something interesting to do, but for others, it can be a misleading trap.

It's ironic that in an effort to expose kids to the real world of science and engineering, they are giving them the wrong idea about the real world. College is about math; vocational schools are about technology.

Math is king. It's not even Physics First. It's Math First. Unfortunately, by the time many kids get to the math placement test in 6th grade, it's all over, no matter how many Science Olympiads or FIRST Lego Leagues they do or how many PLTW classes they take.