AIP | Matters
-- -- October 8, 2012

Fred Dylla Director's Matters

By H. Frederick Dylla, Executive Director & CEO

STEM education in the United States

We have heard too many times that the standing of US elementary and high school students is woefully behind most developed countries. Statistics vary by study, but one reliable source is the National Center for Education Statistics. Their 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) ranks US eighth graders 10th in the world in terms of science knowledge, just behind the Russian Federation and just ahead of Lithuania. Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, England, and Hungary all scored significantly higher than the United States. (The results of the 2011 TIMSS study will be made known in the coming months.) We have also heard from countless studies that basic training in math and science provides critical skills for any 21st-century job. (See the National Math and Science Initiative’s brochure, which paints an even bleaker picture of US K-12 education.) So, what are these other countries doing right?

Last week in Washington, DC, the Triangle Coalition, a national organization which works to improve science-technology-engineering-math education (STEM Ed), held its annual conference. One of the panels, “Building a World Class Education System,” highlighted the fact that many countries that are surpassing the US in student mastery of STEM fields have strong support networks for teachers—from formal structures, such as unions and professional associations, to less formal, such as parental support and mentoring networks.

While some in the US place excessive blame on the teachers unions for our nation’s education problems, it should be noted that in Asia and other regions, teachers unions and support networks are much stronger and play a more significant role in the education system. In these countries, there is also a high level of mentorship for new teachers. Mentorship and apprentice programs provide essential early-career support and improve teacher retention rates. Teachers are not permitted to teach any subject without a major or minor in that subject. This is a notable contrast to US policies, which have responded to the critical need for STEM teachers by decreasing the criteria for attaining education certificates and lowering the requirements for getting into schools of education.

The Triangle Coalition conference also identified other prevalent needs in the US:

  • To educate school administrators about STEM and effective STEM classroom practices. Administrators cannot adequately evaluate STEM teacher performance nor make informed decisions about providing STEM teachers with sufficient resources.
  • To better prepare teachers, particularly at the elementary school level. The fact that very few elementary teachers have STEM backgrounds puts an unrealistic expectation on middle school STEM teachers to introduce content at the appropriate level.
  • To effectively use technology for distance learning. Especially important for rural areas with limited resources, web-based advanced STEM classes should be offered to gifted students who would otherwise miss out.

Overall, STEM Ed in the US may be found lacking, but there are many innovative and creative programs at the state and local levels which bolster student performance. For instance, Alaska has the highest per capita participation of all 50 states in the First Tech Challenge and Lego League programs. In addition, Alaska’s “Engineering is Elementary” program focuses on professional development for elementary school teachers, improving their content knowledge in engineering and physical sciences. These programs have led to a drastic increase in student engagement in STEM subjects among students in rural as well as urban areas.

South Dakota Innovation Labs have partnered with the Stanford Medical Research Center to provide experts in classrooms and to foster a problem-based learning environment. The program has resulted in increased student engagement and an overall improvement in student grades, particularly in rural schools.

Located in Washington state, Neah Bay High School is on a Native American reservation. The school has developed a peer-mentorship program sponsored by Samsung, whereby high school students mentor middle school students in math. The school has reached out to elders in the community to gain their support and to invite them to be involved in this program. The rate of students who now attend postsecondary schools has risen from almost none to 97%.

The examples cited above are just a few success stories that are often borne from local initiatives and partnerships with school districts. As in grassroots politics, local education gathers most of its strength from strong local support—starting from parents guiding homework and serving in PTAs, to volunteers on school boards and in the classroom. Certainly, that is the key fact I gathered from my own education and from my children.

Publishing Matters

Free journal content in celebration of Nobel Physics

AIP offers free online access

To recognize the winners of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics, which will be announced tomorrow (Tuesday, October 9), and to celebrate the achievements of the global physics community, AIP Publishing has made all journal content open to the public during October 2012. This month everyone has free online access to all AIP journals and Conference Proceedings as far back as 1999! Readers can use this opportunity to get more out of the JCP Spotlight Collections “Perspectives” articles by enjoying free access to the highlighted references, or to get an overview of the hottest research trends in different fields by reading review articles—a great resource for people looking for a comprehensive view of a specific topic. Readers are encouraged to explore each of the AIP journal sites this month, but the links below will get you started.

