Early STEM exposure is key for the future of the workforce

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September 28th, 2018

A survey reveals that younger STEM workers had greater STEM exposure in early elementary school

More than half of today’s adult workers (62 percent) say they were never exposed to STEM-related studies and career possibilities in elementary school, according to a survey from littleBits and YouGov.

The findings support other research indicating that early exposure to STEM courses helps students stick with these studies even as the material becomes more challenging in high school and college.

U.S. workers with 1-2 years of STEM workforce experience say they had the highest exposure to STEM concepts in elementary school–46 percent of adults in this group experienced a science- or math-related track in school, and 53 percent of this group are working in a job that either entirely or heavily involves STEM.

Much research points to the worrisome prediction that the U.S. will not have produced enough highly-skilled workers to fill STEM jobs in the next few years. Those worries are compounded by the fact that many STEM jobs in the future don’t exist today–the Department of Labor estimates 65 percent of today’s students will find themselves in such jobs. Students will need an array of STEM skills to tackle those positions.

Two out of 5 Americans believe the STEM worker shortage is at crisis levels, according to results from the fourth annual STEM survey by Emerson, released in August.

Students today are twice as likely to study STEM fields compared to their parents, the number of roles requiring this expertise is growing at a rate that exceeds current workforce capacity. In manufacturing alone, the National Association of Manufacturing and Deloitte predict the U.S. will need to fill about 3.5 million jobs by 2025; yet as many as 2 million of those jobs may go unfilled, due to difficulty finding people with the skills in demand.

The need for encouragement is particularly great among girls and minority students, according to the littleBits survey. Girls are 5 percent less likely to recall learning STEM concepts between the ages of 5-12–only 18 percent of girls recall such exposure, while 23 percent of boys say they remember learning about STEM at this age.

Girls tend to lose interest in STEM as they move into middle school, but research suggests linking STEM with real-world problems motivates girls more because they feel they are helping others. STEAM is another engaging method, because it lets children use creativity in STEM problem-solving.

Microsoft research provides some interesting insights into the lack of girls in STEM classes and careers–including the idea that only 60 percent of girls understand how STEM subjects are relevant for their personal and professional pursuits. Multiple studies show that girls value helping people over making money or working with things, and this is not the case with boys, the littleBits study points out.

Research from the National Girls Collaborative Project shows that gender disparities become even more stark in college, when women’s participation in science and engineering varies drastically by specialization. In general, women receive far fewer degrees in computer science, engineering, physical sciences, and mathematics.

It seems children learn best by doing, because 64 percent of those surveyed say hands-on lessons were most effective. Older STEM workers didn’t have the same engaging learning experiences, though.

“Worksheets and textbooks were the most popular method for learning STEM among those that have been in the workforce for 20 years or more. These previous lessons were static and one-dimensional. New workforce entrants, on the other hand, recall learning [these] topics through creative activities, like arts and crafts,” according to the survey.

Elementary-level STEM has the followed characteristics: Hands-on exploration that lets students play, explore, and invent; integration of two or more subjects; real-world connection that links lessons to actual problems and solutions; and the use of technology to facilitate learning.

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St. Vrain Valley School District (Longmont, CO) Opens Educational Third Eye with Video Coaching

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September 6, 2018

St. Vrain schools have utilized iPads, authorized by a mill levy in 2012, to enhance teaching and learning through technology and improving the way students are taught with Edthena—a video coaching tool.

SVVSD’s initiation of iPads and the use of video coaching was an approved technology resource to better teacher practice. When first receiving iPads four years ago, the video recording function on the iPad was one of the applications they quickly considered using.

“If we don’t use technology to better ourselves and to hone our craft, then we’re going to be missing out on all the different ways that we can help students use technology to increase their knowledge and skills,” said Diane Lauer, Assistant Superintendent of Priority Programs and Academic Support for SVVSD.

That led SVVSD on a path towards exploring different options with a tool that was going to support their work and support their teachers. “If students are using technology to better their learning and to support their learning, and teachers are using technology to better their teaching, why aren’t we using technology to better our practice?” added Patty Hagan, Teaching and Learning Coach for SVVSD.

