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Articles tagged with STEM

Q and A with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, featured speaker at NSBA’s annual conference in April

Neil deGrasse Tyson isn’t going to tell you how to run your schools, or even how to teach science. The astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City says school board members probably have a better handle on these things.

“I’m just sort of a STEM person at large,” said Tyson, former host of “NOVA scienceNOW” and one of the keynote speakers at NSBA’s Annual Conference in San Diego in April. “It’s a report from the field, a report from the depths of our society and culture.”

It’s a society and culture, says Tyson — a frequent guest on television talk shows like “The Daily Show” and “Real Time with Bill Maher” — that needs to pay more attention to what’s going on in the worlds of astronomers and microbiologists. He talked recently with ASBJ Senior Editor Lawrence Hardy.

Are we as scientifically literate as we should be?

No. The nation is becoming profoundly absent of scientific literacy. Now I don’t want a law saying someone has to be scientifically literate. I want people to want to be scientifically literate because they feel empowered by it, enlightened by it, and it’s something that will stimulate a curiosity in them that they once had, or never knew they had, in their youth.

So we don’t know much about evolution or the asteroid belt.

It’s the combination of being a scientifically illiterate person and gaining cultural or political power. That’s a combustible combination because then you end up making decisions that affect countless other people based on ideas and thoughts that are missing the fundamentals of how the natural world works.

A few years ago your planetarium declared Pluto “not a planet,” thus upsetting the cosmological certainty of countless elementary school students. Were there repercussions?

Essentially, a file drawer of hate mail from third-graders. One of my favorite letters is, “Dear Scientest” (spelled T-E-S-T). “Why did you make Pluto not a planet anymore? It that’s people’s favorite planet, then they’ll no longer have a favorite planet. And if there’s people on Pluto, then they’ll no longer exist.” [People] thought we just got rid of Pluto.

And the media reacted?

Oh, my gosh. The subtlety of the argument didn’t make it into the headlines. In fact, the New York Times reported on it, [writing] “Pluto not a Planet? Only in New York.” That was the headline on Page One. I wrote a whole book on this. It came out in 2007. It’s called The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet.

I hear you also messed with America’s Favorite Movie (at least among teenage girls in the 1990s). Something about the night sky being wrong in Titanic?

I complained publicly only because so much of the marketing platform of that film was on how accurate it was. If authenticity is important to you, you should have gotten the sky right.

You said director James Cameron was annoyed but eventually reconsidered and, for the release of the IMAX 3-D version, changed the sky in a key scene to the way it would have looked that night in the North Atlantic.

The most important scene is the sky straight above Kate Winslet’s head when she’s singing deliriously, floating on that plank. So I gave him that sky. In fact, I gave him a little latitude because the exact overhead sky wasn’t as good as the one a little to the left. You can fudge that and say she wasn’t looking exactly overhead, but was looking at an angle. You want to give people artistic space to work with.

And they used it.

Lawrence Hardy|February 5th, 2013|Categories: NSBA Publications, STEM Education, NSBA Annual Conference 2013|Tags: , , , |

Preparing students for a ‘future we can’t describe’

David Warlick was riding a train from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., when a rustic stone pyramid in the landscape caught his eye. He snapped a picture with his phone’s camera, then posted it on Twitter and asked if anyone knew what it was.

Within five minutes, a woman responded that it was a memorial to a Civil War general.

What makes this story so remarkable was that the woman who sent the information was in New Zealand, Warlick added.

The founder of the Landmark Project used this anecdote to show that technologies such as Twitter have completely — and rather suddenly — changed the way the world communicates and obtains information. Those ways are particularly compelling to students, and school board members must find ways to harness – not ban — these technologies to understand the youngest generation and teach them more effectively.

Educators repeatedly have been given the message to embrace technology in education. But figuring out what that means—and what to do about it—remains an elusive goal for school board members.

Warlick shared his thoughts in an interactive session at the final session of NSBA’s Leadership Conference Sunday. Attendees shared their reactions online during the presentation in a Twitter-like chat room called, which Warlick created. He uses the Knitterchat platform not only as a way to further discussions and answer questions from participants but also as an example of how students use technology to access information.

Today’s students “have almost no formative recollection of 20th century. They are 21st century learners,” he said. “Yet they are still learning in 19th century classrooms.”

Warlick showed examples of his college-age son’s videography and texting as ways the younger generations use technologies to gain information and communicate. Rather than fear cell phones, social media, and video games, educators should use them as classroom tools, Warlick said.

“Things have to change — we are for the first time in history preparing children for a future we can’t describe,” he said. “So what do our children need to be learning for an uncertain future?”

