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National Convocation Highlights Best Practices For Improving STEM Education

September 27, 2011

Leaders and educators share effective approaches in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, with 31 interactive exhibits showing the latest innovations supporting science teaching and learning

According to a recently released report issued by the National Research Council (NRC), the primary drivers of future economic growth and job creation will be innovations largely derived from advances in science and engineering. An increasing number of jobs at all levels–not just for professional scientists–require knowledge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The stakes are high for U.S. students and those who teach them. The report, “Successful K-12 STEM Education,” provides best practices for STEM teaching and learning in a wide range of environments, and a series of recommendations geared toward school districts and policy makers.

To focus national attention on the NRC report and its recommendations, on September 19 at Drexel University in Philadelphia, elected officials and government leaders came together with educators to share lessons learned based on the NRC study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). About 300 educators, policy makers and business professionals attended a full day of activities, intended to launch a national effort to put the ideas from the report into action.

The mayor of Philadelphia, the president of Drexel University and U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania’s Second District helped kick off the event, followed by Subra Suresh, director of NSF; Carl Wieman, Associate Director for Science, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Cora Marrett, deputy director of NSF; and Adam Gamoran, who chaired the NRC study. Joan Ferrini-Mundy, NSF assistant director for Education and Human Resources, wrapped the discussion with a call to action at the end of the day.

Panels throughout the day promoted a rich discussion of the role of common standards, STEM learning outside of school, equal access, and other topics, while 31 exhibits showed the latest innovations supporting science teaching and learning. Visitors could interact with a humanoid robot; race underwater remotely-operated vehicles; see the impact of dams on river flows in a table-top model; and examine the portable weather stations used to take wind and temperature measurements in the middle of a tornado, among other activities.

“The 21st century is the century of science and technology–not just for people who are in the STEM enterprise, but for the average citizens of the world,” said Suresh. “They have to be science-savvy, they have to be engineering savvy, they have to be technology savvy, just to survive in the global competitive landscape.”

The recommendations of the NRC report are key to building on a way forward for schools, districts and policy makers in improving STEM teaching and learning in classrooms across the country. The report was requested by Congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce Justice Science and related agencies. Congressman Wolf sent a letter congratulating NSF and the NRC on the event; the letter was read during the opening session.

This event was the first in a series of events on this topic. Regional meetings are being planned to further disseminate the report and its recommendations to practitioners, state and local STEM education leaders, and others. The report’s findings will be shared with these groups in the months ahead and will guide future research in the field.

Image Caption: At one of more than 30 exhibits displayed at the conference, Congressman Chaka Fattah (right) and NSF Director Subra Suresh (middle), join Andrew Williams (left), the director of Humanoid Engineering and Robot Systems (HERS) Lab at Spelman College, a historically black, all-women’s college in Atlanta, Ga. Williams is holding a robot that a team of students (“Spelbots”)program and operate, taking part in international robotics competitions. Fattah and Suresh are using an iPad to view a video about the SpelBots from NSF’s “Science Nation” series. Credit: National Science Foundation

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