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Reporting on K-12 STEM Education

Jerry Gollub, the John and Barbara Bush Professor in the Natural Sciences and Professor of Physics, joined a committee of educators from colleges and universities across the country in looking at ways to improve teaching and learning in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in U.S. primary and secondary schools. The result of the committee’s work is Successful K-12 STEM Education, a 48-page report issued in June by the National Research Council.

"I serve on the National Research Council's Board on Science Education (BOSE), and as a result I'm involved in various education projects of the NRC," says Gollub. "It seems natural to me that a college professor might also be interested in K-12 education, as the two types of education are highly interdependent."

There is broad agreement among educators and industry leaders that STEM is not only essential to many current and future careers; it is also a means for citizens to understand and participate in an increasingly complex worldfrom understanding the challenges of environmental sustainability to addressing the need for alternative sources of energy.

The work of the National Research Council committee, led by Adam Gamoran of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, included examining existing research and research in progress on STEM-focused schools, as well as a broader base of research related to STEM education practices and effective schooling in general. The committee also conducted a public workshop to explore criteria for identifying successful K-12 schools and programs in the area of STEM.

"We found that it is hard even to define successful schools, because some schools benefit by selecting talented students, and because the research base is surprisingly limited," says Gollub. "However, we were able to make a number of recommendations about practices within schools that promote effective STEM education. One important observation was that effective STEM education can be done in widely different types of schools, and does not require selective science-focused schools to achieve results."

The report offers recommendations geared for both schools and districts, and for state and national policy-makers. Those recommendations include increasing the number of STEM-focused schools, enhancing professional development for teachers in the area of STEM, elevating science to the same level of importance as reading and mathematics, and emphasizing science practices rather than mere factual recall.

National Science Foundation Director Subra Suresh called the report an important resource  “that will be very useful to all involved in STEM educationfrom policy makers to teachers to education researchers. The report's findings will be shared with these groups in the months ahead and will guide future research in the field."

Gollub is currently serving on another NRC panel that is researching undergraduate physics education. Its results will be reported in early 2012.


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