NSTA's Science Matters Newsletter

December 2011

Here are your science education resources and announcements for December 2011 provided by the Science Matters Network. Please forward them on to other science educators in your school and/or school district.

Table of Contents

New Bayer Study Finds that U.S. Female Students Entering College are Better Prepared Academically to Graduate with a STEM Degree

According to a new report published earlier this month by the Bayer Corporation, 82 percent of U.S. women entering college are the best prepared academically to graduate with a STEM degree. The survey is the 15 th by the company and the fifth to examine the underrepresentation of women, African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians in many U.S. STEM fields.

Bayer surveyed faculty from the nation’s top 200 research universities who chair STEM departments. The department heads that were surveyed said being discouraged from a STEM career is still an issue today for both female and underrepresented minority STEM undergraduate students (59 percent). Further, traditional rigorous introductory instructional approaches designed to “weed out” students early on from STEM studies are generally harmful and more so to underrepresented minority (56 percent) and female (27 percent) students compared to majority students (i.e. Caucasian and Asian males).

Other major Bayer survey findings include:

  • For underrepresented minorities , many colleges are just average : More than one-third (37 percent) give their institution a “C” or below for retaining and graduating underrepresented minorities .
  • University leadership must act : An overwhelming 84 percent of the STEM department chairs believe the issue of recruiting and retaining women and underrepresented minority STEM undergraduates is important to their institution’s chancellor/president and seven-in-10 (69 percent) say the issue has reached a point where it needs to be addressed by the highest institutional leadership, including trustees and regents, presidents, provosts, deans and department chairs.
  • More student academic support is needed : 71 percent believe their STEM departments need to significantly increase the academic support they provide STEM students, including women and underrepresented minoritie s, in order to retain more of them.
  • Few underrepresented minoritie s to graduate with STEM degrees this year: Most – eight-in-10 – STEM department chairs report underrepresentation of underrepresented minority students in both introductory (77 percent) and upper/major (83 percent) level STEM courses and say only 16 percent of the STEM degrees their departments will grant this year will be to underrepresented minoritie s.
  • Fewer females than males to graduate with STEM degrees this year : While roughly two-thirds report no female underrepresentation in STEM introductory (64 percent) and upper/major (60 percent) courses, they also say their departments will grant more STEM degrees to males (59 percent) than females (42 percent) this year.

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Survey Finds Exposure to Engineering Inspires U.S. Students to Consider a Career in the Field

Graduating more U.S. engineers may be easier than originally anticipated, according to a new survey of American teenagers released this month by Intel Corporation. The survey found that a lack of knowledge about the profession is a major obstacle to getting U.S. teens to pursue engineering careers. However, providing the teens with information about the field, including earning potential and what engineers actually do, leads more than half of teens to say they are more likely to consider engineering as a career.

Additional, survey results include:

  • Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of teens have never considered a career in engineering.
  • Seventy-four percent of teens that have considered engineering, have done so because they think the field would be interesting, perhaps because they are more aware of the impact engineers have on the world.
  • While highly regarded on other metrics, engineering falls to the bottom half of professions with which teens are familiar.
  • Almost one-third (29 percent) of teens do not know of potential job opportunities in engineering and 13 percent do not think that majoring in engineering in college will lead to any more job opportunities than any other major.
  • Twenty percent of teens have no idea about engineering's impact on the world.
  • 61 percent of teens are more likely to consider engineering after learning that engineering majors make an average annual income of $75,000; while more than 50 percent are persuaded by the fact that the unemployment rate amongst engineers is more than 4 percentage points lower than the national rate.
  • Fifty-three percent are more likely to consider engineering after learning about the role of engineers in the development of music and videogames; learning about engineering feats such as saving the Chilean miners who were trapped for 69 days motivates 52 percent to think twice about the career; while 50 percent are influenced by understanding that engineers make driving, texting and social networking possible.

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Establishing Two-way Communication with Parents

Parents can be an important and helpful resource in providing guidance to teachers about how their children learn best, according to Kevin Mixon, a national-board certified teacher from Syracuse, N.Y. To establish successful two-way communication between teachers and parents, Mixon provides tips for eliciting parents’ insight and assistance during phone conversations, with surveys and through student home visits. Read the article that was featured earlier this month in Education Week Teacher.

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Teacher Education, Professional Development, and Grant and Award Opportunities

NSTA New Science Teacher Academy

The NSTA New Science Teacher Academy is now accepting applications for the 2012–2013 program. Science teachers located throughout the country, who will be entering their second or third year of teaching and whose schedule is a minimum of 51 percent middle or high school science, are encouraged to apply.

NSTA Fellows chosen for the program receive a comprehensive membership package, online mentoring with trained mentors who teach in the same discipline, and the opportunity to participate in a variety of web-based professional development activities, including web seminars. In addition, each NSTA Fellow receives financial support to attend and participate in NSTA’s National Conference on Science Education, taking place in San Antonio, April 11–14, 2013.

For more information about the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy or to learn how to apply to become a fellow, please visit the Academy website. Applications must be submitted no later than July 1, 2012 to be considered.