For one, education policy experts have repeatedly emphasized the need for more classes tied to STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—subjects because so many future jobs will be in those fields. But Warlick argued for a similar emphasis on creative arts, including music, drama, and culture.

Not only will those classes stimulate learning in STEM topics and other areas, but these students will be prepared for careers that require creative arts skills to support STEM fields, such as designers for the casings of new technology products.

He suggested questions that school board members should ask, including, “What are the children learning that I didn’t learn?” and, “How the schools are using this new information environment to touch their communities?”

For more information on Warlick’s work, visit

Joetta Sack-Min|February 5th, 2012|Categories: Educational Technology, Arts Education, 21st Century Skills, Leadership Conference 2012|Tags: , , |

The week in blogs

Last December I read a disturbing New York Times article about “China’s army of [college] graduates,” but it wasn’t disturbing in the way you might think.  For years, Americans have been concerned, understandably, about the increasing economic clout of the world’s most populous nation. And, in today’s high-tech world, economic competition means educational competition as well, with China’s aforementioned “army” of new graduates now numbering more than six million a year.

But the unsettling point of the story wasn’t that young, highly educated Chinese were taking away jobs from Americans; it was that, in growing numbers, they couldn’t find jobs at all. So much for the universal, transformative value of the college degree.

In the months since then, we’ve seen the same thing happen – on a smaller, but no less traumatic, scale – for thousands of disappointed U.S. graduates as well. Now comes Christopher Beha asserting in Harper’s magazine that “educating a workforce doesn’t change what jobs are available to society as a whole,” according to Alexander Russo’s This Week in Education blog. “Our treatment of education as a social panacea  … allows us to ignore entrenched class differences and the root causes of inequality in America.”

Read Beha’s entire essay on the Harper’s website. Also read John Marsh, author of Class Dismissed: Why We Cannot Teach or Learn Our Way Out of Inequality,” who is interviewed in Urbanite. Concerning the debate over whether schools can “do it all” in terms of raising up the disadvantaged or must be well supported by strong anti-poverty programs (the Richard Rothstein view) Marsh sides with the Rothstein camp, yet takes the argument a step further.

“If we do want to reduce poverty and inequality,” he tells Urbanite,  “we need to stop talking about classrooms and start talking about class  — about economics, about who gets what and why, and how this might be different.”

But, of course, education is important, especially public education. And no one makes that point better than Peggy Zugibe, a guest columnist in Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post Answer Sheet blog and a member of the Haverstraw-Stony Point (N.Y.) Board of Education. Quoting academic Benjamin Barber, she writes that “public schools are not merely schools for the public, but schools of publicness; institutions where we learn what it means to be a public and start down the road toward common national and civic identity.”

Lawrence Hardy|October 8th, 2011|Categories: Uncategorized|Tags: , , , , , |

The week in blogs: A school board member’s ‘unabashed reasonableness’

Amid the clamor for an educational “silver bullet “ — be it charter schools, or vouchers, or more hoops for teachers to jump through, or more mandates from Washington — a guest columnist for Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet blog talked this week about creating “a vision that looks at the entire system of public education” in the author’s home state and “how to move it forward.”

Who writes with such unabashed reasonableness in this age of partisan stridency and politically loaded speech? A school board member, of course. Namely, David Johnson, president of the Georgia School Boards Association and vice chair of the Floyd County Schools in Rome, Ga.

The system Johnson is referring to is the GSBA project: A Vision for Public Education: Equity and Excellence.

“Instead of picking apart the system and deciding on where or on whom to lay blame, we now have a vision that looks at the entire system of public education in our state and how to move it forward,” Johnson writes. “It’s proactive, productive and positive.”

And well worth a careful look – no matter what state you live in.

The plan specifies immediate actions and long-range steps to address issues such as early learning; governance, leadership, and accountability, and culture, climate, and organizational efficiency.

Other good blogs this week include Joanne Jacobs’ look at the other side of South Korea’s phenomenal test scores, or, as she puts it, South Korea: Kids Stop Studying So Hard!

“You Americans see a bright side of the Korean system,” Education Minister Lee Ju-ho told Time magazine, “but Koreans are not happy with it.”

In other news, Eduwonk calls “sobering” new data on poverty in Hispanic households and the latest statistics on college completion.

Lawrence Hardy|September 30th, 2011|Categories: Week in Blogs|Tags: , , , , |

NSBA site visit to combine technology, legal issues

To address the ever-changing legal challenges inspired by the latest technological advances, National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Technology Leadership Network (TLN) announces a unique partnership and learning opportunity that draws from two of the most dynamic fields in education: school law and education technology.