Before SVVSD spent any mill levy money, they gathered a group of teachers, principals, and parents from all across the district to have a series of meetings that became a learning technology steering committee. Its purpose became finding different ways students could learn. It developed into a process of looking at how they could meet the needs of not only students but also teachers.

“We looked at what was the best practice, in what ways can we use technology to help students become producers of knowledge, not just the passive receivers of content,” said David Baker, Professional Development Coordinator for SVVSD. “How do we help students learn more effectively? It wasn’t let’s go buy them a blank, it was how do we help students and teachers carry through the learning in ways that are more effective?”

SVVSD’s motto is, “Academic excellence by design,” striving for kids to graduate with skills that are going to be marketable for their future, and academic technology is a big part of that. “By investing in technology, which is going to last them, those skills to further their education, whether they’re going to take online classes in college, or they’re going to need to be able to use technology in any kind of job,” Lauer said.

Before they started using the camera video recorder on the iPad, most SVVSD schools used VHS cameras. The librarian kept it in an office and each teacher could check it out. Teachers could use it for a day, and possibly another teacher could use it the next day, an often long-winded process. With Edthena, teachers can operate it instantly. “You can see it so easily in so many different ways. You can share it flexibly. I can take it out of my iPad, put it on my laptop so I can really see it and think it, and I don’t have to get seven cords to plug it in. I can share it digitally,” Baker said.

This new school year, SVVSD welcomed 230 new teachers. Around 50 to 60 of those teachers are brand new. That’s where the district decided to break the ice and chart new territory with video coaching. The district wanted to help new teachers accelerate with confidence and receive as much feedback as possible in the process with matched mentors or similar types of teachers. “We’re not just using it with our first-year teachers, we’re also using it with our experienced teachers as a tool to facilitate dialogue and learning for both parties,” Hagan said.

Edthena has provided the ability for teachers to reflect on aspects of their teaching that they might not have seen before or would ever see. When watching video of the lessons they facilitate in classrooms, they have the ability to reflect on teaching practices and improve classroom instruction.

“By using Edthena, I am able to watch and rewatch lessons, pausing to think about strengths and areas of improvement for both myself and my students,” said Kelly Addington, 5th Grade Math Teacher at Longs Peak Middle School. “As a mentor teacher, I improve every time I watch video of someone else. I am constantly trying to grow and learn as an educator and peer observation allows me to borrow ideas from other teachers and implement them successfully into my own classroom.”

Edthena allows teachers to jump to specifically marked areas in a video to show students their performance, including verbal and non-verbal communication during group projects and presentations. “When students see their own behaviors, it helps clarify what they are doing well and where they need to improve within their group roles and responsibilities,” said Sherie Dike-Wilhelm a Literacy Teacher at Columbine Elementary. “Even with years of experience, and eyes in the back of my head, videos always capture information that I otherwise might have missed.”

Through SVVSD’s induction program, teaching and learning coaches assist new teachers by partnering them with a mentor. Teachers continue through coaching cycles, and video coaching is part of those cycles. Typically within one coaching cycle, they have recorded themselves a minimum of two times, and there is an opportunity for three to five videos to be passed back and forth between teachers. Mentors will ordinarily engage in three coaching cycles per year with new teachers.

“That’s just one cohort of teachers that use the tool. We also have teachers who are using it with a colleague to reflect on their own practice,” said Karen Smith, Teaching and Learning Coach for SVVSD. “People are initiating, and self-initiating as well, with other cohorts across the district.”

SVVSD also teaches professional development classes and have built a video requirement into those classes for the application of learning. “I have a classroom management class where teachers are required to video the implementation of certain strategies for their self-reflection,” Hagan said. “It’s really for them to reflect, and we guide them in reflecting. It’s an opportunity to take that learning and apply it to the classroom, and demonstrate learning through that.”

Teaching and learning coaches also pair the video observation protocol with other tools and resources across the district. They pair the video with a certain type of content and focus on a particular element of instruction. For example, they have a new math curricular adoption happening in every elementary classroom across the district. “Teachers now have the opportunity to pair video with this tool so that they can observe themselves teaching this program, and they can see what their instruction looks like with this tool,” Smith said.