Earthwatch Educator Fellowships for Summer 2012

Teachers of all subjects and all grade levels can apply to join Earthwatch expeditions through its Educator Fellowship Program. As an educator fellow, you'll participate on a fully funded expedition assignment, receive a travel stipend to offset some of your transportation costs, and bring your expedition experiences into your classroom by creating and implementing lesson/unit plans that reflect the knowledge gained from your time in the field. Educator fellows are ambassadors of environmentalism, cutting-edge field research, and local involvement in classrooms across the country. For more information visit the program website. The deadline for applications is February 13, 2012.

NEA Foundation-Nickelodeon Big Help Grants

NEA Foundation- Nickelodeon Big Help Grants are available in the form of student achievement grants to K-8 public school educators. The Big Help Grants program is dedicated to the development and implementation of ideas, techniques, and approaches for addressing four key concerns: environmental awareness, health and wellness, students’ right to a quality public education, and active community involvement.

Proposals for work resulting in low-income and minority student success with honors, advanced placement, or other challenging curricula are particularly encouraged. Practicing U.S. public school teachers, public school education support professionals, and faculty and staff members at public institutions of higher education may apply. The maximum grant amount is $5,000. Deadlines are February 1, June 1, and October 15 each year.

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Teacher Resources

Hooked on Science’s Experiment of the Week

What happens when 120 volts of electricity flow through a pickle? According to Science Guy Jason Lindsey it glows! Check it out here. Visit the Hooked on Science website to access other fun experiments and helpful resources for teachers and parents.

Teachers College Video

A video produced by the U.S. Department of Education spotlights the successful teacher-training program at the Teachers College at Emporia State University in Kansas, an institution known for producing teachers with the knowledge, skills, resources, and fortitude to “lead and succeed” in 21st-century classrooms. In the program, teacher candidates work in Professional Development Schools—public schools modeled after teaching hospitals, where the learning occurs in real-world situations working alongside faculty and public school teachers. The program is so effective that graduates come to hiring districts with a guarantee: If the new teacher is unsuccessful, Teachers College professors will provide continuing mentorship. Watch the video here.

Toxicity and Chemical Exposure Databases

Two EPA databases can help K–college educators learn more about chemical safety and the effects of various toxins on humans and the environment. ToxCastDB contains toxicity data on more than 300 environmental chemicals, with more to be added. ExpoCastDB features human exposure studies that have collected chemical measurements from homes and child care centers, such as the amounts of chemicals found in food, drinking water, air, dust, indoor surfaces, and urine. Users can obtain summary statistics of exposure data and download datasets.

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Student Opportunities and Resources

RealWorld-InWorld NASA Engineering Design Challenge

The RealWorld-InWorld NASA Engineering Design Challenge encourages students in grades 7–12 to explore and build skills essential for successful careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through two phases of project-based learning and team competition. Upon completion of RealWorld registration, teachers and others guiding students through the RealWorld design phase will receive over $900,000 in PTC Creo (Pro/ENGINEER) professional engineering software along with free online training. For every RealWorld student team registered from September through January, teacher/parent/coach names will also be entered into monthly drawings for $100 gift certificates. For more information visit the competition website.

Pennies for the Planet Campaign

Kids nationwide can participate in this environmental education and action campaign to protect wildlife and habitat. Pennies for the Planet is made possible by support from TogetherGreen, an Audubon initiative in alliance with Toyota. This year’s program focuses on three unique and vital wildlife habitats—spanning special places from the Atlantic to the Arctic Oceans—that are in critical need of protection. Pennies for the Planet can inspire kids of all ages to learn about and become engaged in protecting biodiversity. Kids not only learn more about conservation, but also directly help protect it by raising funds and conducting environmental projects in their own communities.

The group that raises the most funds (postmarked by the May 5, 2012, deadline) will be awarded an Audubon BioBash, a fun environmental educational assembly led by Audubon educators. Pennies for the Planet materials, including a full color poster and educators’ guide, and a participation form with incentives and awards, are available for download for classroom or at-home use.

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What Is Science Matters?

Science Matters is an initiative by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) to bring content, news, and information that supports quality science education to parents and teachers nationwide.

Science Matters builds on the success of the Building a Presence for Science program, first launched in 1997 as an e-networking initiative to assist teachers of science with professional development opportunities. Building a Presence for Science—now Science Matters—reaches readers in 34 states and the District of Columbia.

Why does Science Matter? Science is critical to understanding the world around us. Most Americans feel that they received a good education and that their children will as well. Unfortunately, not many are aware that international tests show that American students are simply not performing well in science when compared to students in other countries. Many students (and their parents!) believe that science is irrelevant to their lives.

Innovation leads to new products and processes that sustain our economy, and this innovation depends on a solid knowledge base in science, math, and engineering. All jobs of the future will require a basic understanding of math and science. The most recent ten year employment projections by the U.S. Labor Department show that of the 20 fastest growing occupations projected for 2014, 15 of them require significant mathematics or science preparation to successfully compete for a job

This is why Science Matters. Quality learning experiences in the sciences—starting at an early age—are critical to science literacy and our future workforce. Feel free to publish this information in school newsletters and bulletins, and share it with other parents, teachers, and administrators.

Visit the Science Matters website at www.nsta.org/sciencematters.

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We Want to Hear from You

Do have a story idea or announcement that you think we should consider? Do you have a suggestion for how we can make this newsletter better? Let us know what you think. Email us your suggestions and feedback at sciencematters@nsta.org. We look forward to hearing from you!

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