STEMing Up During Summer

Written By: Reagan Flowers, PhD

The first day of summer is fast approaching. Schools across the U.S. are preparing to downsize for the summer months and are re-tooling for the upcoming school year. There are students preparing for summer camps, adventures, and vacations; while others are preparing for whatever the day brings.

During the academic year, every student enrolled in a school excelled at learning something because of their teachers, mentors, peers, siblings, and/or family members.

I find summer to be a perfect time to add to students’ personal stories of achievement with experiences that add value and propels them towards what will come next in their learning journey.

Because students do not choose the life they are born into, making available summer STEM programs aid them in choosing paths, and seizing opportunities that will make their collective hopes and dreams a reality. It is important that our students understand that each of their paths are different. Their experiences are not all equal or equitable and as a result the road to accomplishing their goals could be longer or shorter and filled with challenges or lucky breaks.

No matter what some might think, summer for students offers a window of time that should be filled with learning experiences that are positive, enlightening, inspiring, challenging, engaging, fun, and empowering.

Let’s face it, whether we are working to achieve success with creating awesome memories or being a scholar, it will only be achieved through demanding work, commitment, focus, determination, endurance, gratitude, humility, thoughtfulness, failure, and a good balance of knowing when not to take yourself too seriously.

STEM summer experiences aid students in taking closer steps towards achieving the life they hope and dream for themselves. It is important that students are directed during the summer to not limit themselves, set grand expectations, and to push beyond urges to spend time on activities that will cause the valuable time of summer to slip away.  Resulting in having nothing good to show for their time.

The learning gains achieved during the summer months helps to remove barriers that limit opportunities, restrict exposure, and stifles competitiveness. Students that do their part as scholars, thoughtful leaders, and examples of what is good in the world, continue to make advancements and eventually take hold of futures better than what many of them inherited at birth.

All students can have awesome STEM summers whether enrolling in a camp or assuming a curious, creative, and innovative mindset that leads to STEM discoveries at home, in their neighborhoods, and city. I hope that within all our communities, we continue to be deliberate and unwavering in providing as many STEM summer learning experiences for children that their brains can hold.

The Diploma to College to Career Mismatch

Written By:  Reagan Flowers, PhD

It appears that minority students are less likely to enroll in college, remain in college, and are more likely to go directly to work post high school.  Factors impacting their choices to attend college are finances, access to opportunities, awareness, proper preparation, supportive networks, and exposure.  And for many minorities enrolled in college, they are first generation.

According to NCES, minority students are obtaining their high-school diplomas with completion rates in the U.S. for Hispanic’s being 76.3% and 72.5% for Black students. However, nationally these percentages are not representative of the number of minority students enrolling in colleges, 17% Hispanic and 14% Black.

The mismatch in the numbers does cause one to wonder how this has come to be.  I wonder if today’s high school graduates have determined that they will yield less of a return on their investment in a college degree if it is not in a STEM field.  Additionally, I wonder if high school graduates see more of an income advantage in forgoing a college degree and going directly to work in a blue-collar STEM field.  Looking further into gender numbers, there are more females enrolling in college than males.  The low enrollment numbers of males in college suggests that they experience more pressure to earn wages right after high school as opposed to females. The practicality of forgoing college long-term, in most instances, is not good. Such decisions create economic gaps and stagnation.

A growing trend are student success programs that colleges are putting in place to increase minority student enrollment and completion rates.  There are designated institutions such as HBCUs, MSIs, and HSIs that are intentionally and thoughtfully creating environments to improve their overall numbers.  And, there are groups such as AHSIEHBCU Faculty Development Network, and PennGSE Center for Minority Serving Institutions that are sharing best practices to help move the needle.

A recent presentation of C-STEMs research on minorities and females attitudes towards STEM education and careers at an AHSIE conference was fairly consistent with common themes being expressed by colleges from across the U.S.  We are not short on problems to solve, are working to eliminate the mismatches, and are increasingly using technology to identify and trigger responses to student academic and social challenges, sooner rather than later.

