Our STEM Future Requires Advanced Math Peformance
Why is use of technology in K-12 education mandatory to realize STEM goals? One reason is the extreme high performance on mathematics that future STEM higher ed students need. No matter how excited they may have been by their childhood visits to science museums, and their hands-on project-based-learning, future STEM professionals need a very strong foundation in “M”. An analysis of Engineering freshmen at the University of California found that over 80% of them scored over the 80th percentile in math as 10th graders.
So being Proficient on a state standardized math test is no indication of a strong enough math foundation. In California recently the raw score equivalent to meeting proficiency in elementary math was 67% correct on a 65 question multiple choice test. This used to be a “D” grade. Our objective for meeting STEM goals is to maximize students at the Advanced level – which is 80% to 85% – at least a “B” grade.
Something you can ONLY do with ED Tech
This kind of high performance is achievable for the majority students, and is a realistic goal – but at scale it requires ed tech. And it requires the kind of ed tech that is not an online rehash of the same offline approaches that in the past have not been successful for far too many students. You should be looking for approaches that use technology to do something truly different, something not possible before technology.
Struggle and Confidence
An example of a difference that only technology can deliver is 1:1 game-based learning. But every game is not created equal, nor equally effective. Online games need to follow a rigorously researched and field-tested instructional design. One component of that design that is very relevant to future STEM professionals is for the game to have designed-in struggle. And the struggle shouldn’t be a sideshow to the learning. Not a joystick, not navigation or searching, not timing a button. The struggle needs to be with the learning content itself – designed to challenge every student and cause them to fail – and to think. A second vital component is to provide continuous informative feedback. A red “x” , “Try Again,” does not cut it. Only technology can provide real-time, visual animated feedback that informs how and why an answer caused failure – or why it worked. Why is overcoming struggle key for STEM? Because STEM courses in high school and beyond are challenging. They will eventually push most students to their limits. And the experience at earlier ages of persistence overcoming challenges leads to earned confidence that will sustain learning.
An example of truly different, game-based learning is MIND Research Institute’s visual math software for K-8 students, ST Math®. ST Math presents math to students as visual puzzles and animated diagrams with which they interact, and from which they literally see how the math works.
Side-benefits of this visual approach are up-front reduction of complexity, abstract symbols and the language barrier, particularly for English Learners. Another unique advantage, especially valuable for future STEM professionals, is a heightened affinity for visual problem-solving methods in general.
When ed tech is applied this way, what kind of results are happening? One example at a district wide level is in Santa Ana Unified, California. The district averages 84% economically disadvantaged and 73% English Learners. Since 2005, the district has gone from 13% to 94% of its elementary schools using ST Math. In that time, its achievement gap from CA state averages in math proficiency has been eliminated.
A second example is from the Los Alamitos Unified district. Weaver Elementary, under the leadership of principal Erin Kominsky, has been using ST Math software since 2000. In 2011, Weaver averaged 99% of its students proficient, with grade 4 100% proficient. 85% of Weaver’s students tested into that pre-Engineering Advanced level of math, with over 80 students scoring a perfect 600/600 in 2011.