Author Topic: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?  (Read 2519 times)

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Offline laureng

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Hi all! Long time EEVblog viewer, first time forum poster ;D

I'm interested to know your thoughts about STEM education in schools - both the good (what you think works well), the bad (what's missing, and what we're not doing), and the ugly (teaches kids the wrong thing or just wastes money). Also, why you think it's important (or not) that kids learn STEM subjects (Get a job? Become a future electronics YouTuber? Hack the planet?). If you were a teacher, how would you go about things?

A little about me, so you can see where I'm coming from. I graduated Computer Science in 2006, and since then have been working mainly in software engineering, at all levels but typically lower down in the stack (firmware, motion control, network protocols and industrial automation). I'm also an electronics hobbyist, and have hung out in the hacker/maker movement and done a bit of ham radio. I've always been interested in teaching, though (and have done some University tutoring), and I'm thinking of getting into STEM teaching, either as a school teacher, in curriculum development, or in a University or vocational training centre to look at how we get high school students into computing and engineering courses (women and girls in particular, although there's a worry about an overall decline in STEM graduations).

Anyway, a LOT has been written about this in academic and teaching circles, it's something of a political hot topic, and there are plenty of people and gadgets in this space. I figure those of us who have worked in industry, though, may have a different/additional perspective. What better place than here to find it? :D

I'm also happy to hear from any current/former teachers, or people who have kids in school and might have seen how their local teacher/school does things.
 

Offline smorriso3

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #1 on: February 15, 2020, 06:44:04 am »
I'm enrolled in one of the top engineering schools in the USA. I'm a Post-Bac student who already has a background in management. Here's my input lets start with the worst and build up to the good.

The Ugly:
Students who focus on nothing but good grades. I'm a senior officer in our campus IEEE chapter and I'm mentoring several students, some of which are EXCELLENT academically but poor when it comes to networking and career building. Yeah! Some (I don't want to call them kids) students are phenomenally good with maths but just don't care when it comes to networking and/or soft skills. Thats hard because as a mentor I really... want... them... to... care... thats not something thats easy to instill in somebody

The Bad:
Shitty bureaucracy. I personally mentor several students who have been absolutely f'd up by registration policies. IE they got cut out from enrolling in classes that they absolutely needed to because (for example) their last name started with an M instead of an A. Sound dumb? Yeah it is! One of these cases is currently steamrolling into a buddy losing his marriage because he's been delayed graduation a whole half year.

The Good:
Really excellent teachers. I don't know if there's too much I can quantify here. I had a Greybeard in my house yesterday. Can you guess who he was? He was one of the folks who designed the Atari and was mentioned one the Amp Hour a couple months ago!
 

Offline SL4P

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2020, 02:41:28 am »
If for no other reason STEM forces the student to perform analysis and critical thinking if it’s done properly to achieve knowledge in the subject.

That’s why STEM subjects fell out of favour... they require the teacher to know  and  understand  the subject (which is more expensive/difficult) for the institution.  And, they require the student to engage and commit to the process.  Too hard.

Same with computers and tablets... they’re great for ‘delivery’, but useless to impart understanding.  There’s that darn word again. How inconvenient.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2020, 05:24:12 am by SL4P »
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Offline Cyberdragon

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2020, 04:43:41 am »
At the college level it's generally good (except for the issues explained above), but at high school or below, depending on where you are, it's usually pretty bad. Generally bad teaching/teachers (even smart teachers can suck at teaching) and lack of equipment/resources. Not just lack of or crappy lab equipment either, even with computers some schools still have XP era machines (probably running on Windows 7) everywhere with a sprinkling of more modern computers in select rooms. :scared: :--
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Offline steve30

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2020, 10:28:52 am »
The Ugly: The fact the people feel the need to lump various subjects together to create unnecessary acronyms like 'STEM'. Though having said that, 'STEM' is probably more of an appropriate combination of subjects than the 'XAS' department that we briefly had at my comprehensive school.

I have wondered if schools and colleges are gradually reducing the availability of engineering courses. When I was at comprehensive school in the 2000s, we did some electronics as part of Design & Technology lessons, and later on, I chose it as a GCSE subject. To the best of my knowledge, they don't do it anymore.

I also did electronics at college. Electronics courses were a bit lacking when I did them, but I was fortunate to have some of the older teachers who were very enthusiastic about the subject. Said teachers have pretty much all retired now and I gather there are fewer electronics courses at local colleges now than there were 10 years ago.

