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NSF & Congress

Hearing Summary - A Systems Approach to Improving K-12 STEM Education

July 30, 2009

Dr. Wanda Ward, the Acting Assistant Director of the Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) at the National Science Foundation (NSF) testified at a hearing, "A systems approach to improving K-12 STEM Education, " held by the Subcommittee on Research and Science Education, House Committee on Science and Technology on July 30, 2009. The hearing was called to examine how public and private stakeholders could work together to improve Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in the urban K-12 system.

In the hearing opening, Subcommittee Chairman Dan Lipinski (D-IL) said that "innovation is key to maintaining a high standard of living for all Americans, and that we need more teachers and more graduates in the STEM fields if we want our country to continue to lead in the global economy."

In the opening of her testimony, Dr. Ward stated that "the National Science Foundation recognizes that STEM education is at a crossroad, in need of increased attention from a broad array of stakeholders who have the common goal of promoting STEM excellence for all learners."

Dr. Ward testified that EHR has supported over 50 projects in the areas of informal education, teacher education, instructional materials, and career development since the 1980s. Of those 50 projects, 20 active EHR research and development projects are focused on the enhancing K-12 education. In her testimony, Dr. Ward described several of those projects. One project is the Columbia College of Chicago that teaches the basics of physical science to 7th, 8th and 9th grade teachers in the Chicago public schools. The instruction for the teachers in the up-to-date techniques involved a three-week summer program, 16 after school sessions and two Saturday sessions. The results of this project include a significant increase of teachers encouraging students to do science projects, teachers placing emphasis on problem solving strategies, and improved student test scores.

In her conclusion, Dr. Ward said that by partnering with external stakeholders "NSF believes that the field is ready to pursue innovative ideas to advance current understanding of STEM education by linking novel approaches and best/effective practices to STEM-specific challenges for the 21st century."

Other witnesses at the hearing were Ms. Maggie Daley, Chair, After School Matters; Ms. Katherine Pickus, Divisional Vice President Global Citizenship and Policy, Abbott; Mr. Michael Lach, Officer of Teaching and Learning, Chicago Public Schools; Dr. Donald Wink, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Department of Chemistry, Director of Graduate Studies, Learning Sciences Research Institute, University of Illinois at Chicago.