School Bells Toll, Welcome Students

Written by Reagan Flowers, PhD

As students start anew this academic year, we don’t want them to wonder about who they are, we want them to know that they are inspiration and celebration. Every student can tap into the drive that is required to take great care of their mind, body, and soul. It is important that they know that their body is the only place they must live.

It is mission critical that we remind students that their determination will always be the difference between the possible and the impossible.

This academic year every student should carry with them the belief and understanding that within their human body rests the music box to their soul. And daily, they should be encouraged to be willing to explore how to bring forth sweet music and not confusing sounds.  It will be those moments that set them apart from many others in life.

Welcome back to school![1]

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[1] https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/dean-shareski/back-to-school_b_3849058.html

 

An Expanded Growth Mindset for Girls in STEM

Written by: Reagan Flowers, PhD

For years, there has been a noticeable gender gap in STEM fields, both in higher education and professions. Why is that? A more up-close and personal look reveals one of the culprits as being negative stereotypes. Further, there is also the issue of accessibility to STEM opportunities and how they are communicated to young girls in their homes, schools, churches, and communities.

Children are impressionable and more inclined to being heavily influenced by the beliefs and viewpoints of adults in their lives. Assertions have been made that differences in expectations of boys and girls by individuals whom they respect is quite noticeable.  For example, STEM is ridiculously believed to be hard, filled with masculine work tasks, and require minimal creativity; that is simply not the case. In fact, some of the drivers in STEM industries are creative thinking, problem-solving, innovation, and communication, which is how new technology, systems, and processes are developed. According to Mae Jemison, the first African American woman astronaut in space, girls should not let anyone rob them of their imagination, creativity, or curiosity.

One thing we know for certain, is that powerful women in STEM never back down from pursuing their passions and leave behind a legacy that continues to move women into STEM fields. Nichelle Nichols, former NASA Ambassador and Star Trek actress said it best, “Science is not a boy’s game, it’s not a girl’s game. It’s everyone’s game.”[1]

Today, social factors play an enormous role in the way females perceive their capabilities in the workplace. A common stereotype is that females do not have the same intellect or grit as males. An individual’s capabilities are expandable, not static. A point that must be emphasized when teaching and leading girls. It is important that parents, teachers, church leaders, and mentors are conscious of their implicit bias when encouraging girls and boys to explore and experience opportunities. A growth mindset requires eliminating misguided and limiting stereotypes of females that discourage the pursuit of STEM careers. Girls should be allowed to be just as messy and adventurous as boys. The world holds a place for girls in STEM and it leads to a fabulous life. It is important that girls move forward with their STEM talents and have fun in the process.

Let’s encourage girls to work hard, fail fast, and play hard! After all, girls dust off just as nice as the boys.

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[1] https://interestingengineering.com/25-quotes-from-powerful-women-in-stem-who-will-inspire-you

Link to Article: https://www.forbes.com/sites/rodberger/2018/03/31/stem-education-new-research-sheds-light-on-filling-the-stem-gap-for-girls/#2affbdc51cf9

 

Your Colleague, Artificial Intelligence

Written by: Reagan Flowers, PhD

“Standardized tests are ineffective tools in measuring a student’s talent and capacity to work smart alongside machines.”

Some people believe that “the fuel you need for AI is just pure data”[1], but that is only one component. You can have all the data in the world, but to make that data useful it must be understood and analyzed. No matter who is analyzing the data (i.e. engineers, computer scientists, artists, or artificial intelligence, etc.), they must first be taught the necessary skills to do their job with accuracy and efficiency.

This then leads to the concept of teaching students to be innovative in analyzing and finding patterns within data, starting as early as elementary school. Which creates challenges for educators who are required to teach students to pass standardized tests. Although such tests challenge students on straightforward problems with a clear solution, employers are relying more heavily on Artificial Intelligence (AI), something standardized tests have not been designed to measure.

Let’s face it, you are considered as being smart when you can problem-solve and utilize technology to create the best possible solution.  Testing should evolve to measuring the overall capacity of a students understanding and ability to interact with technology to solve complex problems.

The standardized testing process and language has created its own barriers. There are many people who criticize the testing movement and colleges that are making their admissions decisions more inclusive of accomplishments beyond standardized test scores.

AI is widely integrated in all aspects of our lives from the food service industry at McDonalds to the driverless vehicles that are sharing our roads. In the age of Industry 4.0, the academic gaps created by standardized testing are leading schools in the wrong direction, away from high skilled opportunities.  Standardized tests are ineffective tools in measuring a student’s talent and capacity to work smart alongside machines.

We are beyond the computer and automation age. Work platforms are increasingly more dependent on cyber platforms that can be integrated into our daily workflow.  Student’s must be taught how to work smarter with machines.

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[1] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2018-06-22/human-iq-and-artificial-intelligence-can-work-together-business-professor-says

Education Reform: A Path Forward

education reform

The America COMPETES Act was passed in 2007, with an emphasis on technology and science, in an effort to promote and create opportunities for educational excellence. A reauthorization of the law was enacted a new reform of the law, dubbed the “Student Success Act”.   The proposed law would ban federal involvement in determining failing schools, eliminate required federal benchmarks for academic achievement, allow federal dollars for disadvantaged or disabled students to follow the pupil sort of like a voucher, and reduce the amount of federal dollars Title I school districts receive.

