Year in Review/Preview
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Episode Show Notes
Pius, Rachel, and Sadhan reunite to talk about big news in engineering education from 2016 (Part 1: 00m20s), followed by a politically flavored discussion about 2017 (Part 2: 15m20s). If you liked Season 1 and want to help keep Season 2 afloat, please consider pledging a monthly contribution at my new Patreon page: www.patreon.com/pioslabs. You’ll be helping me continue to talk to awesome people and share it with you. Thanks!
Remember that the podcast will be at the SXSW Conference and Festival in March, 2017! We will be running workshops for educators and professional engineers: www.sxsw.com and www.sxswedu.com
Our closing music is from "Late for School" by Bleeptor, used under Creative Commons Attribution Licenses: creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0.
Subscribe and leave episode reviews wherever you get your podcasts. Support Pios Labs with regular donations on Patreon or by buying a copy of the reference book Engineer's Guide to Improv and Art Games by Pius Wong. Thanks to our donors and listeners for making the show possible. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of Pios Labs.
The K12 Engineering Education Podcast
Year In Review/Preview
[Pius Wong] It’s Season 2 of The K12 Engineering Education Podcast.
[Pius] For this first episode of 2017, we’ve brought back our original guests and cohosts from the pilot. Joining me is Rachel, our resident educator, and Sadhan, an engineer.
[music fades out]
[Rachel Fahrig] Hi.
[Sadhan Sathyaseelan] Hello.
[Pius] I’m your host Pius. Hopefully we’re a little bit familiar to you. We just want to say hello, welcome to 2017, and we’re going to talk about the news in engineering education from all of last year and how it might relate to this new year.
[Sadhan] Yeah, let’s do it.
[Rachel] Yes. Alright. That’s a lot.
[Pius] Alright. So there was a lot that happened last year in 2016. First of all we started this podcast, and that is the biggest news of all.
[Rachel] Yes, that’s the best thing ever.
[Pius] One trend that I noticed, and I wanted to talk about it, is: Computer science seems to be making a big push in this whole STEM space, especially as it relates to engineering. And one topic that always comes to mind is, first of all, does that even matter? Is computer science even engineering? Because I still hear that argument sometimes, that they’re totally separate fields.
[Sadhan] I mean, it’s one of the biggest tools for any engineering, so ignoring that would be like ignoring math. So there’s no engineering without math, so if you want to go to a higher level, you need to know computer science.
[Rachel] Sure, I think that computer science is – It’s vital to encompassing a complete engineering education. You have to know some of those skills, whether it’s coding or understanding – I think of flowcharting and how to make the sorts of algorithmic decisions. It’s vital.
[Sadhan] OK, so I was thinking that STEM – So is it going to start including C in this?
[Pius] That’s what I was wondering.
[Pius] The acronym science, technology, engineering and math – I mean, I guess science also includes computer science? Is that the deal?
[Pius] Where is the computer science? Is it in the S part? Is it in the E part? Is it in the M part?
[Sadhan] I mean, with the amount of push for computer science, it seems like STEM might not be what we’re talking about. Computer science seems like a big part of STEM now.
[Rachel] STEM-C? STCEM?
[Pius] It’s like everywhere now.
[Sadhan] It sounds like a pill.
[Pius] Yeah. Oh God. We’re going to talk about acronyms again.
[Pius] Back in the summertime, this last July in 2016, the Advanced Placement people – the College Board – they came out with this new AP test that high school students could take and a new course that they could take: AP Computer Science Principles. And we saw a news article about it from EdSurge back then. And basically kids are taking it right now. And they’re going to be taking the exam later this year, and they’re going to get scored on it, and if they score a 5, colleges might choose to give them credit. I was talking to some universities – for example out local one, the University of Texas at Austin. If a high school student today gets a good score in their AP CS Principles class, UT is going to give them some graduation credit, if they do not major in computer science.
[Rachel] Sure, but I think that’s fair because if you look at the standards for what is expected for a computer science major versus the student expectations of the College Board-approved Computer Science Principles class, CSP – I am a big fan of three-letter acronyms, or TLAs, if you will, and I know there are people who are not, but I am, so we’re going to use them. If you were a student enrolled in CSP, AP CSP, the expectations or the standards that are in that course are not at the same level of what we like to call “rigor and relevance” as what would be expected of you if you were a freshman or sophomore enrolled in a computer science post-secondary pathway.
