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Old 2011-11-07, 16:17   #1
R.D. Silverman
 
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Default STEM Education

The following article is very interesting.....

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/ed...d.html?_r=3&hp

Some snippets:

"So Mr. Moniz, a 21-year-old who likes poetry and had enjoyed introductory
psychology, switched to a double major in psychology and English, where
the classes are “a lot more discussion based.” He will graduate in May and
plans to be a clinical psychologist. Of his four freshman buddies at Notre
Dame, one switched to business, another to music. One of the two who
is still in engineering plans to work in finance after graduation.

Mr. Moniz’s experience illustrates how some of the best-prepared students
find engineering education too narrow and lacking the passion of other fields.
They also see easier ways to make money. "

(my emphasis)


"While the National Science Foundation went on to finance pilot courses that
employed interactive projects, when the money dried up, so did most of the
courses. Lecture classes are far cheaper to produce, and top professors
are focused on bringing in research grants, not teaching undergraduates. "

(my comment: meanwhile the cost continues to far outstrip inflation)

"But he also says it’s inevitable that students will be lost. Some new students
do not have a good feel for how deeply technical engineering is. Other
bright students may have breezed through high school without developing
disciplined habits. By contrast, students in China and India focus relentlessly
on math and science from an early age. "

(many of the people in this forum still fail to realize that math is hard and
requires dedication; I won't mention names)

Dunning & Kruger is quite relevant here, I think. Too many students in the
U.S. are entering college with both inadequate preparation and inadequate
understanding of the effort required to succeed in STEM.

Comments?
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Old 2011-11-07, 16:27   #2
fivemack
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Of course lecturers have been complaining that their students have an inadequate and decreasing knowledge of the prerequisites since at least Socrates.

I suppose I'm a mathematician, and so started to recoil in horror when realising that A-level physics wasn't (couldn't be, since the courses run simultaneously) dependent on A-level maths, and that people at perfectly competent UK universities were attempting to start physics degrees without being able to solve any differential equations at all.

The grade-inflation remarks confuse me a bit; the nice thing about maths is that you can get 100% by a moderate to medium quantity of application all the way through high school and a fair way into undergrad. Less so for sciences, probably less so again for engineering.
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Old 2011-11-07, 16:34   #3
R.D. Silverman
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by R.D. Silverman View Post
The following article is very interesting.....

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/ed...d.html?_r=3&hp

Some snippets:

"So Mr. Moniz, a 21-year-old who likes poetry and had enjoyed introductory
psychology, switched to a double major in psychology and English, where
the classes are “a lot more discussion based.” He will graduate in May and
plans to be a clinical psychologist. Of his four freshman buddies at Notre
Dame, one switched to business, another to music. One of the two who
is still in engineering plans to work in finance after graduation.

Mr. Moniz’s experience illustrates how some of the best-prepared students
find engineering education too narrow and lacking the passion of other fields.
They also see easier ways to make money. "

(my emphasis)


"While the National Science Foundation went on to finance pilot courses that
employed interactive projects, when the money dried up, so did most of the
courses. Lecture classes are far cheaper to produce, and top professors
are focused on bringing in research grants, not teaching undergraduates. "

(my comment: meanwhile the cost continues to far outstrip inflation)

"But he also says it’s inevitable that students will be lost. Some new students
do not have a good feel for how deeply technical engineering is. Other
bright students may have breezed through high school without developing
disciplined habits. By contrast, students in China and India focus relentlessly
on math and science from an early age. "

(many of the people in this forum still fail to realize that math is hard and
requires dedication; I won't mention names)

Dunning & Kruger is quite relevant here, I think. Too many students in the
U.S. are entering college with both inadequate preparation and inadequate
understanding of the effort required to succeed in STEM.

Comments?


One other thing:

"Obama called for "colleges to graduate 10,000 more engineers a year and 100,000 new teachers with majors in STEM —"

The latter is not going to happen for a number of reasons.

(1) Money. Anyone competent with a STEM degree can earn far more money
in private industry than they can teaching high school or middle school.
So instead we get STEM teachers who graduate from "teachers colleges".
Incompetent middle school STEM teachers currently leave students
poorly prepared for high school study. Incompetent high school teachers
then make the problem worse. If we, as a society really want
competent STEM teachers we must be prepared to pay them market rates.

