“[Smith] takes a very complex engineering idea and he says, ‘What we’re going to do right now is find out how fast this wiggles,’ rather than a fast Fourier transform, which is what we’re really doing mathematically,” Turnipseed said.

But there also have been some positive changes in terms of publicizing STEM education careers, panelists said.

“I think there is a trend of making science more important in our country. When you start to see more CSI and MythBusters and fewer reality shows, I think even if there’s just bits of science or aspects of science, making that a part of our culture reinforces it with kids,” Smith said.

Mandel pointed out the need for science education to begin at an earlier age.

For more news on STEM education, see:

Solving the STEM Education Crisis

“When Chinese and American kids are two years old, they look the same in terms of quantitative literacy. When they’re five years old, before they start school, there’s a huge difference; Chinese kids are way ahead, and it’s because dealing with numbers and measurement is something that goes on between parents and kids in China but not here,” Mandel said. He said that in the United States, parents teach their children the alphabet and how to read but don’t place any emphasis on numbers or understanding mathematics.

“One thing that’s coming down the pike are national science standards, and that’s going to start a big conversation including what should be going on in science in elementary education,” Mandel said. “We’ve got a lot of inertia to overcome.”