With the iPad app, malfunction has virtually become an obstacle of the past. Teachers, mentors, and coaches can re-record immediately afterward if an unfortunate mishap were to occur. “I had one video that didn’t work well, because when I was videotaping I put my hand over the microphone. There was this great video with no sound. Well, that was easy to fix, because that was user error. We knew right away it didn’t work,” Baker noted.

Although some school districts currently record teachers for the entire duration of a class, SVVSD does not have any future plans to do so. “That’s cumbersome. That almost makes it like, ‘I don’t have a choice. This is forced upon me, done to me as a gotcha.’ It’s our goal that we really want to shift the perception from gotcha to this is about you, this is about your own growth. That’s where it has to grow organically,” Smith said.

The camera isn’t always on the teacher during the video coaching session. Some of the best feedback teachers collect is when the camera is turned on the students to discover what they are learning. “We have to be responsive to where our students are in the world that they’re living in,” Smith said. “If I’m a high school teacher, I need to be responsive to that. I need to start learning about the tools that technology or that this iPad or that this phone has to offer. As an office of professional development, we need to be responsive to that as well. As the tools continue to evolve, our use of those tools evolves with that as well.”

Most parents can remember when they were students, when the principal or supervisor sat in on a class, watched quietly, and scribbled listlessly on a legal pad. That still happens. SVVSD’s biggest hope when they started video coaching four years ago was that teachers would get used to videotaping themselves to establish a habit that could be used throughout their entire career. “They did that on their own, and they didn’t have to wait for me to show up in their classroom,” Baker said.

SVVSD places confidence in the concept that video coaching has the power to help teachers accelerate their growth, as opposed to teachers that do not use video coaching. “It can be really, really empowering,” Lauer said. “Everybody wants to be the best that they can be. Video is something that surgeons use to reflect on their practice. Athletes use it, whether it’s basketball, or golf, or baseball. People, they watch their swing over, and over, and over again. They can tell if their shoulder is in the wrong place. They can tell by their stance. As education professionals as well, to be able to have that kind of technology to help ourselves improve is exciting. It is groundbreaking technology.”

Many teachers coming in from different universities and colleges already have experience videotaping themselves while teaching, as well as plenty of other teacher-prep programs. “As technology continues to evolve, so do the norms around using technology,” Smith said.

Educational technology has come full circle. It isn’t uncommon for students in college courses these days to sign in on their computer and interact in a virtual classroom setting with other students and teachers.

“Our memories fade. Video is concrete. It lasts,” Lauer said. “That doesn’t mean you want to videotape yourself every single day, all the time, but when you have a question and you are wondering. It’s just another eye that you can use to help you reflect.”

Can ESSA Plans Invigorate State STEM Intentions?

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Could states use their ESSA plans to formulate innovative ways to advance STEM in their schools? That’s the hope of an organization that recently examined the Every Student Succeeds Act plans developed by states for submission to the U.S. Department of Education. The analysis looked at the 17 plans that have already been submitted as well as eight other draft plans. The work was undertaken by education consultancy Education First on behalf of Overdeck Family Foundation, a family non-profit that supports programs for developing children’s love of education and especially the STEM subjects.

Researchers Anand Vaishnav and Jacob Waters identified four “high-impact policies” that surfaced throughout many of the plans, three that involved inclusion in state accountability systems:

  • State science assessment progress, referenced in 17 plans;
  • Career- and technical-education (CTE) indicators, mentioned in 17 plans; and
  • Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate indicators, included by 19 states.

A fourth policy referenced in the plans of 10 states was to require or encourage STEM elements in 21st Century Community Learning Center grants. As an example, New Jersey’s plan references STEM as one of four themes that its learning centers may choose to focus on.

The researchers found fewer similarities among plans in how states intend to use Title II or Title IV dollars for STEM.

For Title II, the funding intentions largely cover improvement of skills and recruitment. For example, the plan submitted by Louisiana stated, “… teacher preparation providers will be rewarded for placing yearlong teaching residents in rural and high-need schools, and in high-need subject areas.” The researchers presume that the high-need subject areas include STEM.