 

Offline SL4P

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2020, 10:52:01 am »
Understand completely!
Even here, where there are a number of knowledgeable types on many subjects, getting a single straight answer can be like herding (cats) students.  :-\
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Online coppice

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2020, 11:31:00 am »
The Ugly:
Students who focus on nothing but good grades. I'm a senior officer in our campus IEEE chapter and I'm mentoring several students, some of which are EXCELLENT academically but poor when it comes to networking and career building. Yeah! Some (I don't want to call them kids) students are phenomenally good with maths but just don't care when it comes to networking and/or soft skills. Thats hard because as a mentor I really... want... them... to... care... thats not something thats easy to instill in somebody
You are describing the character of the majority of people with an interest and talent for STEM subjects. Its not ugly. Its just something you need to help students to mitigate if they are going to have a successful career.
 
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Online chris_leyson

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #7 on: February 16, 2020, 11:46:13 am »
In principle there is nothing wrong with STEM but it will still suffer from poor teaching methods. For example, trying to teach control theory using page upon page of incomprehensible mathematics doesn't really work, it just leaves a student without a mathematical aptitude struggling with the mathematics and gaining very little understand of control theory.

Poor lecturers don't help either. I had an electronics lecture who insisted that a common emitter transistor stage would give 180 degrees phase shift, I tried to explain that an inverting CE stage inverts the signal and that is not necessarily the same as phase shift but he wouldn't have it.
Perhaps I had a better understanding of what was really going on, so that's one example of ugly.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2020, 11:59:44 am by chris_leyson »
 

Offline peter-h

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #8 on: February 16, 2020, 12:20:14 pm »
What is STEM?
 

Offline jeremy

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #9 on: February 16, 2020, 12:39:24 pm »
STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics if I remember correctly.

laureng, if you are located in or near Brisbane and are interested in taking something like this further, please send me a PM. I know some university outreach people who specifically deal in this area (helping school teachers teach STEM, etc).
 

Offline EEVblog

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #10 on: February 16, 2020, 12:42:20 pm »
I'm also happy to hear from any current/former teachers, or people who have kids in school and might have seen how their local teacher/school does things.

I was invited to give a talk a few months back at a school to Year 7 kids for a STEM week project thing they had. Apparently they were to spend the entire week designing and building a solar air heater.
That's a good thing IMO, it might pick up a few kids who might not have been previously interested in the fields.
The problem always is that only a small percentage of kids are ever going to be interested in STEM stuff regardless of what you do.
The entire year 7 group didn't seem all that engaged, which I expected, but I think it would have been more effective with a smaller group of kids who had already self-selected with an interest in the field.
BTW, I gave them all a lump of coal and went though the calcs of how long that would power their mobile phones, and how much energy it takes to watch PewDiePie on Youtube (trying to keep it relevant  ;D )

And it didn't help when I was told to prepare a talk just on renewable energy (because of their project), and only moments before I went on did I realise it was really a week focusing on careers in STEM  :palm:
« Last Edit: February 16, 2020, 12:44:31 pm by EEVblog »
 
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Online nctnico

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #11 on: February 16, 2020, 12:46:04 pm »
I'm not sure teaching is a very rewarding job unless you see it as a calling. Maybe taking some time off from the day job and giving STEM workshops at various schools / universities is more rewarding. You get to interact with the kids but don't have the drama of grades and school politics.
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Offline EEVblog

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #12 on: February 16, 2020, 12:56:59 pm »
The Ugly: The fact the people feel the need to lump various subjects together to create unnecessary acronyms like 'STEM'. Though having said that, 'STEM' is probably more of an appropriate combination of subjects than the 'XAS' department that we briefly had at my comprehensive school.

That can be infuriating sometimes. For example, the first year of engineering my university was deliberately "generic" across electrical, mechanical, and civil for the benefit of the students who had no clue what they wanted to do. Those field trips inspecting civil engineering sites was a real productive use of time for someone who wanted to do electronics  ::)

So yeah, don't teach "STEM", teach the specific subject. If you build it they will come.
 
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Online coppice

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #13 on: February 16, 2020, 01:39:35 pm »
The Ugly: The fact the people feel the need to lump various subjects together to create unnecessary acronyms like 'STEM'.
Many acronyms are dumb and annoying, but STEM is better than most. People are of a similar character across most science and engineering disciplines. Most of those are also mathematically inclined, except perhaps for a lot of the life science people (a lot of biology seems to be held back by an appalling lack of understanding of statistical processes by the average biologist). Technology should essentially be a synonym for engineering, but the word has been corrupted to describe an oddball mix of things that often swings far away from the kinds of things a scientist or engineer is typically attracted to. Nonetheless, as a grouping of similar people and work types STEM is a lot better than most.
 
