September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Missing Science Majors

Posted: Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

by Bethany Dixon

Why aren’t our best science students considering science majors? Out of my team of three State Science Fair awardees, only one is enrolled in a science class his senior year. The other two seniors are bright and interested in research but they didn’t want to take the chance that a difficult AP science course could damage their transcripts in their senior year. They’re tough courses and GPA matters for admissions.

This pattern carries over to major selection and ultimately to the career paths students select. TIME’s Education Summit panel on Basic and Applied Research reported last year’s National Science Foundation operating budget at “$7.4 billion—only $400 million more than Americans spent on potato chips in the same period. Last year too, 20% of undergrads in China were studying in the STEM fields. In Europe it was 11%. In the U.S. it was 4.4%.”

Washington calls for STEM majors to fill technical jobs. Technical skills needed to fill entry-level science jobs offer pay incentives that are dramatically higher than others, but at what cost? Many students are pushed out of science in their first year through the weeding out process of basic required courses or pulled away because of success in early entry-level humanities courses. Statistically, we know that science majors are difficult and STEM careers in academic remain extremely competitive. A colleague of mine who also teaches AP Biology and has a Ph.D. in molecular biology from a top-tier California research institution told me that she struggles with sending her students into research. “It really depends on the lab,” she said, “That is not a place I would send my students.”

Funding of scientific research in the U.S. has been sliced by nearly 20% in the last decade and even as we send our students into careers in science where jobs are predicted to grow, only the most persistent and dedicated students will be able to pursue careers dedicated to science. Federal funding initiatives that researchers depend on (NASA, NIH, NSF) are less certain than ever, and science has a major public relations problem. Take a peek at what Google has to say about what “scientists are…” for an idea on general perceptions.

The American Society of Cell Biologists is trying to put a friendlier face on research with their latest competition: “We are research.” They’ve challenged members to submit photos that portray lab scientists in a more human light and their Facebook and Flickr pages are full of professors of all shapes and sizes and students clustered around tables and benches in jeans and t-shirts. It certainly doesn’t read like the societal misanthropes the Google search makes them out to be – they look like my high school students on a good day in class: happy to be there.

It reminds me of some of Bonnie Bassler’s (CSTA conference keynote speaker in 2009) final words in her fantastic TED Talk about Quorum Sensing. Showing a picture of her smiling lab group in Princeton, New Jersey she says,“…I just want to say that whenever you read something in the newspaper or you get to hear some talk about something ridiculous in the natural world it was done by a child. Science is done by that demographic. All of those people are between 20 and 30 years old, and they are the engine that drives scientific discovery in this country. It’s a really lucky demographic to work with…”

Don’t tell anyone this, but one of the reasons that this hits close to home is that I wasn’t a science major. I’m a tested-in second-career science geek. I read textbooks in my “free” time and watch MIT lectures while I run. I recently told a joke that began with “You need a little bit of background on enzymes for this one, but…” I feel that as a high school teacher the student demographic I work with is extraordinary, but even more so, that science is an extraordinary field. Fixing federal funding, competition, and undergraduate lecture halls of 400 may be beyond our reach, but public perception of scientists and preparation for students to improve major accessibility is well in our corner as science teachers.

Written by Bethany Dixon

Bethany Dixon is a science teacher at Western Sierra Collegiate Academy, is a CSTA Publications Committee Member, and is a member of CSTA.

Leave a Reply

LATEST POST

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

Powered By DT Author Box

Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.

News and Happenings in CSTA’s Region 1 – Fall 2017

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Cal

This month I was fortunate enough to hear about some new topics to share with our entire region. Some of you may access the online or newsletter options, others may attend events in person that are nearer to you. Long time CSTA member and environmental science educator Mike Roa is well known to North Bay Area teachers for his volunteer work sharing events and resources. In this month’s Region 1 updates I am happy to make a few of the options Mike offers available to our region. Learn More…

Written by Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw

Marian Murphy-Shaw is the student services director at Siskiyou County Office of Education and is CSTA’s Region 1 Director and chair of CSTA’s Policy Committee.

Is This a First: Young Female Teens Propose California Water Conservation Legislation?

Posted: Monday, August 28th, 2017

Meet the La Habra Water Guardians from the Optics of their Teacher Moderator, Dr. P.

by Susan M. Pritchard, Ph.D.

You have just won the 2016 Lexus Eco Challenge as one of four First Place Winners in the Middle School Category across the nation! Now, what are you going to do … go to Disneyland? No, not for four of the six La Habra Water Guardians, Disneyland is not in their future at this time. Although I think they would love a trip to Disneyland, (are you listening Mickey Mouse?), at this moment they are focused big time on one major thing … celebrating the passage of their proposed legislation: Assembly Bill 1343 Go Low Flow Water Conservation Partnership Bill and now promoting the enactment of this legislation. Learn More…

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.