[Pius] Yeah. That’s exactly what they said. In fact, UT wasn’t the only one that said that. Carnegie Mellon, a couple other university sites said that if you were going to go into their computer science program, they expect that you basically already…
[Rachel] You already have these skills.
[Rachel] I could see it, though, also being used as – So, we are faced, especially in rural areas and poorer areas, with students who are mostly college-ready, but they get to college, and they may find that they need to pick up a remedial course or two. This could be, if it were offered even at the collegiate level, that sort of bridge.
[Pius] Yeah. Some places have that.
[Rachel] If you have students that want to major in engineering or CS, they could take this course, and that could be that remedial course that they need outside of high school to get them on the right pathway and keep going down that post-secondary path to a Bachelor’s in Computer Science.
[Pius] For the benefit of Sadhan and anyone who doesn’t know the American tradition of AP tests…
[Sadhan] Yeah, I was going to bring that up, so can you tell us what…
[Pius] [laughs] Yeah, sorry. I need to bring that up now. It’s a good segue. The AP test is supposed to be this test that high school students take to prove that they know enough to replace a college class. So in theory, if they took this AP Computer Science Principles class and did well on this test, they’ve just proved to all these colleges that they could skip this class.
[Sadhan] Interesting. Is it the entire country…
[Rachel] Yes. The College Board runs all of the AP – you’ve heard of Advanced Placement or AP testing in American high schools, and so you can take AP Biology or AP Chemistry or AP Organic Chemistry, AP US History.
[Pius] You could take AP Computer Science A and B, which is different from AP Computer Science Principles.
[Sadhan] OK, so it seems like the entire country is pushing computer science.
[Rachel] I think so. I think so.
[Pius] Yeah, and the College Board is kind of jumping on that.
[Pius] It’s fulfilling what people kind of were asking for.
[Rachel] There’s a need…
[Rachel] And AP has jumped in.
[Pius] Pulling in our engineering vocabulary.
[Sadhan] It makes sense.
[Rachel] Well it’s a consistent viable way of making this happen. So instead of fifty different states with hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of different school districts trying to find their own solution, then the AP Board, or the College Board has stepped up and said, we have a certain set of criteria or a set of standards. You can follow these. You can develop a curriculum, and the teacher comes to training, and then when your students take our standardized test, you know, you’re meeting multiple needs simultaneously.
[Pius] And speaking of Carnegie Mellon, one of the other big news from last year was that Carnegie Mellon was doing exceptionally well at attracting not only computer science majors and engineering majors, but Carnegie Mellon was attracting women to study computer science and engineering at almost rates equal to men, about 50-50, which is like, really unusual.
[Rachel] Wow. That’s unprecedented.
[Pius] I thought that was really big. They reported on that in the fall.
[Rachel] And I think as we were talking, that part of the draw of the Computer Science Principles class and test is that there’s an inclusivity factor. For students who maybe are interested in computer science, and they might know a thing or two, but maybe they just don’t have that confidence level, maybe they take the class, they take the test, they do well, and because they’re interested, it gives them that confidence. It gives them the ability to go on to post-secondary learning in that field, because they’re not as intimidated by the technicality factor. One of the things that we’ve all worked on in the past is promoting diversity and increase participation in engineering, in engineering education. So to me this is just another outlet for that.
[Pius] Yeah, I do wonder how it’s going to go. This is a new thing, so it is kind of experimental. I think I’m going to have to follow how that works.
[Rachel] Hashtag following. [laughs]
[Pius] Yes, hashtag following. And I’m going to have to follow if women and minorities study engineering and computer science in greater numbers, as well. That’s part of the results.
[Rachel] It’s like a five-year pattern. Are you ready? Are you prepped for that?
[Pius] Yes. I’m ready. I’m just going to say that now, and a year from now we’ll see. But if other colleges follow what CMU does…
[Sadhan] Do you know what they specifically do to attract female students?
[Pius] Not off the top of my head. I know that it was definitely a multi-year effort, where they were doing outreach. They had something very much like the Computer Science Principles already. They were one of the pilot schools. They teach a Computer Science Principles-type class to their freshman, or they have it as an option. And so, kind of like what you were saying, Rachel, maybe that helped attract more people?