Physics Resources Matters

Stem education and the Triangle Coalition

Einstein Teaching Fellows and Triangle Coalition conference participants discuss STEM educational programs in breakout groups.

Triangle Board member and VP Cathy O’Riordan and Policy Associate Aline McNaull attended the Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education Conference—a gathering of leaders in STEM education policy. At the conference, industry representatives from companies such as DuPont, 3M, and Texas Instruments, federal and state education leaders, and other stakeholders came together with Einstein Teaching Fellows to discuss pressing issues in American K-12 education policy. Topics ranged from effective measurement of student achievement in STEM subjects, to state- and district-level advocacy and leadership, professional development and training of STEM educators, as well as effective methods to advocate for STEM education. In one of the most notable sessions, Einstein Fellows shared their knowledge of STEM teaching from the field, including examples of techniques and programs that work best to reach students. These included the “flip” classroom (students watch video lectures at home and spend time in class with hands-on activities), and science bowls and robotics competitions. Attending such conferences enables AIP to gain extensive insight and inform Member Societies about initiatives that are most pressing.

History of physics 2013 calendar

The AIP History Programs last week made available their 2013 calendar, hot off the press. Created together with the Niels Bohr Archive in Denmark, the calendar features select historical photos from Bohr's career in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Bohr's atomic model. It is available for purchase via

Around AIP

Countdown to the Congress: ACP silent auction

Staff at ACP came together last Thursday, October 4th, to support SPS student reporter participation in the 2012 Sigma Pi Sigma Physics Congress. Staff engaged in some friendly competition, bidding on a variety of items from vacation packages to hot air balloon rides to Tiffany bracelets. SPS treated everyone to liquid nitrogen ice cream. On auction day, SPS Director Toni Sauncy reported that registration was about to max out...with more than a month to go, 799 out of the maximum possible 800 spots were taken—and most of these were undergraduate students. In total, the AIP Development team raised $5,700 for this worthy cause.

ACP Silent Auction

Around AIP

AGU and AAS members named MacArthur Fellows

MacArthur winners
From the left: AGU members Terry Plank and Nancy Babalais, and AAS member Olivier Guyon are honored for their forward thinking research as 2012 MacArthur Fellows. Photos courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The MacArthur Foundation announced its 2012 class of fellows; among them are three talented scientists who are members of an AIP Member Society. The MacArthur Fellows are selected for their “creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future,” and they hail from a broad range of fields. Visitors to AGU’s homepage will see an announcement recognizing members Terry Plank and Nancy Rabalais. Geochemist Terry Plank of Columbia University studies tectonic plates and how their movements trigger natural disasters. Marine ecologist Nancy Rabalais of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium studies the so-called “dead zones” of waters with low dissolved oxygen levels and their adverse impacts; her work focuses on problems affecting the Gulf of Mexico. AAS member Olivier Guyon, an optical physicist and astronomer, designs instruments that search for planets outside of our solar system that resemble our own earth. Each of the 23 fellows receives a five-year $500,000 grant to continue their work.

Coming Up

Tuesday, October 9

  • 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics announcement

October 10–14

  • Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurt, Germany)

Wednesday, October 10

  • Staff birthday breakfasts (Melville and College Park)

October 14–18

  • OSA 96th Annual Meeting (FiO) (Rochester, NY)

Tuesday, October 16

  • Ice cream social to recognize “Wow” program monthly winners (Melville)

Thursday, October 18

  • ACP flu shot clinic (College Park)

October 21–22

  • AIP Journal Editors Conference (College Park)

October 22–26

  • ASA 164th Meeting (Kansas City, MO)

Tuesday, October 23

  • ACP Art Reception

October 28–November 2

  • 59th AVS International Symposium & Exhibit (Tampa, FL)

Monday, October 29

  • Brown-bag lunch talk by Rachel Ivie, associate director of the AIP Statistical Research Center, “The Effects of Limited Resources and Opportunities on Women’s Careers in Physics: Results from the Global Survey of Physicists.” (College Park)