(2) People with STEM degrees tend to be smarter and more dedicated than
people in other majors. The article I referenced indicates why. (yes,
there are exceptions). STEM is hard.

Really smart people do not want to put up with the bureaucratic
administrative horeshit that teachers are subjected to. They want control
over their classrooms including control over subject matter and ability to kick
out problem students. They want backing from school principals when
they flunk students. They do not have this currently. Instead, adminstrators
back down because of fear of lawsuits from irate parents whose student
was just flunked.

(3) They want students who are able and willing to learn. Most secondary
school students do not want to be in class, do not want to bother with
studying, and generally don't give a shit. Which, of course, is one reason
why there are so few students who succeed as STEM majors in college.
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Old 2011-11-07, 17:22   #4
bsquared
 
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The root problem as I see it is money. Money for quality teachers, money for quality programs, and money as a sufficient "reward" for students (i.e., wages corresponding to the "degree of difficulty" of the major). I don't think there is a lack of smart and dedicated students, but even fairly dedicated kids can get discouraged by poor teachers, poor lab equipment, poorly planned classes, and poor outlooks on future job salaries. Getting serious about producing more STEM graduates involves a correspondingly serious monetary committment.

A couple of tangentially related ancedotes:

I work in a electronics research lab that researches, develops, tests, etc., very advanced electronic components. Sometimes we have collaborators that are in other science fields like biology or medicine that, although their daily trade is highly complex and technical, are severely "sticker shocked" at the cost of getting anything done in electronics. The costs of engineering custom components, involving circuit boards, ICs, packages, etc., is substantial, and they are completely unprepared for the price tag of even just the design work, let alone the material cost. Although many vendors have educational discounts for schools, the costs are still significant in many cases for state-of-the-art tools and software. A serious investment by govt in schools' engineering labs could capture interest, because students wouldn't have to deal with outdated and defective equipement or software. They would also be better prepared for the workforce.

Another one:
I got my undergraduate physics degree from a small school with no graduate program. The overwhelming benefits of this program were that class sizes were small, were taught by full professors, and there was ample opprotunity, encouragement, and money available for research collaboration with these professors by the undergraduates. Professors didn't have to worry as much about getting grants, and instead could concentrate on teaching and on collaborating in their research with students. As a result, I learned a ton and was published several times *before* getting my undergraduate degree. So were many of my classmates. There was essentially zero attrition from this program. Unfortunately, I don't know how to make programs like this scale, but it is a model that works.

Thanks for the interesting article.
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Old 2011-11-07, 17:39   #5
R.D. Silverman
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bsquared View Post
The root problem as I see it is money. Money for quality teachers, money for quality programs, and money as a sufficient "reward" for students (i.e., wages corresponding to the "degree of difficulty" of the major).
Also, some assurance that U.S. companies are not going to ship technical jobs
overseas to India/China/Malaysia etc. because of cheaper labor there.
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Old 2011-11-07, 18:04   #6
bsquared
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by R.D. Silverman View Post
(1) Money. Anyone competent with a STEM degree can earn far more money
in private industry than they can teaching high school or middle school.
So instead we get STEM teachers who graduate from "teachers colleges".
Incompetent middle school STEM teachers currently leave students
poorly prepared for high school study. Incompetent high school teachers
then make the problem worse. If we, as a society really want
competent STEM teachers we must be prepared to pay them market rates.
This got me thinking. Even if we started to pay market rates for quality teachers at all levels, and even if we dedicated the money to develop quality programs, it would be years before the teachers and programs were in place and more years before the first batch of students emerged from it. It doesn't seem like today's politicians think that far ahead. Mabye I'm being pessimistic, and I'm definately not speaking with data to back me up, but it seems like if a program doesn't get "results" in a year or so, it is earmarked a failure and abandoned.