It is easy to see how many in the education reform crowd would support the idea, as it creates a pathway for students to leave failing schools and pursue their education at a school of their choice. The unintended consequence of such a policy would be a shift where public and charter schools will be competing to enroll students who qualify for those funds as a means of boosting the funds they receive. So while the schools benefit from the revenue that accompanies these students, the pupil does not necessarily receive the education they deserve, rather they end up with the same academic achievement outcomes they are experiencing today.

Not only will such a policy inevitably perpetuate widening of the achievement gap, it also stands to increase the disparity in public schools serving high numbers of economically disadvantaged students. The diminished learning opportunities will further bolster the inequity in urban vs. suburban education systems, and will further accelerate the closure of inner-city public schools, replacing them with charter and federally subsidized private schools.

The bigger concern for many public school advocates is the potential for the proposed Student Success Act to be the precursor for the evisceration of public school systems, in lieu of a further shift towards charter and privately run school systems.  Most public school advocates readily acknowledge that there are good and bad public schools, just as there are good and bad charter, private, and religious schools out there. One thing we know for certain is without Title I Federal funding, public schools serving high percentages of economically disadvantaged students would be greatly harmed by any reduction in the funding they receive. While many have been unsuccessful in their mission of providing equitable learning opportunities for their students, to withdraw funding at this point would only further turn a bad situation worse.

A better approach today would be to maintain Title I Federal funding based on the present formula, while implementing accountability measures that are meaningful and effective. Federal accountability guidelines should focus on improving early childhood education, reduce the emphasis on testing, tie teacher performance pay to innovative practices linked to student success, and create data share appendages to foster identification and sharing of best practices between the public and private educational complex.

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

Colleges Evolving In Not Requiring SAT Test Scores For Admission Impact on High School Completion Requirements

Iterating Towards Success-it-should-be-fluid-and-always-evolving

With an increasing number of top ranking universities not requiring incoming students to submit SAT scores, is it plausible that we will see an increase in minority students applying to higher education institutions.

I was a student who worked hard and performed well in class but not on standardized tests.  Applying to an undergraduate university with an open admittance policy ensured that I would attend college. I entered college during a time when standardized tests were a key factor in determining admission, particularly the caliber of university you attended.  A period when it was almost frowned upon if you enrolled at a university that did not require an ACT or SAT Test score for admission.

In the 21st century, with the increase of on-line colleges and popularity among community colleges, it appears that the automatic favor shown towards competitive institutions is decreasing.

These developments have caused many colleges to adjust admission requirements to one or a combination of ACT, AP, IB or SAT subject tests and some have elected to become test-optional institutions altogether.  In doing so, institutions that have historically experienced small enrollments of minority students are starting to experience increases with such groups.  It will be interesting to see if these same institutions later report decreases in graduation rates as a result of these changes.

From my personal experience with achievement at the undergraduate and graduate level, I conclude that a student’s high school grade point average is as good an indicator as any in determining a student’s capacity to perform at the collegiate level.

With colleges changing their standardized test requirements, do you think school systems will phase out their standardized test requirements for high school completion?

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.

Really, blame the teachers and the teachers’ unions?

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People are realizing that the “reform movement” dedicated to improving America’s public schools usually begins on the right track, but often gets derailed as evidenced by student outputs. As a result of these outputs, teachers are often left shouldering the blame for underperforming students. Reformists should realize that teachers and teachers’ unions ought not be the sole target of those driving the “reform movement”.

In any given educational system, there exist areas that could use some improvement; however, it does not mean that the entire system is broken.  That said, there is no one solution to fix everything, which is why making correlations between the characteristics of a community, its residents, and performance of the schools is a viable step towards achieving real solutions. The teacher horror stories that evolve from isolated situations make for good sound bytes and headlines, and as reality TV has shown us, drama does sell and captures the public’s attention.  Unfortunately, blaming teachers has become much easier than addressing sociological and economic problems beyond the walls of the schoolyard.

From one Ward or Barrio to the next, the same curriculum standards are required to be taught just as the same standardized tests are administered.  The system lags in exposing students to appropriate grade level content at the appropriate time, and provides no real alternatives to address educating some of the neediest children.  There is a great propensity for students from disenfranchised communities, with low employment and high crime rates, showing up on the first day of school unprepared, and who have fallen behind academically, through no fault of the teachers or the teachers’ union. The inability of the teacher to get such students to perform at grade level, will result in them not passing the standardized test, and the school in turn ends up receiving a negative report card, and the teacher eventually bears the brunt of the blame.

The tendency to cast aspersions on teachers totally misses the mark. Looking at today’s 21st Century STEM curriculum, as compared to the questions asked on standardized tests; it is clear the academic system is missing the mark.  One observation is the standards set for underperforming schools are higher than people realize, and students are being challenged significantly more than when you and I were in grade school. In an era when our schools were regarded as competitive, great places of learning, teachers were afforded the opportunity of being the best they could be without cumbersome testing requirements or classes full of unprepared students from disconnected parents.