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Online coppice

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #14 on: February 16, 2020, 01:48:10 pm »
The Ugly: The fact the people feel the need to lump various subjects together to create unnecessary acronyms like 'STEM'. Though having said that, 'STEM' is probably more of an appropriate combination of subjects than the 'XAS' department that we briefly had at my comprehensive school.

That can be infuriating sometimes. For example, the first year of engineering my university was deliberately "generic" across electrical, mechanical, and civil for the benefit of the students who had no clue what they wanted to do. Those field trips inspecting civil engineering sites was a real productive use of time for someone who wanted to do electronics  ::)

So yeah, don't teach "STEM", teach the specific subject. If you build it they will come.
I think its good not to specialise an engineering course too early. Electronics doesn't operate in isolation from mechanics, chemistry and other disciplines, and a broad understanding of the mechanics and chemistry of the electronics itself is important for understanding how to put stuff together well. A lot of electronics would be a lot more reliable if electronics engineers had a better understanding of how their products will behave mechanically and chemically as they encounter the real world and age. What I find odd about what you said is that ANY first year university engineering student would be taking field trips of any kind.
 
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Online Mr. Scram

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #15 on: February 16, 2020, 01:58:42 pm »
I hope we can make this into more than another complaining thread. How about some more of what's good?
 

Offline steve30

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #16 on: February 16, 2020, 02:17:23 pm »
I agree that a variety of subjects is needed. I did a couple of mechanical engineering units, and while not directly related to electronics, it was interesting, and was generally useful.
 

Offline EEVblog

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #17 on: February 16, 2020, 10:59:36 pm »
I agree that a variety of subjects is needed. I did a couple of mechanical engineering units, and while not directly related to electronics, it was interesting, and was generally useful.

Sure, and I don't disagree, mechanical is actually a big part of electronics. But can you say the same about civil engineering? Should I have spent my time going on site looking at construction sites and learning about theodolites?
By all means, have a generic engineering degree option path if that's what people who have no clue what they want. But an Electrical Engineering degree should not be wasting already precious time teaching civil engineering.

To bring it back onto STEM, I'd say that the best results are going to be obtained by selecting the students based on interest and then focusing more on that topic.
 

Online nctnico

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #18 on: February 16, 2020, 11:10:41 pm »
I agree that a variety of subjects is needed. I did a couple of mechanical engineering units, and while not directly related to electronics, it was interesting, and was generally useful.

Sure, and I don't disagree, mechanical is actually a big part of electronics. But can you say the same about civil engineering? Should I have spent my time going on site looking at construction sites and learning about theodolites?
By all means, have a generic engineering degree option path if that's what people who have no clue what they want. But an Electrical Engineering degree should not be wasting already precious time teaching civil engineering.

To bring it back onto STEM, I'd say that the best results are going to be obtained by selecting the students based on interest and then focusing more on that topic.
I agree. My youngest son definitely has an interest in mechanical engineering but having to go through one or two (I forgot) years of combined electrical / mechanical engineering put him off. Now he is studying software engineering which is not shared with other unrelated courses. When I went to electrical engineering school at the same level I got what I came for: electrical engineering. We got some mechanical engineering too but that was always related to electronics since everything needs to be built into a casing. Up to this day I have no interest and aptitude at all in mechanical CAD.

But budget cuts in at least the 'western' part of the world seem to have hollowed out education.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2020, 11:12:38 pm by nctnico »
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Online Mr. Scram

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #19 on: February 16, 2020, 11:23:00 pm »
Sure, and I don't disagree, mechanical is actually a big part of electronics. But can you say the same about civil engineering? Should I have spent my time going on site looking at construction sites and learning about theodolites?
By all means, have a generic engineering degree option path if that's what people who have no clue what they want. But an Electrical Engineering degree should not be wasting already precious time teaching civil engineering.

To bring it back onto STEM, I'd say that the best results are going to be obtained by selecting the students based on interest and then focusing more on that topic.
Most children or young adults that age don't have a clue what they want to do. When they do it's often for the wrong reasons or due to a lack of information. It's not a bad idea to expose people to a broader engineering landscape and whatever the outcome you'll be a more diverse engineer. Look at you. All that looking at civil works for the public at large turned you into a YouTubing engineer producing videos for that very same public!
 