Wild idea:
Put a program in place that offers some sort of "sabbatical year" to experts in private industry (engineering, math, etc.) where they would 1) continue to get paid their current salary (or better), 2) would be guareenteed their job back, and 3) provides a crash course in teaching the subject (not all subject-area experts are necessarily effective teachers). If the program has money available to grease the skids on both sides of the fence (i.e., money to compensate the company for losing an employee for a period of time and money to compensate the school to create room for the new guy), then you'd maybe be able to convince a significant number of companies and schools to participate. I bet there would also be plenty of experts interested in doing something different or with a desire to be helpful. This might satisfy the "quality teacher" part of the problem faster.
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Old 2011-11-07, 18:25   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bsquared View Post
This got me thinking. Even if we started to pay market rates for quality teachers at all levels, and even if we dedicated the money to develop quality programs, it would be years before the teachers and programs were in place and more years before the first batch of students emerged from it. It doesn't seem like today's politicians think that far ahead.
Yup. It took years to get into this situation, it will take years to fix.
[Which, IMO isn't going to happen]


I like your sabbatical idea....
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Old 2011-11-07, 21:46   #8
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I do a little teaching, in the FIRST robotics program...but, as in pure mathematics, with that wonderful (not!) job situation, how on earth do you expect to encourage anyone that isn't absolutely called to it?

A sabbatical is a good idea...even just letting me back down to part-time teaching.

Now, another problem is that my employer (and many others I have been at) needs sheepskins to tell the wheat from the chaff...

You want long-term results? Think about the short-term orientation forced upon us by Wall Street, and the inordinate power of the bankers and the financiers. The robber barons, the ones that founded the technical institutes (including the undergraduate-only one I went to, Rose-Hulman, which sounds a lot like B-squared's alma mater), knew they needed technical talent, and were prepared to invest in the long-term to get it.

My current boss doesn't seem to feel that way....
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Old 2011-11-07, 22:38   #9
Dubslow
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More specifically educationally, I am a freshman physics major and the twice-mentioned (woo!) UIUC. Last week, in Physics 110 "Careers in Physics" (don't be fooled by the title, it's mostly an introduction to the school) we went over the actual careers part of the course. The prof mentioned that many physics degrees don't go on to grad school, in physics or in other things, but that graduates go into a wide variety of things. He even mentioned the finance route as a viable option, and particularly emphasized petroleum engineering as a big money maker.

But I think the best thing he talked about (from an admittedly physics-centric view, being a class for physics majors) was that when the department asked companies what they look for, they said things like "work on a team, learn new things/adaptable, communication skills, problem solving". I'll try and get a better list, but this will do for now. Anyways, he asked us what we thought our marketable skills, and he guessed our response would be "uh... I got an A in E&M..." which admittedly was what I was thinking, but he made the point that it's those skills above (maybe not communication, but he said they've been working to improve that) that you learn in a good physics curriculum. Data analysis is similar; that's what experimental physics is all about, and much of the finance industry and government studies and what not are all data analysis. Just food for thought.

Also, as far as DiffyQ, unless you go to a magnet school (like I did) you won't find anything besides single variable calculus in high schools here in America, though if you have done that, you generally get to DiffyQ by second semester freshman year. (Also keep in mind though that the AP calculus curriculum does include separation of variables, and we did guess solutions to the simplest of higher order ODE's like y''+y=0.)

An aside: The blog of the professor 'teaching' PHYS 110, whose most recent post happens to be about careers in physics.
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Old 2011-11-08, 00:54   #10
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While I agree that communications is distinctly important (if you can't communicate it, you might as well not know it), the problem you will encounter is that, even in an engineering job, I find most of my surroundings so far below my technical level that people get upset when I communicate in shorthand. And I spend far more time communicating in various ways than I do in actually working the engineering problems.

Example:
Dear Customer:
Could you please tell me what part you are using, by manufacturer/part number so I can test on one?

Management response: make it work without that critical bit of information....not to mention not knowing exactly what part we have in place that is faulting...

I told them I could probably do it, but didn't they want to know it would work when it went out?
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Old 2011-11-08, 00:59   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by R.D. Silverman View Post
Also, some assurance that U.S. companies are not going to ship technical jobs
overseas to India/China/Malaysia etc. because of cheaper labor there.
If US workers can't compete, that's their problem. They make quadruple (say) what their Indian (say) counterparts make because they are that much more productive -- if they become less productive relative to other workers (because one gets better or the other gets worse) they'll just have to take a lower-paying job.

Companies don't use US workers as a favor, they do it in hopes of making more money than they would otherwise.
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