Title IV, Part A addressed STEM instruction and professional learning. Michigan, as one example, included these in its ESSA plan: “Professional development for STEM, including coding and game design”; “Professional development on how to embed STEM (engineering design principles, computational thinking, app design) in other content areas”; and “Providing programming to improve instruction and student engagement in STEM, including computer science, and increasing access to these subjects for underrepresented groups.”

The findings called out three states — Iowa, New Mexico and Washington — for plans containing “STEM proposals that are worth watching.” For instance, New Mexico’s plan promises creation of a “new STEM readiness indicator in accountability that includes not just performance on science assessments, but student engagement in STEM.” Washington intends to expand its CTE opportunities through partnerships with companies that have a large presence in the state, including Microsoft and Boeing. Iowa has a “STEM Advisory Council” that is working to identify “high-quality STEM professional development.”

The researchers encouraged states as well as districts and STEM advocates to “think creatively in using ESSA dollars to support STEM.”

The Greatest Lesson in Life from the Commencement Address Never Given

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I remember starting my first job as a systems engineer on an aerospace project. My new boss gave me an unusual assignment on my start day. He wanted me to tell him what “E = mC(squared)” and “You can’t push on a rope” meant.

As part of figuring out the answer he said to first ask anyone you want in the department for advice or insight. Of course, I thought he just wanted me to meet everyone on my own since I already knew the answer to both questions.

It turned out I was wrong on all parts.

Here’s what I told him when we met for lunch in the cafeteria on the third day of my first job.

“E = mC(squared)” While I got the scientific principle right the bigger purpose was to understand how this relates to the real world of product design given competing constraints on functionality, time, cost and manufacturability. The lesson: It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you lose sight of the big picture.

“You can’t push on a rope.” I thought this one had to do with strength of materials, some kind of force diagram and one of Newton’s laws. But it turned out to be about human nature. The lesson: The most important part is that you can’t push the people involved to do what you want them to do despite overwhelming analysis or engineering evidence. You have to understand their needs first.

I learned later that Zig Zigler said it more eloquently, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

That’s a principle everyone needs to apply to get ahead regardless of their age or their job.

Here are a few other useful life principles I learned early on in my career.

In my first engineering design class the professor showed a picture of a bridge across some river that didn’t meet perfectly in the middle. There was a six-inch offset. The professor started by saying that in this course you’ll learn how to ensure this will never happen to you. Planning ahead was the big lesson. Thinking of the consequences of your actions was the more subtle point. Stephen Covey’s “Begin With the End in Mind” pretty much sums it up. While this stuff is easy to say, it’s hard to do whether you’re building a bridge or figuring out how to just get through the day.

Persistence overrides intellect. In most of my engineering classes the answers to the problems were given. My non-engineering friends thought this was too easy. I thought so too until I was given one very complex problem to figure out. It took me all night and a lot of trial and error to get the right answer.

There were a lot of lessons learned that night. The obvious one: Getting the answer right was secondary. Figuring out how to find the right solution was the purpose of having the answer given. A lot of smart people gave up too soon. That’s when I realized that persistence is far more important than intellect.

Some similar things happened a short time later as an intern and during my first full-time engineering job. I was assigned two very complex technical projects. In each case there was an initial 2-3 weeks of total confusion. It was clear I was going around in circles, over my head and an abject failure. After stumbling about, talking with people and thinking about the problem from a totally different perspective, the fog starting lifting. Soon a solution emerged. In both cases it took a few very uncomfortable weeks to go from nothing to a potential solution. Of course, getting the actual solution took a lot longer but that was the easy part. The lesson learned again: It’s okay to be confused but it you keep at you’ll figure out what to do.

I learned later that Winston Churchill said it much better, “Never ever give up. Never!”

But that wasn’t the big lesson in all this. By not giving up too soon you build confidence in yourself to take on any project as long as you can figure out a solution and create a vision of where you’re going. As a result I then started volunteering for projects and positions over my head and even asking for promotions in different departments. And I got them by selling the vision to others and getting them to see how this would personally benefit them. This got them to be allies not foes and they became proactively involved in ensuring we were all successful.

The real lesson is that true confidence is contagious. But you need to struggle a lot before you develop it in yourself. So look for some struggles to tackle. A lot of them. And never give up despite how easy it might be to do. I’m not sure, but maybe this is how leaders are developed, too.