Building on the popularity of the TLN’s spring series, a new education technology site visit will take place October  12 to 14 in the St. Charles Parish, La., school district, held concurrently with NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys (COSA) School Law Practice Seminar in New Orleans..

“In a time of increased social networking and communications both among students and faculty, the need for school lawyers and school-based technology coordinators to remain abreast of legal trends in the field is readily apparent,” said NSBA General Counsel Francisco M. Negrón, Jr. “The partnership between COSA and TLN is a natural one that is sure to contribute positively to dialogue.”

School policies and legal guidance often struggle to keep pace with the rapid advancements resulting from the introduction and adoption of new technologies, added Ann Flynn, director of education technology and state association services for NSBA.

“This new meeting is designed to address that intersection and offer attendees the practical guidance they need from COSA’s relevant technology-oriented sessions by integrating a traditional TLN site visit around those legal workshops,” Flynn said.

Located 20 minutes west of the Crescent City, St. Charles Parish Public Schools serves about 10,000 students in 17 schools. The district’s successful integration of technology includes a nearly 2:1 student-computer ratio districtwide and a leadership culture that views its commitment to technology as an essential component within the school board’s Strategic Action Plan. The district’s freestanding Satellite Center where high school students can explore career pathways in engineering, culinary arts, multimedia and broadcasting utilizing cutting-edge technology tools will be showcased along with classroom visits and mini-briefings to other schools across all grade levels.

Technology leaders and school attorneys will get an update on the latest technology cases and how the outcomes could impact district policies. Discussion topics include the “do’s and don’ts” of data mining on job candidates and current employees, what forms of board member communication can be considered public information, and how districts can leverage Web 2.0 tools to improve community engagement and instruction without opening itself up to potentially embarrassing, libelous, and litigious situations.


“This event creates an opportunity for dialogue between attorneys and school practitioners to better understand each others’ positions  around these emerging issues  and  provide both groups with valuable insights,” said Flynn.


A notable panel of legal experts, communication specialists, and district officials will lead a discussion on the inherent conflict between the First Amendment rights of media and the confidentiality rights of families involved in crisis scenarios such as cyberbullying and student suicides.

“The role that technology can play in those incidents, as well as how social media is used to transmit information about a crisis reflect the challenges educators face in striking the right balance with policies,” Flynn said. “New state laws limiting communication via social media between students and teachers is another example of how quickly the tech law landscape is changing.”


School tours and classroom observations will be interspersed throughout the three-day event, providing participants with a chance to watch technology in action, be it a computer electronics class that teaches high school students to rebuild and repair used computers that are then provided to their fellow students or an engaging and effective reading intervention program powered by the latest science and technological advances. District staff will also offer mini-briefings to ensure participants understand how professional development and the use of data contribute to the district’s success.

Registration is open and more information is available at


Naomi Dillon|August 15th, 2011|Categories: School Law, Educational Technology, STEM Education, 21st Century Skills|Tags: , , |

Getting to the root of the STEM problem

Most of us would agree that a workforce skilled in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is an important component of 21st century global competitiveness.  But thanks to a new report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, we also know that holding a STEM degree and working in a STEM-related field also significantly narrows the income gap between women and men and increases our nation’s potential for innovation.   So what’s the problem?  Women remain vastly under-represented in STEM jobs and among STEM degree holders – and this disparity has persisted over time.  One solution?  Count the STEM majors who work in the field of education!

BoardBuzz has learned from “Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation” that women in STEM jobs earn about 86 percent of what men earn (compared to 79 percent in non-STEM jobs).  The wage gap is smallest for engineers (7 percent) and largest for those in computer and math jobs (12 percent).  Yet in spite of the financial advantages, women hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs, even though they are almost half (48 percent) of the workforce.  Why is that?

There are several reasons, but BoardBuzz has sussed out that when STEM majors work in education or certain other fields, such as healthcare or social science, they are not counted as “STEM jobs.”  BoardBuzz thinks this practice needs to change.  For one thing, it is critical to have an adequate number state-of-the art STEM instructors in our nation’s schools to support the next generation of innovators.  Further, women STEM educators are important role models for young women and can help shrink the gender gap among STEM majors.  Finally, overlooking traditionally female occupations when defining what constitutes a STEM job becomes its own form of stereotyping.  

So, the path to innovation is clear – educate all our students to be proficient in 21st century skills, and recognize that educators are crucial to their success.  Interested in educator effectiveness? Visit the Center for Public Education “Building a Better Evaluation System” web page.

