Ed News: Highlighting the ‘E’ in STEM Education

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This week in education news, Trump presents FY 2019 budget to Congress; new study finds student learning gains in schools where teacher mentor their colleagues; Aurora science teacher like collaborating with students; new study finds online lessons can enhance students’ understanding of science; Idaho Senate Education Committee delays vote on proposed science standards; Wyoming Senate Education Committee passes computer science standards bill; and for experiential learning programs to flourish, they must bridge K-12, higher education, and the workforce.

Opinion: Banish ‘Just A Theory’ Dunces With Sound Science Education

“Evolution is just a theory.” When someone utters that phrase, there is no clearer signal that the speaker has failed to grasp one of the most basic of science concepts. In science, a theory is not a guess. The term used by scientists to indicate a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world. You’re unlikely to hear “gravity is just a theory” or “germs causing disease is just a theory.” And yet “evolution is just a theory” is suddenly popping up in conversations across Florida. Read the article featured in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Trump Budget Request Prioritizes STEM And Apprenticeships. But Is There a Catch?

The Trump Administration’s budget request for 2019 eyes a strong push for high school-based apprenticeships and career and technical education focused on the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. The proposals, however, would revamp the Carl T. Perkins Act, the federal law that governs how this federal funding flows. Among other things, the budget request says it would “promote strategies that allow students to work and learn at the same time,” and prioritize “offerings to STEM fields and other high-demand fields.” Read the article featured in Education Week.

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NSTA Legislative Update: President Releases FY2019 Budget

President Trump released his budget for FY2019 programs on Monday, February 12, and, as expected, has requested significant cuts to key grant programs in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The Administration is requesting $63.2 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S.  Education Department FY2019 programs which will begin on October 1. This is approximately a 5.3 percent cut from current levels.  

The budget also “streamlines and refocuses”  the Federal investment in K-12 education by eliminating funding for 17 programs totaling $4.4 billion the Administration believes to be “duplicative, ineffective, or more appropriately supported through State, local, or private funds.”

Programs on the chopping block include the Title IV-A, Student Support and Academic Achievement Grants; Title II grants for teacher training; and afterschool programs.

Title IV-A Student Support and Academic Achievement Grants. The President is calling to completely eliminate the SSAE grant program in its third year of existence. The SSAE grant program under Title IV-A of ESSA is a flexible block grant that is designed to provide support for much needed health and safety programs, well-rounded education programs, including Science and STEM, and the effective use of education technology. Districts can use Title IVA funding to increase access to STEM for underserved and at risk student populations; support the participation of students in STEM nonprofit competitions; providing hands-on learning opportunities in STEM; integrate other academic subjects, including the arts, into STEM subject programs; create or enhance STEM specialty schools; and integrate classroom based and afterschool and informal STEM instruction.

Title II A:  The President is calling for elimination of this $2 billion program that funds teacher training and class-size reduction efforts.

Title V, Afterschool Programs (21st Century Community Learning Centers): The President proposes eliminating this $1.2 billion grant for after-school programs.  These programs fund high-quality STEM programming in afterschool and summer learning programs.

And now the good news: As a follow up to the Presidential memorandum to provide $200m for STEM education and computer science, the budget is calling for “$180 million in funding for the Education Innovation and Research program, as well as $20 million in new STEM grants.

The competitive Education Innovation and Research grants would support “evidence-based strategies and interventions to improve student achievement in STEM fields, including computer science.”  $20 million would go for awards to “create innovative career and technical education programs in STEM fields, including computer science, that are aligned with regional workforce and labor market needs.”

Keep in mind that the Administration’s budget is simply a suggestion to Congress, and Congress has the final power to determine funding levels for these programs.  However, it is important to note that the budget does signal the President’s priorities, and this year one of the six major themes listed in the President’s FY 2019 Budget was “promoting innovation and reform around STEM education”

Also complicating matters is the fact that appropriators have still not completed their work for the FY2018 budget year, which started Oct. 1 2018.  Last week legislators lifted the budget caps on domestic programs, including education, and federal agencies will be open until March 23, allowing legislators time to finalize an omnibus spending bill for FY2018.  More here on that.