Offline EEVblog

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #20 on: February 16, 2020, 11:33:04 pm »
Most children or young adults that age don't have a clue what they want to do. When they do it's often for the wrong reasons or due to a lack of information. It's not a bad idea to expose people to a broader engineering landscape and whatever the outcome you'll be a more diverse engineer.

Sure, I'm not saying that's not a good idea. I'm saying that the best results will likely be obtained when you offer more focused options for those that do know what they want to do.
You can have STEM subjects in schools up to the wazoo, but that's not necessarily going to translate into a huge number of more people going in to STEM.
Again, I'm not saying STEM in school is a bad idea, it's good, last year I proposed a STEM maker space to Sagan's school, they bought me in the consult on it, and it's just opened. But it's not going to be magic and lead to an order of magnitude more kids going into STEM.

Quote
Look at you. All that looking at civil works for the public at large turned you into a YouTubing engineer producing videos for that very same public!

Err, EEV=Electronics Engineering Video blog.
A 30 year career in the industry doing nothing but electronics.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2020, 11:36:49 pm by EEVblog »
 

Online nctnico

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #21 on: February 17, 2020, 12:11:17 am »
Sure, and I don't disagree, mechanical is actually a big part of electronics. But can you say the same about civil engineering? Should I have spent my time going on site looking at construction sites and learning about theodolites?
Most children or young adults that age don't have a clue what they want to do. When they do it's often for the wrong reasons or due to a lack of information.
But who says they can't switch to a different education? It is not forbidden to change to something else. I took my kids to all kinds of schools so they can see what is what and told them if it turns out they don't like it they won't get any objections from me. School is like a job once it gets carreer specific. Don't like it; change it.
« Last Edit: February 17, 2020, 12:13:05 am by nctnico »
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Online Mr. Scram

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #22 on: February 17, 2020, 12:28:53 am »
But who says they can't switch to a different education? It is not forbidden to change to something else. I took my kids to all kinds of schools so they can see what is what and told them if it turns out they don't like it they won't get any objections from me. School is like a job once it gets carreer specific. Don't like it; change it.
I don't think anyone here is saying that they can't. It doesn't hurt to expose kids to a broader view and is very likely to help them. The very point of school is learning about things they don't know about and that includes other disciplines. It's good for Dave that he knew what he wanted to do early on and that worked out but I don't think that's that representative. Most kids and even adults don't have a clue what they want and more importantly don't know what they don't know. Even if you do know what you want there's a fair bit of evidence that a broad view and knowledge is beneficial in the long term. No discipline in science or engineering works in a vacuum except maybe in the literal sense.  ;D
 

Online Mr. Scram

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #23 on: February 17, 2020, 12:32:39 am »
Sure, I'm not saying that's not a good idea. I'm saying that the best results will likely be obtained when you offer more focused options for those that do know what they want to do.
You can have STEM subjects in schools up to the wazoo, but that's not necessarily going to translate into a huge number of more people going in to STEM.
Again, I'm not saying STEM in school is a bad idea, it's good, last year I proposed a STEM maker space to Sagan's school, they bought me in the consult on it, and it's just opened. But it's not going to be magic and lead to an order of magnitude more kids going into STEM.


Err, EEV=Electronics Engineering Video blog.
A 30 year career in the industry doing nothing but electronics.
It was a joke about how your experience with civil engineering has lead you to make works for the public, although I can't call content creation or running a platform or mechanical engineering "nothing but electronics". That's not a bad thing either. Your work is much more diverse than you give yourself credit for.
 

Online RoGeorge

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Re: What are your thoughts on STEM education in schools? Good, bad and ugly?
« Reply #24 on: February 17, 2020, 12:43:44 am »
What worries me is the fact that most of those loving science minds are sunk into the software industry.

"Programmer" is a very time consuming specialization, vast yet very narrow.  I mean, once a mind is "tuned" for software, it will be very hard to make it view the world other than in terms of software.  Then, the software industry is an endless sprout of software technologies that need to be tasted and studied and tackled to stay competitive, and that will consume all the time that otherwise could have went to some other science.

Also, acquired knowledge in software technologies is very "perishable", in the sense that software technologies are obsoleted, or simply discarded, in just a couple of years, so it's an endless training then discarding.

All these will force those already into software to never live the software bubble.  Only a very few will manage to break the bubble and develop an interest for some other science.  Even then, old software habits like unbaked designs based on brake things often and fix later, or test driven design, will stay in the way of going into something else other than software, where mistakes may have physical consequences, and there is no undo button.


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