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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: STEM

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August 22, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Seattle ‘maker party’ promotes Internet literacy, carrots included

Anyone who’s ever wanted to get their feet wet making something for the web instead of just surfing it should join the “maker party” Friday evening at the Seattle Central Library.

The two-day party, which started Thursday, is free and open to anyone 12 and older who would like to tinker with programming languages such as Python, JavaScript and Ruby on Rails, work with volunteer mentors on a web project, or even build a robot.

Scene from a previous Mozilla Makers party. Photo courtesy Mozilla.

Scene from a previous Mozilla Makers party. Photo courtesy Mozilla.

It’s one of several hands-on opportunities in the Seattle area to become a producer of digital culture rather than just a consumer.

“Maker Party Pop-Up Seattle” is part of an annual 60-day cycle of volunteer-run events in hundreds of cities around the world.  They are all organized by Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser, to promote web literacy.

One of the local party hosts is the Seattle branch of Geek Girls Carrots, an international organization that brings together communities of girls and women interested in computer technology and professionals already in the field.


Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: coding, Computer technology, STEM

August 14, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Study: Dropout risk goes up with higher math/science hurdle

Nancy Ohanian / Op Art

Nancy Ohanian / Op Art

The decades-long push to boost the number of math and science classes high-school students must take to graduate has raised a question: Will students who already are struggling to meet the current requirements drop out if the bar is even higher?

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis recently suggested that the answer is yes.

Their study, published in the June/July issue of the journal Educational Researcher found that students were more likely to drop out of high school if they had to pass six math/science classes to graduate (11.4 percent dropout rate) than if they had to pass two (8.9 percent dropout rate).

“I think our findings highlight the need to anticipate there may be unintended consequences, especially when there are broad mandates that, in effect, make high school coursework harder,” said one of the study’s authors, Andrew D. Plunk in an article about the study published by the university.

African-Americans and Hispanics were especially affected, he wrote.


Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: dropouts, graduation requirements, math

July 14, 2014 at 6:26 PM

Rewind: Google+ Hangout about what’s working in math instruction

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The Education Lab team hosted a Google+ Hangout on July 17 about the innovative approach to math instruction happening at Lakeridge Elementary in the Renton School District and what other schools are doing to improve math education.


Comments | More in Math and science, Your voices | Topics: Google Hangout, Lakeridge, STEM

July 14, 2014 at 6:06 PM

Guest: Getting students to talk out ideas works in science, too

Jessica Thompson

Jessica Thompson

As educational researchers at the University of Washington, myself and many other colleagues in the College of Education are excited to re-define the role of research in improving systems of K-12 instruction. We have built partnerships with schools and believe that improvement comes from working in classrooms, elbow-to-elbow with students, teachers, coaches, principals and district leadership.

Along with successful efforts in improving math instruction at Lakeridge Elementary, UW researchers have also seen impressive results from a similar approach in science education.

These collaborations mean that we think differently about our role as professors at a university and about the purposes of data in educational reform. We see our new role as sharing research about how students and teachers learn best, building teacher development models that support learning, and generating evidence that can be used for continuous improvement. At Lakeridge, for example, researcher Elham Kazemi and the school’s teachers, coaches and leaders work in teams to collect and analyze data about how students are learning.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Math and science, Opinion | Topics: Jessica Thompson, Lakeridge, science instruction

July 10, 2014 at 4:19 PM

Guest: STEM education relies on innovation from all disciplines

wierusz headshot2

Mike Wierusz

As a former engineer and current high-school teacher, STEM is a frequent buzzword in my lexicon. But, like many others, I have found myself thinking that the STEM acronym is somehow incomplete. What about art? What about English? Many other disciplines play a vital role in developing our next generation of innovators. Outside of the education world, STEM does not exist in a vacuum.

Like a true engineer, I couldn’t shake the riddle. So I approached it as an engineering problem, taking a systems approach: looking at all the inputs and outputs. At that point I realized the source of confusion. Your definition of STEM depends on whether you are talking about the input or the output of the system. When looking at STEM as the output, to ensure economic development and global competitiveness, everything makes complete sense, and science, technology, engineering and math are the key disciplines of concern.

However, when looking at STEM from the input perspective, things get messy; the acronym breaks down and actually creates undue tension. And this is where I begin to worry.

The Northshore School District has worked hard to create a variety of courses, from composites engineering to biomedicine, that are at the nexus of theory and application. The design and engineering courses I teach are cross-credited and count as math and science credits for high school graduation. They also earn the students college credit. My students work alongside industry partners on real-world sustainability-focused projects ranging from off-the-grid vaccine storage for developing countries to supporting the design of a new high school for the district. People visit and like the STEM they see.

This is all exciting and important, but I’ve found it critical to keep in mind that the core STEM skills utilized in my classroom are developed and honed in all the other classrooms around the school. The students develop creativity and critiquing skills in art class. They learn research skills in English class. They learn teamwork and leadership in PE, clubs and sports.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: Mike Wierusz, Northshore, STEM

June 17, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Back from the brink: Cleveland High says the secret is STEM

There may be no magic bullets in education. But if Cleveland High School is any indicator, there are some pretty powerful darts.

On Monday evening, Cleveland prepared to graduate 89 percent of its senior class. That’s a rate rivaling Roosevelt’s (90.3 percent last year) and surpassing Ballard’s (87.9 percent in 2013).

Nice, yes. But it looks a lot nicer considering that five years ago, only half of Cleveland students graduated on time, and educators considered closing the school because of dwindling enrollment.

