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U.S. ramps up efforts to improve STEM education

The new initiatives are part of Obama's "Educate to Innovate" campaign.
The new initiatives are part of President Obama's "Educate to Innovate" campaign.

A grant program that challenges students to design their own video games is one of several new initiatives announced by President Obama Sept. 16 as part of a broad expansion of his “Educate to Innovate” campaign, which aims to spur students’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

The day before, Obama announced the launch of Change the Equation, a CEO-led effort to dramatically improve STEM education in the United States.

The National STEM Video Game Challenge competition, the first in a series of planned annual events, will be led by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and E-Line Media in partnership with sponsors Microsoft Corp., the AMD Foundation, and the Entertainment Software Association.

The video-game challenge features two competitions:

• The Youth Prize aims to engage middle school students (grades five through eight) in STEM by challenging them to design original video games. The program will be open to students from any U.S. school, with a special emphasis on reaching students in underserved urban and rural communities. The total prize pool will be $50,000. The winners will receive AMD-based laptops, game design books, and other tools to support their skill development. Cash prizes and educational software also will be awarded to the winning students’ sponsoring organization, with additional prize money for underserved communities.

• The Developer Prize challenges emerging and experienced game developers to design original games for young children (grades pre-K through four) that teach key STEM concepts and foster an interest in STEM subject areas. The program will feature a special prize for developers actively enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program in the United States. Special emphasis will be placed on technologies that have high potential to reach underserved communities, such as games built for basic mobile phones that address urgent educational needs among at-risk youth. Developers will be competing for a grand prize of $50,000. Prizes of $25,000 also will be awarded to the top entry submitted at the collegiate level, as well as the top entry for reaching underserved communities.

The National STEM Video Game Challenge will accept entries from Oct. 12, 2010, through Jan. 5, 2011. Complete guidelines and details on how to enter are available at and at

“Children of all ages are immersed in technology; today’s kids spend as much time with digital media as they do in school. With the need to make learning both more engaging and productive, we need some real game changers,” said Michael Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. “The Cooney Center and E-Line Media are delighted that national leaders in policy, practice, and philanthropy are investing in video games’ potential to help change the equation.”

The National STEM Video Game Challenge is just one of several initiatives the Obama administration is announcing to encourage students’ interested in STEM.

For a full list and detailed explanation of the new initiatives, click here.

The initiatives are part of Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign to raise American students to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade.

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Change the Equation (CTEq), a new 501(c)3 nonprofit organization consisting of CEOs from 100 leading U.S. companies, is a response by the business community to the president’s “call to action” at the National Academy of Sciences in spring 2009.

It is the first and only STEM education group that brings so many corporate leaders together in collaboration with the White House, state governments, and the education and foundation communities, organizers said.

All of the new STEM initiatives announced Sept. 16 were created by, and are backed by, the companies that are part of CTEq, in partnership with public organizations.

“Our success as a nation depends on strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of discovery and innovation,” said Obama. “I applaud Change the Equation for lending their resources, expertise, and enthusiasm to the task of strengthening America’s leadership in the 21st century by improving education in science, technology, engineering, and math.”

“‘I can’t do math’ has become an iconic excuse in our society,” said Linda Rosen, chief executive officer of CTEq, in a statement. “Many Americans have expressed it, but I don’t believe it’s an accurate reflection of who we are, or, more importantly, what we can do.”

Rosen said CTEq will establish a set of criteria that guide the organization and its member companies in defining the program’s success.

“It has been said that conscience is a person’s compass,” Rosen said. “CTEq can, and will, fuel the nation’s conscience on STEM education. We will monitor our own progress and the progress of others, identifying what is working and what isn’t. CTEq will apply lessons we learn so that the nation continues to move towards a future where every American is literate in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

CTEq has set an ambitious agenda for its first year, including creating a snapshot of existing STEM investments by its 100 member companies to establish a baseline of STEM programs, and creating a state-by-state scorecard to assess the condition of STEM education in all 50 states.

The organization also will create a self-evaluation mechanism for member companies to measure the effectiveness of their STEM programs. In addition, it will launch a plan to initiate a core set of “very” effective programs in 100 new sites across the country to broaden the philanthropic reach of CTEq members.

The programs will allow more students to engage in robotics competitions, improve professional development for math and science teachers, increase the number of students that take and pass rigorous Advanced Placement (AP) math and science courses, increase the number of teachers who enter the profession with a STEM undergraduate degree, and provide new opportunities to traditionally underrepresented students and underserved communities, CTEq said.

Change the Equation was founded by former astronaut Sally Ride, former Intel Chairman Craig Barrett, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, and Eastman Kodak CEO Antonio Perez, with support from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The nonprofit group has a membership of 100 CEOs and funding of $5 million for its first year of operation.

The new initiatives were announced on the same day the President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report outlining ambitious new policy proposals for improving STEM education.

The report, titled “Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America’s Future,” states that the federal government should:

• Recruit and train 100,000 outstanding STEM teachers over the next decade who are able to prepare and inspire students;

• Recognize and reward the top five percent of the nation’s STEM teachers, by creating a STEM master teachers corps;

• Create 1,000 new STEM-focused schools over the next decade;

• Use technology to drive innovation, in part by creating an advanced research projects agency—modeled on the innovative Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—for education;

• Create opportunities for inspiration through individual and group experiences outside the classroom; and

• Support the current state-led movement for shared standards in math and science.

All told, the report provides a practical roadmap for significantly improving federal coordination and leadership on STEM education, so American students today will grow into the world’s science and technology leaders of tomorrow.

“I think of this report as giving my generation a guidebook for how to step up to its ‘Greatest Generation moment,’” said Jim Gates, co-chair of the PCAST Working Group on STEM Education, who is also a professor of physics at the University of Maryland and director of the university’s Center for String and Particle Theory.

In preparing the report and its recommendations, PCAST assembled a working group of experts in curriculum development and implementation, school administration, teacher preparation and professional development, effective teaching, out-of-school activities, and education technology. The report was strengthened by additional input from STEM education experts, STEM practitioners, publishers, private companies, educators, and federal, state, and local education officials.

Many of the recommendations in the report can be carried out with existing federal funding of current programs, the report concludes, although new authorizations might be required in certain cases.

The report does not attempt to conduct a detailed budgetary analysis; instead, it offers an array of choices for the president to consider. Fully funding all of the recommendations could require investments of approximately $1 billion per year, according to PCAST—much of which, the report notes, could come from private foundations and corporations, as well as from states and districts.

“Getting America back to the top of the pack in math and science achievement is going to require everyone’s involvement. The federal government has a critical role to play, especially through a partnership between the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation,” said Eric Lander, president of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., and a co-chair of PCAST. “The recommendations in this report have great catalytic potential and, if implemented, could transform STEM education in America.”


Video Game Challenge

Educate to Innovate

Change the Equation

“Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America’s Future.”


Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Igniting and Sustaining STEM Education resource center. As the workplace changes and becomes increasingly global, today’s students must be educated with a 21st-century mindset. Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills are no longer just “good skills” to have; they are increasingly vital to a 21st-century education—and students should begin cultivating these skills as early as possible. Go to:

Igniting and Sustaining STEM Education

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