President’s FY2019 budget also maintains support for Title I funding ($15.5B) and provides about $12.8 billion for special education funding .  The Administration is also seeking  $43 million for School Climate Transformation grants specifically to help states and local districts address the impact of opioids on students and schools.

The Budget maintains $1.1 billion in funding for career and technical education. The White House plan calls for sending the majority of this funding to high schools “to promote strategies such as apprenticeship, work-based learning and dual-enrollment.” It also calls for an increase in STEM offerings and for authorizing funding for “fast-track programs that prepare high-school graduates for jobs rebuilding America’s infrastructure.”

The President also wants to invest $1.1 billion in school choice programs.

Read more here and here.

Jodi Peterson is the Assistant Executive Director of Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at jpeterson@nsta.org or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

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Ideas and inspiration from NSTA’s February 2018 K-12 journals

Regardless of what grade level or subject are you teach, as you skim through the article titles, you may find ideas for lessons that would be interesting your students or the inspiration to adapt/create your own.

All three journals include Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K–12: 2018. The books are organized by a relevant NGSS Disciplinary Core Idea, with additional correlations to Crosscutting Concepts and Science and Engineering Practices. The reviewers include a grade level range, so you can choose books for students at various reading and interest levels.


The Science Teacher – Maker Movement

This month’s Editor’s Corner: “Making” a Difference has several points about the Maker Movement. It’s worth a read if you need to convince others of the value.

  • Maker education involves problem- and project-based learning through open-ended, collaborative fabrication. Like engineers, makers use an iterative design cycle as they strive to create better solutions. Students solve authentic, personally relevant problems.
  • Making has the potential to develop students’ 21st-century skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, innovation, collaboration, and more.
  • While maker projects provide students with authentic experiences of science and engineering practices, it can be a challenge to clearly align them with important disciplinary core ideas.

The maker-related lessons described in the articles include connections with the NGSS (including DCIs) and many include classroom resources and illustrations of student work.

  • Just as play is important in early learning, Elements of Making discusses how to bring creative experiences to older students. The authors include six elements of making and a related matrix to help us incorporate making into science teaching.
  • Grouping Minerals by Their Formulas takes students beyond simply identifying minerals with a 5E lesson in using “mineral formulas to help Earth Science wonder about the connection between elements, compounds, mixtures, minerals, and mineral formulas.” The author includes example of student work in connecting the Periodic Table to mineral properties.
  • Not all making involves physical materials. Our Watershed describes a project in which students “use field exploration and online software to design virtual solutions to improve the hydrology of their schoolyard.” Many photographs are used to illustrate the process and the product.
  • The author of Going Beyond the X shows how students can probe more deeply into DNA replication through modeling. She includes photos of the partner and group activities.
  • Arguing Over Life and Death provides a real-life context (endangered species) for helping students learn, practice, and use a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning framework.
  • Career of the Month: Additive Engineer: Who knew that “making” could turn into a career?
  • This month’s Library of Congress resource–Right to the Source: Making Old New Again—has a story of students during WWII making model airplanes to aid in training. So… check out the photos–“making” is not necessarily a new thing!

These monthly columns continue to provide background knowledge and classroom ideas:

For more on the content that provides a context for projects and strategies described in this issue, see the SciLinks topics Chromosomes, Conservation of Energy, DNA Replication, Electromagnetic Induction, Electromagnetic Waves, Endangered Species, Mineral Identification, Mineral Properties, Mitosis, River Systems, Watersheds

Keep reading for Science Scope and  Science and Children.