[Rachel] Attract and launch.
[Pius] Like a softer intro to computer science.
[Rachel] Yes. I mean if you feel – So, we know in working with diverse populations – and this is not only true for STEM. It’s true across multiple content areas. But if you want to attract historically underrepresented populations to a certain field, they have to see themselves in that field. They have to see role models. They have to see people who look and think and talk and act like them. And in presenting a safe environment where you’re comfortable taking risks, you’re more willing to then go down that pathway. And if you take a risk, and you succeed, you’re more likely to take another risk. And then you take another risk, and another, and eventually, oh gosh, all of a sudden I have a Masters in…
[Pius] You’re studying CS.
[Rachel] Yes, exactly.
[Pius] You mentioned being able to see yourself in certain fields. So did you see the movie Hidden Figures, by any chance?
[Rachel] I have not, and it’s so interesting. Well, full disclosure: In case anyone didn’t know, I’m white.
[Rachel] Because it’s radio. You don’t know what I look like.
[Pius] [gasp] I’m shocked, Rachel.
[Rachel] No, so I’m white. My ex-husband is white, and so our son is also white. He is dying – dying – to see Hidden Figures.
[Pius] Really? How does he know about it?
[Sadhan] Is this a kids’ film?
[Pius] And your son is how old again?
[Rachel] He is seven. He’s a little one. It’s not a kids’ film, Sadhan. This is the story of the African-American women mathematicians and scientists who helped us put a man on the moon. They did a lot of the theoretical calculations, and their work was largely uncredited for a very long time. And then, of course, somebody said, you know what, this story needs to be told. So now it’s a major motion picture, and it’s currently in theaters. I have not seen it. My hasn’t seen it, but he is dying to go see it, and I could not be more excited, more proud. I think it’s amazing, and I can’t flippin’ wait.
[Pius] It gets great reviews, and I do want to see it, as well. Maybe, later on, we can talk about that.
[Sadhan] That sounds like a complete other podcast.
[Pius] Speaking of other big things that happened, something that I found, which I thought was cool – I don’t know if this is the biggest news, but I’m going to talk about it – was on Kickstarter, there was a new product introduced called Rocketbook, which was like, a new high-tech notebook.
[Sadhan] Yeah, I saw that.
[Pius] You saw that?
[Sadhan] Yes, yes.
[Pius] How would you explain it to anyone who doesn’t know what it is?
[Sadhan] OK from what I understood, so it’s like a regular notebook, and we have a special pen. So the pen has a specific ink where you put it in the microwave for five minutes or something, and whatever you wrote disappears. It comes with an app. It comes with an app on the phone, where as soon as you write it, you can scan it, but it’s not – It’s a very, very quick scanner. It’s not the ones that we use right now. It’s a very quick scanner, and it immediately uploads everything you wrote on the notebook to your cloud. And once you’re done, you can go microwave it [laughs]…
[Pius] And you have a new notebook.
[Rachel] Again, you all can’t see me, because it’s radio, but my jaw is – I am agape.
[Pius] You’re just amazed.
[Rachel] My jaw is on the floor. This is amazing.
[Pius] And they got funded.
[Rachel] How did I not know about this?
[Sadhan] I didn’t know about it either.
[Pius] Their Kickstarter started in the fall, and it just finished. They got 1.5 million dollars pledged in funds. In engineering, especially in the high school engineering course that we know about, engineering notebooks are huge.
[Rachel] They’re cumbersome. So, former teacher, and I worked at mostly large school districts. If I had taught engineering in my former school district, the last enrollment that I knew of for engineering participation at that school district was one teacher teaching five classes of engineering, each class having close to thirty students, and then she had another class of something else. So she had 175 students, which is a typical caseload for teachers in this area. I’m not lugging home 150 notebooks to grade and give feedback on, because, well, one, I can’t lift it, and two, they may not even fit in my car.
[Pius] Would you use it in your work, Sadhan?
[Sadhan] It’s kind of debatable. OK, the immediate concept I see is: There’s an 80-page limit.
[Rachel] Wait, on the cloud there’s an 80-page limit?
[Sadhan] No, on the book, itself.
[Rachel] Oh OK, sure.
[Sadhan] You can only write for 80 pages, and then you have go back and erase it. So if you’re taking three classes, you have to divide 80 pages into three…
[Rachel] But if you’re dumping it into a cloud, couldn’t you delete your pages as you go?