Teacher evaluations no longer required, but useful with changes

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The nonprofit New Teacher Center recommends using evaluations as a tool for improvement

Armed with research about a teacher’s impact on student achievement, policy makers have required states and school districts to evaluate their teaching force, and the most readily available data has been standardized test scores. Passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act effectively back-tracked on this accountability strategy. No longer is there a federal mandate that schools evaluate teachers. And those that do will not be required to base their analysis on scores.

But former superintendent, principal and teacher Lisa Andrejko does not believe such evaluations will become a thing of the past.

“With so much time and effort undertaken at the state level in the implementation of accountability measures such as Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), prescribed teaching standard frameworks or rubrics and student achievement data, I cannot imagine a scenario in which states would abandon their new methods for grading teachers,” Andrejko wrote for PeopleAdmin in May. She expects revisions, but not necessarily another overhaul.

Still, ESSA creates a level of freedom that some districts may find exciting. The law provides for the use of federal dollars to survey teachers about working conditions and offer professional development, professional growth and leadership opportunities. And, importantly, it offers an opportunity to recalibrate after the last 15 years of No Child Left Behind.
Anne Udall, executive vice president of program strategy at the nonprofit New Teacher Center, hopes district administrators stop and think carefully about where to take teacher evaluations in the coming years. NCLB attached accountability to test scores, primarily, and Udall says research clearly shows that is not a useful way to gauge educator effectiveness. “My hope with ESSA is that we’ve learned enough from what didn’t work that we’re going to try to find the more comprehensive, nuanced approach,” Udall said.

What, then, should this new approach entail?

Udall and Andrejko agree evaluations should be used to help teachers improve their craft. That means they have to come with more nuanced feedback and targeted professional development. While many advocates of test-based accountability demanded it to weed out the worst teachers, advocates of new teacher evaluation systems aim to use it as a tool for improvement.

How administrators can adapt

Administrators, in this new design, will need to sharpen a few skills of their own.

“You can know what great instruction looks like, but you may not have the skillset to mentor or coach a new teacher because you don’t know how to tell them what they’re doing well and what they’re doing poorly,” Udall said.
Professional development for administrators should cover strategies for recognizing high-quality instruction as well as providing useful feedback.

In many schools, even carving out the time for regular classroom observations will require a major shift. This is where district administrators come in. Central office leaders can provide the support that frees principals from other management duties, delegating administrative tasks to other staff members and leaving principals to focus on staff development.

One trend the New Teacher Center has identified is the formation of instructional leadership teams in schools. These groups bring together principals, vice principals, department chairs and teacher representatives into a learning community that focuses on how best to support teacher improvement, design evaluation systems and approach coaching

After years of watching evaluation be used as a tool to “sort and punish,” Udall is excited to see a new trend of using evaluations to support teacher growth.

A lot is still up in the air when it comes to ESSA. But as the Obama administration finalizes its rule-making and states decide how to proceed, school districts can set their own priorities for evaluation, at least. Now no longer required by federal law, it can provide the foundation for effective school improvement that focuses on bringing out the best in today’s teachers.

Tara Garcia Mathewson I September 14, 2016

New Bill Offers a Good Start on Defining Professional Development

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December 4, 2015 4:14 PM

Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed the Every Student Succeeds Act by a 359-64 vote. While there is much to explore and discuss in the bill, Learning Forward’s advocacy efforts related to the reauthorization of ESEA have concentrated solely on professional development.

We believe that ensuring a clear and specific definition of professional development in federal policy, one that aligns with our Standards for Professional Learning, lays the groundwork for states, districts, and schools to create professional learning that has impact. The definition of professional development that appears in the bill is important because it applies to every example of professional development mentioned in the bill.

Overall, we are satisfied with the definition that is included in Every Student Succeeds Act, though we believe that effective professional learning requires more than what the bill describes.

We’re pleased with the first part of the definition. It begins: Professional development means activities that “(A) are an integral part of school and local education agency strategies for providing educators (including teachers, principals, other school leaders, specialized instructional support personnel, paraprofessionals, and, as applicable, early childhood educators) with the knowledge and skills necessary to enable students to succeed in the core academic subjects and to meet challenging State academic standards; and

(B) are sustained (not stand-alone, 1-day, and short-term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, classroom-focused….”