Continue reading …

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Assessment for Learning

What do you typically do after administering a test or a midterm to help students make necessary corrections and, thereby, reinforce the concepts that were not understood?
– J., New York


Tests and exams, which are assessments of learning, should also be a basis for learning. When I returned a test, the corrections automatically became an assignment. When I gave students points on their tests for their corrections, I sensed that they didn’t put as much effort into preparing for tests. To offset that tendency, I gave assignments the same weight, regardless of how many [or few] corrections were needed. To prevent the students from copying from others, they had to refer directly to their notes or textbook and write a little citation. They could append a photograph of their notes to their test. This technique also ensures that students will have complete notes to study from on midterms or final exams.

In my experience, people tend to repeat the same mistake on multiple choice questions if they take it again. Attempt to circumvent this by having students write out the question and the correct answer in full. You may need to give students more than one attempt at essay, long answer or conjectural questions for them to arrive at the correct answers.

I usually kept corrected tests on file until exam review, primarily so students didn’t lose them!
Hope this helps!

Photo Credit: Alison Wood (Own Work)

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Farm: animals & a beginning understanding of hereditary

Figure 1 — Pie chart showing estimated proportions of different groups of organisms on Earth today, by numbers of species.

If you were asked to name 10 animals, would an insect be one of them? Many of us, including young children, think of insects as “bugs” that are not really animals. Looking at a pie chart showing estimated proportions of different groups of organisms on Earth today we see  a great diversity and how the number of species of insects is many times larger than other groups of organisms (Slater, 2014, Figure 1).

Diversity of animal life doesn’t only mean the amazing number of different species of living animal organisms in the world, counted by scientists thus far. Diversity can be observed within a species and the words we use when talking about animals with children can help them understand this. If children are matching toy animal parents with babies based on color, begin a conversation about the other attributes of the animals. “Which animal models have horns?” “What are their tails shaped like?” “What about this animal makes it look like a cow?” Provide children with photos and other media examples of animal groups where the parents and babies are not exactly alike. Families in your program or class may be good examples of how young animals “are like, but not exactly like, their parents” (NGSS 1-LS3-1). Use resources that describe the many ways families come together to affirm all family structures and be aware that not all children are biologically related to their adult family members. The book Anti-bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves by Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards has helpful chapters on family structures, culture and language, racial identity, and many other areas where prejudice, misinformation, and bias may exist.

Two Disciplinary Core Ideas for Life Science, LS3.A and LS3.B, in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), are concepts preschool children can think about when learning about where our food comes from. Preschool lesson plans can do more than present a mythical farm where there is one family group of each animal species and each baby animal looks like a miniature version of the adult parent.

LS3.A Inheritance of traits. Young organisms are very much, but not exactly, like their parents

LS3.B Variation of traits. Individuals of the same kind of plant or animal are recognizable as similar but can also vary in many ways.

These two DCI’s support the first grade Performance Expectation 1-LS3-1 Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits. This standard states “Students who demonstrate understanding can: Make observations to construct an evidence-based account that young plants and animals are like, but not exactly like, their parents.” Children might observe that the baby chickens that were hatched in the classroom have a variety of feather colors, and that their own hair is different in texture or color than their father’s and mother’s hair, or that the leaves on a tiny Redbud tree are smaller than those of the parent tree.

Consider what you want children to do and what you want them to learn. What will help children learn about the world beyond their immediate experience? What do you want them to know first—the species’ names for the mother, father, and baby of common farm animals (e.g, mare, stallion, and foal), the sounds they make, their relationships to one another, or what kinds of products we use made from farm animals? Providing labels for objects helps shape children’s conceptual development as well as knowledge (Institute of Medicine and National Research Council page 99).

While reading a book about animals to children, naming the species and imitating their sounds will be the first way I introduce very young children to animals. Pointing out the baby-parent relationship and introducing words such as “foal,” “calf,” and “kid” can come later. Unless those words will be used on a regular basis—if your children often see parent and baby horses or other animals—new vocabulary words won’t be remembered and that is okay. 

