Monday, March 26, 2007

Excellent STEM Conference..ponderings, resources and links

On Friday I had the opportunity to attend the STEM Education in Maryland Conference at Mt Washington Conference Center in Baltimore, MD. Jointly sponsored by The Maryland State Department of Education, Johns Hopkins University (my alma mater) and Morgan State University, the conference aimed to spotlight exemplar STEM programs and to assist counties that are in the start-up phase. I stumbled upon this conference while looking for a new post-grad program. Long story short, I kind of invited myself, but was warmly welcomed to attend! Am I ever glad I did!

The welcoming remarks were offered by an inspiring compilation of renowned leaders including, Dr. Ralph Fessler (Dean of the School of Education at JHU), Dr. William Brody (President of JHU), Dr. Nancy Grasmick (Maryland State Superintendent of Schools), and Dr. Patricia Welch (Dean, School of Education, Morgan State University). On a side note, when he was introduced, Dr. Brody's hobbies, among others, were listed as piloting and learning Mandarin Chinese. This information alone set my mind a-wondering..... in addition to leading one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and being a noted engineer and doctor, this man takes the time to learn a new language and to pursue other hobbies! I was inspired. :-) (Along those lines...go ahead and take a minute to read the bio's of each of those listed here--- talk about success!)

Dr. Brody's mantra, entitled the Calculus of Innovation:

Knowledge drives Innovation. Innovation drives Productivity. Productivity drives Economic Growth.

Dr. Grasmick's remarks were also thought provoking. She discussed the impending BRAC initiative set to greatly impact Maryland with over 45,000 new jobs (most paying over 70K annually) -- (this affects my county with a significant influx of students). I also learned that Dr. Grasmick was the only voice representing K-12 in the recent report Rising Above the Gathering Storm. On a very promising note, Dr. Grasmick unveiled the fact that STEM funding, while technically still pending in the State Legislature, has been awarded for next year. This funding will provide financial assistance for counties in the start up phase as well as larger grants for counties in the implementation phase. --- I always love to see it when money is supplied to help schools reach the goals set before us.

After being warmly welcomed, we were introduced to several phenomenal proponents of STEM education--mostly professionals with careers that require these skills. Marc Donohue, Associate Dean of Engineering at JHU, launched this 'panel discussion' (although it was not a panel discussion) by defining STEM as a meta-discipline, not 4 separate silos, and stated that today's problems are trans-disciplinary. While they started as individual content areas (math and science), they quickly grew to multiple areas (math, chemistry, physics and biology). However as time passed, new disciplines began to develop within and between these... such as organic chemistry. We are now at a place where these disciplines do not stand alone. Problems are no longer simply related to biology or math, but encompass aspects of each of these disciplines. For example, he discussed the IED Detection problems in the war in Iraqi and also the field of Nano-Bio Technology. (Unfortunately, we still teach them as separate units in elementary/secondary school). He had a neat graphic to show this....

By the completion of Dr. Donohue's explanation I was able to clearly see the difference between inter-disciplinary (aka multi-disciplinary) as we know it in education--- and this concept of trans-disciplinary.

I'll have to save the rest of my notes/thoughts for another post as I'm out of time today. Up next--Emma Call, senior at Baltimore's Poly Tech HS. Wow--- was she ever impressive!

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