I've been writing and talking about needed STEM changes in our science and technology classes for years, and this includes the last deluge of recent posts below. By chance, just today in Education Week is an article describing the just formed national task force charged with developing the initial framework for new STEM standards that will fit into the Obama administration's education policy.
Presently, 48 states are working on new sets of learning standards for the primary areas of reading and mathematics, and this new task force, which is coming out of the National Research Council (NRC), has just stated that the primary philosophical goal is to break away from learning a thousand individual and often disperse facts and concepts, and include a much stronger focus on thinking, reasoning and analytical skills. This is music to my ears!
As wonderful as this news is, we must keep in mind that this new group's purpose is to soley develop the 'conceptual framework' for new standards. Then the results and recommendations from this task force must go to the states and the Department of Education for review and for the details. My hope is that none of these groups go too far in either direction. We need some core concepts and subject knowledge (i.e. content), to be sure. But it is widely believed, and certainly by yours truly, that we have reached a point of near saturation of content knowledge in today's classroom. What we cannot do is go entirely to open-ended and project based classes that then totally ignores subject content. We need balance, where content knowledge is gained, but then also used and applied in a variety of creative and innovative ways, which is where deeper thinking, analystical and reasoning skills are developed and deeper science understanding and literacy are reached.
I have told students, colleagues and many others many times that, personally, I could care less how we do on international tests, which tend to focus almost entirely on content knowledge and recall. I'll gladly take a hit on national testing results in favor of developing a deep thinking, creative generation of students who can solve everyday, complex problems in new, innovative ways. While some different countries place first in international testing, I always like to ask, "OK, but how many Nobels have you won? How many important patents or publications do your scientists produce? How many new industries have you created?" For most countries the answers are none. Innovation, problem solving, analysis, recognizing and making progress in complexity/chaos/networks, communication within multidisciplinary collaborations, and so on are the future in a global economy adn society. This is a first step that is on the right track of reforming our education system so the next generation is properly prepared for such a world.