[Sadhan] You can, but also, like, there’s a discontinuation there that I, personally, I would…
[Rachel] You want to be able to flip back and look, gotcha.
[Sadhan] Yeah, I want multiple books.
[Pius] That’s an interesting thing. I think I agree with you, but only because I’m used to paper. I feel like if you were a kid, and you were used to digital everything, maybe something like the Everlast Rocketbook would be OK, but I don’t know.
[Rachel] So even in my current position…
[Pius] 30 bucks, by the way. Thirty-four dollars.
[Rachel] Thirty-four dollars. Ladies’ shoes cost at least two, three times that. This is nothing. Nothing.
[musical break fade in]
[Pius, narration] Hey, it’s Pius. Just an update before we tackle Part 2. If you’re listening, I hope it means that you like what I’m going here. And if you do, please consider pledging a financial contribution to the show at Patreon, because that’ll let me continue into Season 2 and beyond. If you haven’t heard of Patreon, it’s like a digital tip jar for people who create stuff, and in my case, my studio, Pios Labs, is creating The K12 Engineering Education Podcast. Even a dollar a month will help me cover the costs of webhosting, getting equipment, transcribing, and all the other pricey stuff I need to keep on sharing this project with you. So check it out online at www.patreon.com/pioslabs. That’s p-a-t-r-e-o-n / p-i-o-s-l-a-b-s. It’s also linked in the show information. Thanks, everybody. Now, on to Part 2.
[musical break fade out]
[Pius] Let me start off by saying that by the time that anyone who’s listening to the show hears this, just be aware that we are recording on Inauguration Day. So I think we have a new administration today.
[Sadhan] Oh wow, OK. I saw the protests on TV.
[Pius] Sadhan, being Indian, if you remember, may not be as aware of all the little American strangeness…
[Rachel] Nuances, yeah.
[Pius] Sometimes it’s more than nuance. It’s just weird, overt things that may not be understandable.
[Rachel] I will say, too, that not all of the current administrative positions have been fully confirmed by the Senate.
[Pius] Yes, right.
[Rachel] A few have, but not others.
[Pius] Thanks for mentioning that. The one that really matters for us and our conversation, I think – at least one – but the first one is Betsy DeVos, is that how you say her name?
[Rachel] DeVos, I believe, yes.
[Pius] And she’s being nominated for the Education Cabinet member, and she’s very controversial, just like the Trump administration.
[Sadhan] OK, what’s her qualifications?
[Pius] That’s a question that many people are asking. [laughs]
[Pius] So I’m glad that you, as a non-American, can ask that.
[Sadhan] No, it’s a genuine question. I’m just wondering.
[Pius] Actually, I’ve got to be honest. I don’t know a whole lot. All I know is: I looked up a lot of controversies, and that is a criticism, that she doesn’t have as much qualifications as past Education Secretaries or education officials, because she never went to public school. What is it – She never worked or served as a principal or teacher.
[Rachel] Betsy DeVos has not been a teacher. She has not served in a public or private school. I believe she has sat on advisory boards for both charter and private schools. Her children have attended private schools. She has donated money to both private and charter schools, and she headed up in Michigan – where she originally is from – she headed up several charter school initiatives and maybe even ran or sat on the board of one or more charter schools. Again, I don’t know her full qualifications. I do know that her both exposure to and experience with regular K-12 public schools is virtually nonexistent. I don’t think that it’s that her supporters want to undermine public schools, but they see so many systemic problems with public schools that they feel that vouchers and charter schools and private schools are a legitimized and viable answer, without looking at the deeper details, what might be involved in that: transitional, fiscal, legislative, and just logistical process of what might look like.
[Sadhan] OK. It’s very interesting that you bring that point up. Just to give you a perspective of what’s happening in India on the same thing that you’re talking about: In India, you have the public schools are cheap, but the quality is so bad. It’s really bad. So not a lot of people who go to public schools – They choose private schools, where the fees, the tuition, is so high. Even for preschool you pay so much money for that. Public school in India used to be good, when they were first introduced. So it was done with the intention of actual education, based on research and everything, but after some time when there was more money in the private sector, they slowly pushed away public schools to lesser and lesser standards. People don’t opt for that, and they go more towards private schools.
