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Natl. science ed. conference: Friday

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

First, what an afternoon.

It took me an hour to get from school to the Convention Center, (J bus to local subway is not the way to travel). Once there, I had about five minutes to figure out where to sign in. If you’ve never been to the Convention Center, it is a massive space.

Once I found the correct room, I realized I couldn’t get a wireless link (I’m chalking this up to inexperience instead of ineptitude, just to feel better).

Once the panel on "What’s the Federal Response to The Science Education Crisis?" began, I was instantly impressed at how on-message this people are.

While the Special Assistant of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education was the second to last to speak, he was the third to mention the role of the National Governors Association and Chief State School Officers work on Common Standards. Each panelist wove administrative goals into their presentations. Each department outlined what is does to aid preK-16 science education.

I had a lot of interesting takeaway thoughts from the panel.

  • The change in the American workforce was mentioned early on. Bruce Fuchs of the National Institutes of Health stated that "employees are coming into a job unprepared for what they need to do." I find it odd that someone would get hired for a job they don’t know how to do, but this type of thinking goes right along with two administration narratives:
  1. we need to revamp curriculum to make students college- or career-ready, and
  2. we need to raise the bar (whatever that means). I think SLA principal Chris Lehmann said it perfectly during his PETE&C Keynote "if you need a Master’s degree to work at Starbucks, maybe it’s not education’s fault."(paraphrase)
  • Joyce Winter of NASA spoke about the need for "students to be able to solve real-world problems that have never existed before." I both wholeheartedly agree with this statement and think it is the defining value of the STEM movement.
  • Cindy White of the Department of Energy spoke of the outreach the department does in community colleges to train students in technician-level jobs. I wish there were more conversation about what the federal government was doing to identify science jobs that people don’t need advanced degrees to obtain.
  • Though I am not a huge fan of Secretary Duncan or the Department of Education these days, I did manage to catch a hopeful moment from Michael Lach, Special Assistant for STEM Education. He called for the need of "our assessments to measure what we want them to." I think all teachers are tired of the NCLB era of assessment and hope with the reauthorization of ESEA,assessments will actually tell us something about our students.
  • Mr. Lach went on to describe the three goals of the Dept. of Ed. pertaining to the "science education crisis:"
  • increasing districts’ capacity,
  • a focus on STEM, and
  • enhancing partnerships and building networks among educators.
  • These all seem like sane, useful pursuits to me.

    • The last panelist was Dr. Zink from the Food and Drug Administration. He said science should be used "to improve critical thinking skills for all, not just scientists." I think this is another core ideal of STEM teaching.

    I know that out of 180 of my students, a high percentage of them will not go into the field of science. I do hope however, that after being in my class for one, two, or three years, they have acquired a lens through which they can think critically about the information or task before them.

    There is plenty to do tomorrow, and hopefully I can blog as go. At the end of the conference, I’ll post a collection of links accrued throughout the weekend.

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