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Comments | More in News | Topics: Catherine Brown, Cleveland High School, STEM

June 14, 2014 at 9:29 PM

Sunday story: STEM focus pays off in soaring graduation rate at Toppenish High School

Maria Vargas, a senior, left, and Elizabeth Mendoza, a junior, examine body digestive organs while practicing for a science night project at Toppenish High School, located about 30 minutes south of Yakima. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Maria Vargas, a senior, left, and Elizabeth Mendoza, a junior, examine body digestive organs while practicing for a science night project at Toppenish High School, located about 30 minutes south of Yakima. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Staring into a bin filled with cow eyeballs, high-school principal Trevor Greene felt the twitch of an idea.

He’d been touring the slaughterhouse across the road from Toppenish High with students from an agriculture class when it occurred to him that science teachers at his high-poverty school might be able to use the leftover body parts — hearts, pancreases, joints — for their new biomedical courses.

At the time, in 2011, Toppenish in Yakima County was in the midst of a five-year overhaul, transforming itself from a dropout factory, where only 19 percent of students passed state algebra exams, into a regional model for science and technology education.

Today, most of the school’s 830 students — all of them low-income — have taken courses in engineering, biomedical science or aerospace. Enrollment in advanced math has tripled. And the four-year graduation rate is 94 percent — a figure enviable even among the state’s most privileged districts.

Go here to read the full story.


Comments | More in News | Topics: STEM, Toppenish High School

June 14, 2014 at 5:11 PM

Guest: How Toppenish turned cow parts into a STEM partnership


Trevor Greene

“What do you do with the eyeballs?” I asked, as dozens of them looked back at me from the plastic container. I was halfway though a student tour of AB Foods, a state-of-the-art processing plant and largest employer in Toppenish, when the potential for a partnership with Toppenish High School came to mind.

The tour guide had already shared that, aside from producing more than 200 million pounds of boxed beef annually, almost every part of the animal was utilized: hides for leather, meat and bone meal for organic fertilizers, dried blood for fish food, and tallow for bio-fuel production, to name a few.

An hour later, an informal conversation with CEO Brad McDowell secured a commitment to support the high school with eyeballs, beef hearts, and occasional joints for the newly established biomedical program. McDowell appreciated the chance to help community students in a sustainable manner that didn’t include repeated fiscal donations.

Within a year, McDowell and many other business people were serving on advisory boards for many of Toppenish High’s STEM courses, which were cross-credited and designated “Career and Technical Education” (CTE) classes. Cross-crediting the STEM courses meant that each class could meet a graduation requirement in more than one area, affording students flexibility in scheduling and allowing them to take more electives. Student enrollment numbers have continued to increase, and more than 20 district staff members completed their CTE certification just this year.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: STEM, Toppenish High School, Trevor Greene

June 14, 2014 at 5:04 PM

Your voices: What does STEM mean to you?



Armando Bravo

Armando Bravo

STEM for me is an opportunity for success.
What better way to experience the work field or major you would like to be in? Consider taking a STEM class — you won’t regret it.

Armando Bravo, Toppenish High School (Toppenish)




Daniel Doan

Daniel Doan

STEM is unity. It is that awareness of knowing who has what to offer — and everyone has something to offer. Simply put, it’s this idea of coming together as a whole to contribute that final product or that final play or that final grade.

—Daniel Doan, Cleveland High School (Seattle)


Christina Lindberg

STEM is the part of my education that is preparing me for the real world. As science expands, so should the material being taught in order to make kids ready for future jobs. It doesn’t help to teach the same curriculum they had 10 years ago because science has expanded since then, and so should the curriculum.

—Christina Lindberg, Inglemoor High School (Kenmore)


Comments | More in Question of the Week, Your voices | Topics: STEM, Toppenish High School, your voices

June 14, 2014 at 5:00 PM

Rewind: Chat about how schools are rethinking STEM

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In Sunday’s paper, Education Lab reporter Claudia Rowe examines how one Eastern Washington high school has found success in rethinking its approach to STEM education.

But Toppenish isn’t the only Washington school that’s earned recognition for STEM. Join us at noon this Tuesday, June 17, for a discussion about what educators around the region are doing to make science, technology, engineering and math more relevant and engaging to today’s students.

Toppenish High School senior Armando Bravo displays the robot he and his robotic club team took to California earlier this year for an international competition. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Toppenish High School senior Armando Bravo displays the robot he and his robotic club team took to California earlier this year for an international competition. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Our live chat will be facilitated by Rowe and include the following panelists:

  • Armando Bravo, a recent graduate of Toppenish High School. Bravo, whose parents work at a nearby beef-processing plant, has participated in the school’s robotics club and will start at Central Washington University this fall as a construction management major.
  • Catherine Brown, academic dean at Cleveland High School in Seattle. At Cleveland, a new focus on science and technology projects has coincided with a 22-point increase in reading scores, a 15-point increase in the graduation rate and a 100-student surge in enrollment.
  • Danette Driscoll, principal at Riverpoint Academy in Spokane. At Riverpoint, students gather in an enormous hangar-like room each morning, before peeling off to work on team engineering projects all day.
  • Caroline King, Washington STEM’s Chief Policy Officer. King leads the organization’s advocacy efforts to build a robust and diverse movement in support of improving STEM education.
  • Shawn Myers, a former biology teacher who now teaches engineering design and biomedical intervention at Toppenish.

Comments | More in News, Your voices | Topics: live chat, STEM, Toppenish High School

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