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.

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

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…

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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…

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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.