While there are additional ways to improve upon this part of the definition — it would be ideal to move away from thinking of professional development as “activities” rather than a continuous learning journey — it is affirming that the key words included within it tie directly to Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning. Congress has affirmed that educators’ professional development must be collaborative, job-embedded, sustained, classroom-focused, and data-driven. The definition is also significant because it so clearly focused on school- and classroom-level professional learning.

The legislation continues with this phrase: Professional development “may include activities that …” followed by a long list of professional learning elements, experiences, and topics. For example, professional development may include activities that “improve and increase teachers’ knowledge of the academic subjects the teachers teach.”

The placement of the “may” is significant. Everything before “may include” is essential and officially part of the definition. Everything after “may include” is dependent on the context and needs of the local educators planning and implementing professional learning. To define professional learning too tightly would overlook the differentiated needs of educators and could contribute to schools and systems addressing adult learning through one-size-fits-all solutions. We trust educators to use the key words before the “may” to assess their needs and design their learning objectives and processes, then identify the priorities that best fit their circumstances among those listed after the “may.”

As education leaders and policymakers make sense of the bill once it moves into law, which is expected to happen next week, we are hopeful that in implementing the definition of professional development, they will also consider the following:

  • Evaluation of impact must be a part of any professional learning, as it is part of so many other school improvement elements outlined in the legislation.
  • The cycle of continuous improvement is the ideal vehicle for making so much of this definition come to life in schools. Through collaborative, continuous problem solving, teachers examine data to understand what student and adult learners need, set professional learning goals and determine learning strategies, apply their new learning with ongoing support, and assess the impact of what they’ve applied in their classrooms.
  • Clearly defining the professional learning roles and responsibilities of educators throughout the system helps ensure meaningful implementation and collective accountability for results.
  • While the definition of professional development in the bill describes that educators gain “knowledge and skills,” intentionally addressing changes in practice is essential to achieving better results for students.

Defining professional learning meaningfully in policy is one key step. But the definition doesn’t equate to implementation. The hard work of planning, facilitating, implementing, sustaining, and evaluating professional learning happens every day in states, districts, and schools.

As always, Learning Forward is eager to provide educators the support they need to create learning that meets this definition and aligns to the Standards for Professional Learning. Please let us know how we can continue to do so.

Stephanie Hirsh – Executive Director, Learning Forward

Teachers integrate technology into classrooms with help from ISU online master’s program

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ISU’s online Master of Education degree program in curriculum and instruction technology has helped 67 educators in the last decade to incorporate technology into their classroom. The online program is part of ISU’s School of Education, and offers the same curriculum as another on-campus program at the university.

“The growing use of technology in the schools was really picking up. We realized that we needed to make available professional development,” said Clyciane Kossatz Michelini, the program coordinator. “Technology is everywhere, most people use technology. But what is effective or a way to really make a difference in their teaching? We don’t want to get technology for the sake of technology. It has to be meaningful, has to be motivating the students, has to be making an impact while they’re teaching.”

The program is offered every two years, with the next cohort beginning next summer, and students are in the program for three years. Students learn about trending uses of technology in the classroom, how to teach courses online and, because most participants are already teachers, students get to conduct their research in their own classrooms.

One course is offered each semester, and Michelini said it makes it convenient for full-time teachers, as they are not required to be on campus for their coursework.

Denise Schmidt Crawford, an associate professor in the School of Education and director of the Center for Technology in Learning and Teaching, said students are asked to visit campus just twice a semester—once at the beginning of the program and once to present their final oral exam. Those who cannot attend are also able to use a video conference set-up to meet the requirement.+

Michelini noted that because the coursework is available online, the program has reached students even outside of the state, and working with teachers across the country has “really brought in another perspective.”Michelini said students leaving the program are entering new jobs that give them leadership roles in technology, and teachers are now “confident in what decisions they make and how they can help other teachers to step up and use more technology in a more effective way.”“Just because you have computers in the classroom, that doesn’t mean you’re making that better for the students,” Michelini said. “You have to really understand how to integrate that to the content and your teaching style and the way kids learn

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