December 29, 2014

Leading the Conversation on STEM

EDC researchers met with practitioners, innovators at the Massachusetts STEM Summit

Massachusetts has always had a strong tech sector. Now, with the growth of the information economy, business is booming. But this growth cannot be maintained based on existing demographics in many science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations, according to EDC’s Jim Stanton.

“Nationally, as well as here in Massachusetts, the computer science and technology workforce is 85 percent white and 86 percent male,” he told a packed conference room at the recent Massachusetts STEM Summit. “This is not a growth model.”

Stanton, the executive director of EDC’s Massachusetts Computer Attainment Network (MassCAN), made the remarks during a panel discussion about the need for K–12 computer science and digital literacy standards in the Commonwealth. He was joined by other leading experts calling for improved computer science instruction, including Steve Vinter, Google engineering director for Massachusetts, and Wellesley College Associate Provost Robbin Chapman.

Stanton offered MassCAN’s solution to the pipeline problem: expand computer science opportunities across the board, especially among typically underrepresented populations, such as minorities and women.

“We are interested in preparing and inspiring a much larger, more diverse group of students to pursue this discipline, because many types of students have traditionally been left out,” he said.

Each year, hundreds of educators, innovators, researchers, and policymakers gather at the summit to share insights about and discuss strategies for advancing science and mathematics education in Massachusetts. EDC’s Barbara Berns, principal investigator of CADRE, a National Science Foundation-supported project, says the summit always attracts diverse participants from Massachusetts’ high-tech economy and pre-K to 12 educational settings.

“As Massachusetts’ schools try to close the STEM achievement gap and simultaneously implement new math and science frameworks, the summit gives us a unique chance to share what we know about best practices in STEM learning and teaching,” she says. “EDC’s curriculum and resource projects focus on how to make effective science and mathematics learning happen in the classroom with real practitioners and students.”

Berns and EDC’s Leana Nordstrom facilitated a session on research and practice in which more than 30 teachers, school support staff, and education researchers discussed ways to foster district support for integrating STEM programs in the classroom.

In another session, EDC’s Kristen Reed discussed a recent EDC study that examined the implementation of two mathematics curricula in schools across the country. The study found that district and principal support for implementation significantly predicted gains in fourth-grade student achievement. Reed believes that this study is an important step toward figuring out why some districts successfully implement new instructional materials and some don’t.

“I was excited to hear how relevant our findings were to district administrators,” she says. “A few people told me that they were going to report the findings back to their superintendents, particularly stressing that principal support for mathematics instructional materials was so important.”

Other EDC staff giving presentations included Mark Driscoll and Johannah Nikula, who discussed their research about helping students with limited English language skills learn mathematics, and Sarita Pillai, who moderated a panel discussing lessons learned from EDC’s 10 years as the home of the National Science Foundation’s Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program.