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University looks to draw students to STEM education

Many students say their teachers don't focus on STEM fields.

Arizona State University officials will invite teenagers to learn about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from experts in those fields. The campus program joins a host of initiatives that could attract more students to STEM education and cut down on the growing need for remedial college courses.

ASU on Jan. 25 will launch the STEM Network (STEMnet) – a group of university faculty members who will introduce middle and high school students to classroom activities for STEM education and teaching methods used in higher education.

STEMnet’s first four-hour session will be held at ASU’s Tempe campus Jan. 25, with a second session scheduled for May 17.

STEMnet was formed with funding from the National Science Foundation, according to the university.

ASU officials said an institution with professors and researchers who have excelled in STEM-related fields for decades would be a valuable asset in promoting STEM education among teens.

“We have a lot of STEM research and education talent at ASU,” said Colleen Megowan, an assistant professor of science education in the campus’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “Teacher professional development and educational innovation are among our great strengths.”

Boosting middle and high school students’ interest in STEM education could help trim the ever-growing number of college students in need of remedial classes before they take credit-bearing courses in those subjects.

More than 60 percent of students in community colleges need some kind of remedial class–most often, math training–before they can take credit-bearing courses, according to recent studies.

This comes with a price tag: a study published this summer shows that community colleges spend more than $1.4 billion on remedial courses every year.

The remediation crisis in higher education has drawn attention from star-studded donors, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which last year earmarked $3.6 million in grant money to be used for remedial training.

Carnegie Mellon University’s Community College Open Learning Initiative will receive $2.5 million from the Gates Foundation for the development of web-based open learning platforms for “gatekeeper courses,” or introductory-level classes that students must pass to enter a field of study.

In a survey of high school students released in December 2009, a majority of students said that while their science and math teachers seem knowledgeable and keep class interesting, they aren’t teaching about STEM career options.

High school students who responded to the survey also said they don’t believe STEM education is integral to getting a good job.

The survey, conducted by the American Society for Quality, asked more than 1,000 students in grades 3-12 to provide a scaled report card (with grades ranging from A to F) on their science teachers’ classroom skills and activities.

Eighty-five percent of students said their teachers deserve at least a “B” when it comes to knowledge about science topics (55 percent of students gave their teachers an “A”), and 63 percent of high school students said their teachers are not doing a good job of talking to them about engineering careers (“C” or lower).

Forty-two percent of high school students said their teachers don’t ably demonstrate how science can be used in a career (“C” or lower).

Students in grades 7-12 are less likely than third through sixth graders to believe a person needs to be skilled science and math to get a good paying job, according to the survey.

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Denny Carter

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