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Education Lab Blog

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

Topic: STEM

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December 30, 2014 at 5:00 AM

It’s possible to love science and math. Hoosier ‘Leads the Way’

Bertram pic

Vince Bertram visiting with high school students in rural Indiana in 2011. Courtesy photo.

Acronyms are the bane of the education writer. Attempt to dissect test scores and you find yourself untangling definitions for NAEP, EOC and MSP. Try to discuss science, technology, math or engineering and you must first stumble through the obstacle course called STEM.

No doubt, this dissuades readers, too, which is a problem because those four subjects have become so daunting to Americans that our very economy is threatened. That’s a point central to a new book by former school superintendent Vince Bertram, and one that riles anyone who sees education as a zero-sum game: Nurture one area of study and you necessarily starve another.

Bertram sees no need for such a siloed approach. What if we explained to students who dream of becoming NBA stars or millionaire musicians that rappers use technology to mix their singles, that athletes need engineering for better sneakers?

Essentially, this is the concept behind Project Lead the Way, a national nonprofit that aims to boost science and tech in public schools, particularly those that educate low-income students. The program’s real-world approach attracted dozens of kids at Toppenish High School to advanced math, as noted in this Education Lab piece from last spring.


Comments | More in News | Topics: STEM, Toppenish, Vince Bertram

December 4, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Seattle’s hopes to reach 100 million with Hour of Code

Last December, Seattle-based reached 15 million people around the world who spent at least an hour learning the basics of computer science.

Next week, wants to bring the second-annual “Hour of Code” to 100 million people during Computer Science Education Week, Dec. 8-14.

Participants can try’s online tutorials at any time during the year, not just next week, or find a local coding event.

The nonprofit, founded last year by tech entrepreneurs Hadi and Ali Partovi, is trying to elevate coding to the status of reading, writing and arithmetic in schools around the country.


Comments | More in News | Topics:, computer science, Hour of Code

December 2, 2014 at 9:15 AM

Report: Just 9 of 100 kids born in Washington will get a STEM job here

A new report from Washington STEM estimates that just nine out of every 100 children born in this state will end up employed in a science- or technology-related field here. That figure is far too low, it says, to fill the 50,000 STEM jobs expected to go unfilled in Washington by 2017.

The report, “Opportunity for all: Investing in Washington State’s STEM Education Pipeline,” was prepared by a consulting group and released at Washington STEM’s annual STEM Summit, held today on the Microsoft campus in Redmond. Scheduled speakers include Gov. Jay Inslee and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who visited two Kent schools on Monday to encourage students to pursue careers in tech-related fields.

Access to courses in STEM fields, an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering and math, has been a focus for Education Lab this week. On Monday, a front-page story from higher education reporter Katherine Long detailed how the University of Washington and other colleges are giving students from low-performing high schools a “redshirt” year to catch up with their better-prepared peers.

Today at noon, we’re hosting a Google+ Hangout to discuss how universities are bringing more balance to engineering programs, which are typically dominated by white and Asian men from economically secure families.


Comments | More in News | Topics: STEM, Washington STEM

December 2, 2014 at 5:00 AM

How Colorado pioneered its engineering redshirt program

Today at noon, we’ll be doing a Google+ hangout to talk more about the Washington State Academic Red Shirt program, or STARS, which is helping to boost the number of women and minority students studying engineering at the University of Washington and Washington State University.  A story about the program appeared in Monday’s Seattle Times.

The program was modeled after a similar program at the University of Colorado-Boulder, which is in its fifth year. The director of that program, Tanya Ennis, will be joining us.

CU-Boulder calls its program the GoldShirt program, not only because gold is one of the school’s colors, but also because “we look at the students as a treasure,” Ennis said. (The idea is the same, though — give selected students from low-income schools an extra year of preparation to help them succeed in engineering.)

A few things are different about the Colorado program: Students are required to stay in on-campus housing for two years (the UW requires one year). The program has also been putting more money into scholarships so that students don’t have to work during the school year. In effect, CU-Bolder asks them: “How much money would it take for you not to work?” Ennis said.


Comments | More in News | Topics: higher education, STEM

December 1, 2014 at 7:35 AM

UW academic redshirt program draws more women, minorities into engineering

Devin Pegues, left, and Casiano Atienza work on a math problem during a recent class at the UW. This math workshop uses whiteboards and group problem-solving to bring engineering-level math to first-year students. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

Devin Pegues, left, and Casiano Atienza work on a math problem during a recent class at the UW. This math workshop uses whiteboards and group problem-solving to bring engineering-level math to first-year students. Photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times.

When she got the letter in summer 2013, Courtney Seto thought it sounded too good to be true.

A free program that offered automatic acceptance into the University of Washington’s engineering school? Did everyone get this letter?

Seto had already been accepted to the UW as an incoming freshman, but she expected to apply to the College of Engineering at the end of her sophomore year, competing against a thousand other UW students, of which only about 55 percent get in.


Comments | More in News | Topics: diversity, STEM, University of Washington

November 30, 2014 at 11:00 PM

Guest: Why diversity matters in tech and engineering

Susannah Malarkey

Susannah Malarkey

Diversity in our technology and engineering workforce is a hot topic, and with good reason. Washington has the highest concentration of science, tech, engineering and math (STEM)-related jobs in the country, but the lack of women and people of color in this sector is glaringly obvious.

It isn’t enough to simply complain. We must tackle the root causes of this issue, not only for the good of individuals who will find livelihoods in this sector, but for our innovation-based industries as well.

Pursuing a career in STEM is a smart move for many students. These professions offer above-average pay and a range of fulfilling job opportunities. So why isn’t there more diversity? According to a study by the U.S. Census Department last year, African Americans hold only 6 percent of the jobs in these fields, and Hispanics only 7 percent — numbers far below their representation in the overall workforce. Women hold only 26 percent of these jobs.

In order to grow our technical workforce, the talent pool from which STEM companies find their employees must grow much more diverse. As someone who works with leaders in the tech industry, I can report that CEOs believe that diversifying their workforces is not only the right thing to do, it is also seen as a business imperative.


Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion, Your voices | Topics: higher ed, STEM, Technology Alliance

November 30, 2014 at 9:01 PM

Rewind: Watch a replay of video chat on diversity in STEM education

On Tuesday, the Education Lab team hosted a Google+ Hangout about diversity in STEM and what some universities are doing to help more people of color and first-generation students earn degrees in fields like computer science and engineering.

The video chat was tied to a Monday story by Katherine Long about programs at the University of Washington and Washington State University that give disadvantaged engineering students a fifth year to complete academic prep work to put them on equal footing with those students from more privileged backgrounds.


Comments | More in Your voices | Topics: higher education, STEM, University of Washington

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

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