Lucy Gettman|August 11th, 2011|Categories: Teachers, Center for Public Education, Educational Technology, STEM Education, Mathematics Education, 21st Century Skills, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|Tags: , , |

STEM in the spotlight as education gets a major media focus

From a pair of segments on Oprah to a multi-day media blitz on NBC to a televised address from the president himself, the state of education in the U.S. has, arguably, never enjoyed as much publicity as it has over the last week and a half.

And the subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math have been a prominent part of the coverage.

President Barack Obama, for instance, launched a national initiative on Monday to recruit 10,000 teachers in the STEM fields.

“Strengthening STEM education is vital to preparing our students to compete in the 21st century economy and we need to recruit and train math and science teachers to support our nation’s students,” Obama said in a prepared statement.

Teachers, no doubt, like Dos Pueblos High School physics and engineering teacher Amir Abo-Shaeer, who learned last Monday that he was one of the 23 recipients— and the only public school teacher— named as the 2010 MacArthur Fellow, a prestige that also carries with it $500,000 in unfettered funds.

Perhaps with a national recruitment project and local champions like Abo-Shaeer, more states can be like New Jersey, whose college students earn more Bachelor degrees in science and engineering than any other field.

Want to learn how to engage students and the community in STEM subjects? Prepare teachers for these dynamic and challenging fields? Or create career paths to enhance STEM in your district and beyond? Then you should attend this year’s T+L conference, held in Phoenix from October 19-22. Register here.

Naomi Dillon|September 29th, 2010|Categories: Teachers, Conferences and Events, Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|Tags: , , |

Annual list of top schools show STEM, college-prep courses popular push

0610Cover_ASBJIf you want your schools to be on Newsweek’s annual best high school rankings, you might want to take a look at an early college program.

As much as educators grumble about Newsweek’s annual list of the top-ranked high schools—which was released this week—it’s clear that the schools near the top are really pushing the college-level curriculum, beyond Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs. And the list of the 20 public high schools deemed “too elite” to even be ranked because of their highly selective admissions processes reads like a directory of expensive college preparatory schools.

Many of these schools focus exclusively on science and technology-related subjects, the type of careers economists believe will have the most potential for growth and income in the future. Many of the top-ranked schools work hand-in-hand with local colleges and universities, and students graduate with a significant amount of college credits.

Naomi Dillon|June 14th, 2010|Categories: Governance, Student Achievement, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , |

Where does it STEM from?

1009ASBJIt’s another crisis in America, again impacting the country’s competitiveness in the world, and requiring education to step up and meet the challenge.

The push for more STEM curriculum or science, technology, math, and engineeering  instruction in schools is the latest calamity and call to action. It’s also the cover package of October’s ASBJ.

You’ll have to read my colleague, Larry Hardy’s story to get an overview of the issue and whether this really is a crisis.

In doing research and reporting for the accompanying sidebars, however, I discovered there really is some validity to the “crisis” designation— and its buried in the ground.

Game simulations, video conferencing, online learnings— schools have myriad new technology applications available today, enabling to make instruction in STEM subjects (any subjects for that matter) more relevant, dynamic, and customizable to each student.

Problem is, you can’t really access those applications unless you have the technological infrastructure to support them.

Naomi Dillon|September 28th, 2009|Categories: School Buildings, American School Board Journal|Tags: , , , , , |

Student STEM competitions are a pathway to the future

Getting and keeping students interested in STEM related subjects can be a challenge. However, there are several imaginative ways to make the content come alive. Several national organizations offer programs that can inspire and excite kids and deliver the kind of hands-on relevancy that they so desperately need.

For robotics, there’s  FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) with programs for all age groups and BEST Robotics Inc, with middle and high school competitions. To provide a real world challenge that helps a person with a disability, teams of students design and build an assistive technology device in the JETS (Junior Engineering Technical Society) competition which recently opened registration for this year’s event. Students from Gardner Edgerton High School (KS), a past winning JETS team, will be featured at T+L and their devices will be showcased. Finally, ExploraVision, the world’s largest K-12 science and technology competition challenges teams of 2-4 students to research scientific principles and current technologies as the basis for designing innovative technologies that could exist in 20 years. Hosted by Toshiba and the National Science Teachers Association, top teams can win substantial cash rewards of $5,000 or $10,000 for each student and a memorable, expense paid trip to Washington, DC. Listen to past ExploraVision participants share their experience. With the number of outstanding STEM-related competitions that exist, there’s no excuse for not embracing these activities to open the minds and create pathways to the future for your students.

Ann Flynn|September 4th, 2009|Categories: Educational Technology, Student Engagement, NSBA Recognition Programs, T+L|Tags: , |
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