By David Smith
Special to The SUN
Over 50 percent of the graduate students in several areas of science and engineering are foreign. They have come to the United States for advanced studies because American universities are highly respected around the world.
Our universities seek these students because there are not enough American students to fill the academic research programs in these areas. To satisfy our workforce needs, most of the foreign students stay and work in the U.S. following graduation.
Many government and private sector leaders recognize the need to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in the U.S. if it is to retain its position as a world leader in research and technology. There is general agreement among these leaders that new efforts in STEM education should focus on K-12 education.
Most efforts for improving STEM education in K-12 have two common goals: increasing student interest in STEM sectors, and preparing students for success in university STEM programs. To address these goals here in Pagosa Springs, the Archuleta County Education Center has provided the Pagosa Springs High School with a $10,000 grant to purchase equipment that will be used in science classes. This grant was funded by long-time private donors who requested that the funds be used specifically for STEM education.
One may ask why we need real lab equipment when there is an abundance of virtual laboratory experiments and demonstrations available on the Internet.
Research shows that both hands-on experiments and virtual experiments are useful, but in different ways. Hands-on experiments improve students’ lab skills and provide valuable “real life” experience. However, the equipment required for hands-on experiments is expensive. Therefore, free virtual experiments available on the Internet are often preferred when equipment funds are limited.
The new lab equipment will be used in several science classes. Much of the equipment provides a new approach to measure everything from pH, to blood pressure, salinity, oxygen, velocity and motion. In the past, students read meters and recorded the data in their notebooks. The new sensors transmit data directly to computers where they can be visualized and analyzed quickly.
Many of our new sensors allow us to analyze for the first time motion that happens too fast to measure with the eye. The velocity and motion sensors make possible several simple measurements because they can measure these variables over very short time intervals. For example, they can be used to measure the position and velocity of objects as they fall to the floor. Other sensors allow us to measure phenomena we cannot see. For example, the pH probe is used to follow a chemical reaction in real-time.
Global Science students use the new hip boots as they monitor the riverbed and bank stability. The data are used to assess the success of the recent river enhancement work.
High school physical science teacher J.D. Kurz says, “Students really like doing lab experiments.” Heather Hemphill, life sciences teacher, said, “Previously, students had no hands-on opportunities to understand the physiology in their bodies.”
This grant is part of a larger effort in the Pagosa Springs High School to develop a curriculum that will emphasize STEM.