Having two words for a single animal may be confusing. Some baby animals look very different from their parents—caterpillars and butterflies, and tadpoles and frogs. We can emphasize the connection by frequent labeling when we talk about these animals, saying, “The caterpillar is a baby butterfly,” and “The baby butterfly is eating the leaf.” Even when pictured side by side children may easily identify a frog but say its tadpole is a snake. First-hand experiences observing baby animals maturing into their adult form can link dissimilar baby and adult forms as one species in children’s understanding.

Adult and baby chickens and pigs shown in a children's bookIn the February 2018 issue of Science and Children I wrote about observing animal life cycles. Children who live close to animals, pets or farm livestock, become knowledgable through first-hand observations as well as learning about other animals through fiction and non-fiction books. Learning about animals of all kinds expands children’s understanding of animal diversity. When looking for books to teach children about animals be aware of the limitations of learning through media rather than by direct experience. Look for books and video with images that show adult and baby animals in proportional sizes, or in relationship to a human, such as Actual Size by Steve Jenkins (2004) and National Geographic Children’s Books Explore My World Baby Animals (2015) by Marfé Ferguson Delano.  View images of animals on commercial farms, available on the FarmFood360 website by Farm & Food Care Ontario.

Institute of Medicine and National Research Council. 2015. Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth Through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://www.nap.edu/read/19401/chapter/1 

Slater, B. J. 2014. Fossil Focus: Arthropod–plant interactions. Palaeontology Online, Volume 4, Article 5, 1-17. http://www.palaeontologyonline.com/articles/2014/fossil-focus-arthropod-plant-interactions/

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NSTA Legislative Update: Congress Agrees to Two-Year Budget Deal that Will Increase Ed Funding


Congress Reaches Agreement on FY2018 Budget

After a short (five hour plus) government shutdown, and last minute debate (and drama) in both the Senate and House over spending, immigration, and more Congress agreed to a two year spending deal in the early hours of Friday, Feb. 9 that will lift the caps on defense and non-defense spending and increase funding for domestic programs, including education.

After four short term funding fixes and almost five months into the fiscal year this budget package, which President Trump immediately signed into law, will keep federal agencies open until March 23. This gives lawmakers time to finalize an omnibus spending bill for FY2018 that will fund federal agencies until Sept. 30.

Defense spending would increase this year by $80 billion and domestic spending would increase by $63 billion. The 2019 budget would include similar increases. Lifting the caps on domestic programs means great news for ESSA Title II and ESSA Title IVA for FY2018, both of which could see increases under this budget deal.

The agreement also includes funding $90 billion in disaster aid for Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and extends the federal government’s debt limit until March 2019.

And as the ink <barely> dries on the fY2018 agreement, the Trump Administration is expected to release their budget proposal for FY2019 funding on February 12, and the numbers for education will likely not be good.

Details about actual funding levels will be released Monday but advocates are predicting “drastic” funding deductions across agencies for FY2019.

Many believe that the Administration will seek steeper cuts to federal education programs funding than what was proposed last year, which amounted to a 13 percent reduction in the Education Department’s budget. Cuts to Title I and special education are unlikely, but are expected for the discretionary grant programs under ESSA, including programs for afterschool, and ESSA Titles II and IVA. Congress rejected those proposals last year, and we will be working again with our advocates and other groups to help ensure funding for FY2019 programs continues for science and STEM teaching and learning.

Senate Begins Work to Reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA)

Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican chairman of the Senate education committee, has indicated his Senate panel will write a bill updating the federal law governing higher education in a few weeks and that his committee would mark up the bill later this spring.

With this reauthorization, Alexander has called on Congress to simplify existing grant programs and “redirect existing dollars for more Pell Grants.”

Other priorities include simplifying the application for federal student aid, known as the FAFSA.

Prior hearings on HEA have focused on innovative approaches in higher education, accountability for IHE, and costs associated with attending college.

The House education committee passed a partisan HEA bill (PROSPER Act, H.R. 4508 (115)) last December.

Senate Democrats are circulating a four-page framework document for their priorities for HEA.

