By the end of the school day Wednesday, some students at Benjamin Banneker Middle School in Burtonsville said they were pumped up about science, technology, engineering and math — known nationally as STEM education.
The students were convinced the subjects were cool, after hearing so from White House officials, their state’s Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), and actor and comedian Kal Penn.
Penn, O’Malley, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), Superintendent Joshua P. Starr and other officials went to Banneker Middle on Wednesday for a press event to give updates on STEM education in the state and county and announce Discovery Communication’s new Connect The Dots program.
Connect The Dots is meant to spread access to STEM education. A national STEM Camp program will offer free after-school and summer curriculum for educators and parents; a new Discovery Channel show will focus on finding the world’s “next great innovator”; a partnership with manufacturers and the Science Channel will promote careers in skilled trades; and the Lumosity Education Access Program will offer a no-cost program for K-12 schools that want to study cognitive training in the classroom.
Discovery is committed to building “the next generation of leaders,” said Bill Goodwyn, president of global distribution and CEO of Discovery Education for Discovery Communications.
O’Malley said Discovery’s work is important.
He gave updates on the progress the state has made on STEM education goals he adopted in 2009, after hearing recommendations from a task force that looked at how Maryland could advance its STEM education and workforce.
One goal was to increase the number of STEM college graduates by 40 percent by 2015. The state is doing well with that goal, O’Malley said; the number of those graduates has increased by 25 percent so far.
Another goal was to triple the number of teachers prepared in the state in STEM shortage areas and increase their retention rate.
On that goal, the state isn’t progressing as fast as officials had hoped, said John Ratliff, director of policy for O’Malley.
The number of teachers has increased by 22 percent since the goal was adopted, O’Malley said.
Other goals were related to aligning K-12 curriculum with college and career readiness and ensuring that teachers had the knowledge they need to teach, according to the task force report.
Those goals are being addressed by the Common Core State Standards, newly adopted standards that Maryland and most other states have agreed upon for teaching and learning, Ratliff said.
As part of the event, Banneker students were invited to the White House in the morning to share their thoughts with officials on STEM education, and ask questions.
After watching officials speak in their school’s gym, students said they wanted to go into a career in the STEM fields.
They also said that Penn, who hosts the new Discovery Channel series, “The Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius,” was “so cool.”
Harryclyde Foncham, a sixth-grade student at the school, said he liked building stuff, so he may do that when he grows up, or be a doctor.
To do that, Harryclyde said White House officials told him he had to work hard, and go to school.
Ritika Hutchinson, also a sixth-grader, said she wants to be an engineer.
“I like making things that will help people, like computers and robots,” said Ritika, 11.
Starr said it was good to hear that students — especially young girls — found the fields to be interesting.
Montgomery County Public Schools has several programs and partnerships with companies that offer STEM education, such as the magnet school for digital design and development at Argyle Middle School and the aerospace technology program at Parkland Middle School.
At Banneker and nine other county schools, there is a “Trout in the Classroom” environmental program where sixth-graders raise trout from eggs to small fry while they study stream habitat and ecosystems.
In 2009, Maryland ranked second in the nation in professional and technical workers as a percentage of total workers, and had over 220,000 workers in professional, scientific, and technical service industries, the state task force report states.
In his fiscal 2014 budget, O’Malley included $2 million for an Early College Innovation Fund to support the expansion of early college access programs for students in career and technical education or training in STEM fields, according to a press release from O’Malley’s office.
The state department of education will generate grants to fund “early college high schools” focused on these fields, which allow students to get college and high school credit at the same time, the release stated.