Brookings STEM Report

STEM Cell Economy Humor

 

The Brookings STEM Report offers an analysis of the occupational requirements for STEM knowledge.  How does “The Hidden STEM Economy” impact you?

stem_profile_thumb_16x9STEM Jobs

CSTEMbreak, Social Network For Teachers and Students is On The Rise

Social-network

In the 21st Century, social networking spaces are permeating work places and learning environments; and we are not simply talking about the popular mainstream social networks like Facebook.  Teachers and students are more likely to seek out platforms that support the establishment of networks that offer the privacy, safeguards, peer-to-peer connections, teacher to student connections, and parental and business community engagement.  Furthermore, social network platforms in education ought to support resource sharing that meets specific instructional needs, conclusions drawn based on my experience with thousands of teachers and students across the globe.

While a lot of teachers and students are on Facebook, similarly useful for keeping in touch with peers and connections is CSTEMbreak.  A social network for teachers and students that engages and supports the sharing of information around STEM learning, research, projects, scholarships, and internships as well as career and workforce opportunities.  In this environment the teachers and students interact while maintaining their perspective roles along the education continuum.

Over the past five years, educators’ use of popular networks like Facebook and Twitter has increased overall, as has their use of platforms like CSTEMbreak.  However, one area of challenge is the inability of school systems to evolve with technology, preventing the use of social networks for education.  As a result, more teachers and students are inhabiting the internet on educational social networks via mobile technology instead of desk or laptop computers at school.  In this way— teachers, students, and other communities continue to experiment and socialize over online networks, enriching their experiences in work places and learning environments.

The Ethnic-minority Difference

The Ethnic-minority Difference

Large urban school districts across the nation report that they are making progress educating minority students; however, behind the numbers is a stark contrast between the higher performing Hispanic students, and Black students who continue to be left behind.  The reality is the achievement gap is closing at a faster pace for Hispanic students, and the answer might be in the rigorous English as second language (ESL) training Hispanic students receive starting in early education.

It is important that the reporting of academic performance data lumping Black and Hispanic student results together does not continue to disillusion parents, students, and policy makers. The observed results might cause you to think that things are getting better across the board; however, a different picture emerges when you separate the two groups.  Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail, reports that between 2002 and 2011 Black student’s readiness benchmarks rose from 3% to 4% while that of Hispanic students rose from 8% to 11%.  The College Board reports that in 2010, Black students made up 14.6% of high school graduates and 8.6% of AP test takers; contrast that with Hispanic students who made up 17% of the graduates and 16% of AP test takers.

The numbers make it clear that the same improvements are not being equally achieved by both groups. Certain school districts have observed that the progress seen in Hispanic students can be attributed to strong teachers, the likelihood of attending better-funded majority Caucasian schools, the school culture in majority Hispanic schools being based on connections to family, and the heavy emphasis on teachers receiving professional development in teaching English as a second language to cope with this burgeoning population.

These facts suggest increased performance ratings in math and science can be attributed to the language improvements of Hispanic students.  I discovered early on in my research through CSTEM, an authentic approach to integrating STEM into Pre K through 12th  curriculum, that student’s not possessing adequate communication skills (i.e. reading, writing, and speaking) generally lag behind in math and science.  Recent data and my research therefore lead me to the conclusion that the emphasis on ESL for Hispanic students should also be in place for Black students.

There is a great need to get back to the basics with Black students who lag behind in their grasp of the English language, not because it is their second language, but rather because a vast number of Black students communicate at home and with their peers using Slang/Broken English/Ebonics, which ultimately spills over to how they communicate at school and when writing. Oftentimes in communities serving majority Black students, strong grammar and English teachers are not consistent throughout their Pre K through 12th grade education journey.  So once these students begin falling behind, there is very little teacher professional development training that focus on tackling this issue in order to improve the grammar and English language deficiencies of such students.  Furthermore, schools tend to offer remediation to Black students focused more on drills, memorization and practice questions for passing state standardized test, rather than mastery of fundamentals of English and Language Arts.

The academic challenges faced by Black and Hispanic students are clearly different, and if we are not careful when lumping the two groups together, we will continue to miss the true picture behind the data.  Having a clear understanding allows our schools to be better able to pinpoint best practices and offer services that truly aid in reducing the achievement gap for these very distinct groups of students.  It is my belief that a renewed emphasis on the development of grammar and English for Black students will result in producing a greater number of math and science scholars of the future.  The concern is failure to address this issue of grouping all minorities together will only lead to a further widening of the achievement gap, where Black students are the ones who truly get left behind, particularly in areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).