Many are questioning whether the two sides can work together to reauthorize this bill, given the recent partisan rancor and the House’s partisan bill. Both Senator Murray and Senator Alexander were the two key players in creating (and now implementing/monitoring) the Every Student Succeeds Act, the law that replaced No Child Left Behind. Stay tuned.

Read why the U.S. Needs a New (and Improved) Higher Education Act.

Our Nation’s Future Competitiveness Relies on Building a STEM-Capable U.S. Workforce, says NSB

On January 18, the National Science Foundation released their biennial report on global scientific and technological activities – the 2018 Science and Engineering Indicators. Overall, the report details federal data on a wide range of topics that include trends in global research and development (R&D) investments and knowledge-intensive industries, K-12 and postsecondary STEM education, workforce trends and composition, state level NSB comparisons, public attitudes and understanding, and more. Great information, stats and more in the Indicators report and its companion policy statement entitled, Our Nation’s Future Competitiveness Relies on Building a STEM-Capable U.S. Workforce.

What’s in Your State’s Plan?

The Center for American Progress has released a report on how states are using ESSA Title II dollars to improve teaching. Title II is the only dedicated source of funding for professional development of teachers. These funds are also used to pay teachers’ salaries and address teacher shortages in hard-to-fill areas, including STEM.

Title II funds will be critical to the science and STEM teacher professional development that will need to take place as more states begin to roll out Next Generation Science Standards and the three-dimensional learning outlined in the NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education.

Take a look and find out how your state will be addressing this issue (or not) here: These States Are Leveraging Title II of ESSA to Modernize and Elevate the Teaching Profession.

Stay tuned, and watch for more updates in future issues of NSTA Express.

Jodi Peterson is the Assistant Executive Director of Communication, Legislative & Public Affairs for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and Chair of the STEM Education Coalition. Reach her via e-mail at jpeterson@nsta.org or via Twitter at @stemedadvocate.

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.

Follow NSTA

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Ed News: STEM Educators Can No Longer Be Apolitical

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This week in education news, virtual reality offer educators an expanded tool belt of real world learning opportunities for students; new bipartisan Planetary Science Caucus announced; Mississippi students could soon have more exposure to computer science; educators find that teaching math outside the classroom is an effective way to engage students; Gates Foundation announces new plan to help public schools; Idaho House Education Committee voted to remove references to climate change in new proposed science standards; and North Idaho senator wants to create a STEM diploma.

STEM Educators Can No Longer Be Apolitical

Two decades ago, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, Jane Lubchenco, called for a new social contract for science. She pointed out that, given the current state of the human-environment system, it is no longer adequate for scientists — and all STEM practitioners — to view our primary obligations as simply to discover, publish and train the next generation of scientists. If we expect society to support the pursuit of our disciplines, our work and our teaching must have at least some direct relevance to society. Read the article featured in Inside Higher Ed.

The Future Of Education Needs Mixed Reality

STEM has been used for nearly two decades to refer to the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Incorporating it in primary schools not only helps make students better prepared for higher education, it also creates a stronger rising workforce of future problem-solvers and critical thinkers. But STEM is not only an acronym; it’s also a way of looking at the world. Examples abound of STEM’s increasing reach, as well as its potential to change our students, our school and our future capacity for innovation across industries. And, increasingly, there have been some incredibly exciting innovations in the field of mixed reality. Read the article featured in the Silicon Republic.

Culberson, Kilmer, Senators and Bill Nye Announce New Bipartisan, Bicameral Planetary Science Caucus

Representative John Culberson (R-TX-7) and Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA-6) announced they plan to launch a new bipartisan Planetary Science Caucus in the United States House of Representatives. The Planetary Science Caucus will unite members of both parties who are passionate about the scientific exploration of space. Read the press release.

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Science Fair Blues

My school requires science fairs for all ninth graders. How do you encourage students to ask questions that don’t just come from books or websites?  – L., Massachusetts


I think the objective of a science fair is to learn about the nature of science by designing and conducting experiments in a scientific manner and then publicly presenting the findings. Often, too much emphasis is placed on the mechanics or appearance of the presentation, overshadowing the experimental design. Creating a fair test by identifying and controlling variables in order to obtain meaningful, unbiased data should be the primary focus. Simple questions with narrowly designed experiments and straightforward presentations are great. Allowing students to choose their own topics and how they present their work will often result in less anxiety and less parent involvement.

Unmotivated students are more likely to be engaged in a science fair project if it is meaningful to them. Have all students write down things they are passionate about and then identify some simple questions about each of those topics. If a student says his passion is gaming, what are some questions about gaming that he might want answered? A simple question like, “Does how you hold a controller affect your score?” can lead to several wonderful experiments. They need to understand how their chosen experiment will answer their question with reliable data. Because it is their question, because it is simple, they should be engaged and excited.

Hope this helps!

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Unlocking Science in Breakout Games

Dean Goodwin, upper-school science teacher at The Tatnall School in
Wilmington, Delaware, uses breakout box games that allow his students to
collaborate and solve problems to get the combinations to a series of locks. Photo credit: Nicole Fullerton, Marketing & Communications Manager, Tipton

The popularity of escape rooms— physical adventure games in which players solve a series of puzzles to break out of a locked room—has carried over into science classrooms nationwide. “I have used [science-themed] breakout boxes, [games in which] the students have to break into a box by answering questions to get the right combination to a series of locks,” says Dean Goodwin, upper-school science teacher at The Tatnall School in Wilmington, Delaware. His high school juniors and seniors “work together as a team to problem-solve and reinforce what they’ve learned in class…The questions have to be discussed among themselves,” he explains.

In his climate change–themed game, for example, Goodwin says he gives his students the clue “in 2016, the level of carbon dioxide hit which number?” Students then use that number to either unlock a lock or solve the next problem. “They have a sense of achievement when they manage to figure out a clue and take a lock off,” he relates.

“I have my students develop their own games to share and field-test with their classmates,” says Goodwin. He points teachers to the BreakoutEDU immersive learning games platform, which has free resources for teachers to create and share breakout games, along with breakout boxes, locks and other supplies, and games for purchase. Continue reading …

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Ed News: Why Don’t STEM Majors Vote As Much As Others?

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This week in education news, results from a new state test have been released two years after students turned it in; a growing body of research indicates there might be a need to get more STEM majors to vote; Colorado schools are moving toward more science and technology focus; computer science curriculum bill passes Indiana Senate Committee on Education and Career Development; Christa McAuliffe’s science lessons to be taught aboard the space station; Wyoming lawmakers consider mandatory computer science courses; and new K-12 science standards continue to receive push back from Idaho lawmakers.

Colorado Students Would Have To Do Science To Learn It Under New Standards

The old way of teaching science would have had Denver science teacher Melissa Campanella giving a lecture on particle collisions, then handing her students a lab that felt a bit like following a recipe from a cookbook. Now she starts the same lesson by activating glow sticks, one in hot water, the other in cold. Her students at Noel Community Arts School make observations, brainstorm what might cause the differences they detect, come up with models and visual diagrams that map those ideas, share those models with each other, revise, read about the collision model of reactions, and revise again. This is the future of science education as envisioned by the scientists and educators who developed the Next Generation Science Standards. Read the article featured in Chalkbeat Colorado.

Two Years Ago, Students Took A State-Mandated Science Test. Schools Just Got The Results.

Results from a new state test have been released two years after students turned it in, and the budget impasse is getting the blame for the delay. But some local educators say there’s still plenty to learn from the dated scores about the way they teach. Read the article featured in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Why Don’t STEM Majors Vote As Much As Others?

There’s no shortage of talk about the need to get more students to go into STEM majors. But a growing body of research, including our own at the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education at Tufts University, indicates there might also be a need to get more STEM majors to go to the polls. Read the article featured in The Conversation.

Continue reading …

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