[Rachel] So, what I’m hearing is: As increased privatization occurred, public schools then started failing?
[Sadhan] I would say it’s simultaneously. As you push the private schools – As you push private schools more, the standards are – OK, even it could be the other way. They slowly reduced the standards for public schools, while the private schools provided higher standards, so people went there. But at the same time, the cost is at least twenty times more. There are public schools which are completely free, so it’s like infinitely more expensive than public schools.
[Rachel] What I’m hearing you say is: In India, private schools seem to do better, because, a) there was more money available for their use, presumably for things like technology and infrastructure, perhaps lunches, and textbooks, you know, whatever needs to occur, the physical logistics of running a school. But also because of higher educational standards, higher student learning expectations. Is my understanding accurate?
[Sadhan] Yeah. So, I wonder if it’s the same here, or if it’s exactly the opposite.
[Pius] We don’t know…
[Rachel] We don’t know yet.
[Pius] I do know that it has been tried in little pockets. There are areas of the US that have lots more charter schools than everywhere else. New Orleans is an example, where there are lots of charter schools after Hurricane Katrina. And I think there are other situations we can look to. I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I feel like that is the stuff we need to be looking for, looking at how it worked in other countries, looking at how it worked in New Orleans and all these other places.
[Rachel] And especially I think here in America, where we look – we compare ourselves globally, you know. We always – not always – but you often will see on social media or even in mainstream media, where parents, teachers, educational leaders, community members compare America’s educational system to educational systems around the globe. There are so many differences in America’s educational system versus educational systems in other countries. And I think without taking account those expectational inequities, the funding inequities, the inequities of populations that are served – so for example, Sadhan, tell me about if a student in India has multiple disabilities, or multiple inequity – what we used to call handicaps. So let’s say for example, they’re visually impaired and have a nonfunctional hand. How would they be educated? How would that child go through the educational system?
[Sadhan] OK, so for the issues that you’re talking about, there are solutions in place, even in the public or private sector. For example, if you’re blind, you can actually ask somebody else to write the exam for you. They have provisions for that in the public schools. But in terms of other disabilities, I think it’s more about how much money you have. It all comes down – You understand that India is a completely different economic…
[Pius] We should have you listen to the old episode that we had, where Sadhan was explaining…
[Sadhan] Yes, so it’s a completely different context.
[Rachel] [laughs] This is such a great conversation.
[Sadhan] So even in the private – I think in the private, if you pay money, you get…
[Rachel] You get better services.
[Sadhan] You get better services.
[Rachel] OK. Or you get more services.
[Rachel] You have more access to a multitude of supports.
[Sadhan] Yes, because it’s private, right? Because in public you can only access what you already have.
[Pius] And they aren’t giving a lot of money to the public sector, I’m sure, right?
[Rachel] Not in India.
[Sadhan] Yeah. Exactly. In fact, it’s really bad. It’s not even, like – Because in terms of the funding, itself, I think public schools in America have a big slice of education funding, versus the budget for India.
[Rachel] Sure. Nationally, you’re talking, right?
[Sadhan] Even in terms of percentage. Even if you take into account the population.
[Sadhan] But my only concern with the current political scenario is that going to – What’s the agenda there? On one side, you have AP Computer Science courses pushing towards more, and what CMU is doing, pushing more women into engineering, computer science specifically. On the other hand you have a political system that might not be creating this. So what’s going to happen? We take a step forward, take two steps back?
[Pius] Yeah. I listened to a podcast from EdSurge again, just very recently, where they talked to someone – I think it was like the STEM coordinator from the Obama administration who was just leaving. But basically, his view was that this incoming Trump administration is probably going to go for their agenda of no longer having a strong federal government overseeing education. There will no longer be as many federal programs for education. They are not going to push Common Core as much, et cetera, that kind of thing.
[Sadhan] So does that translate to pushing more private sector?
[Pius] So that’s the thing. His view was it could be viewed good or bad, because, on the one hand, yeah, you’re getting less support at the federal level. On the other hand you could view it as, well, now there is a much, much greater opportunity for states to be a leader, for people within states to be a leader and establish their own programs, at least for people in their state.
[Rachel] Sure. And this is where it gets super complex, and I – My personal though and opinion on this is: Even if I raise my child in a certain part of the country, I cannot guarantee that my child will remain in that certain part of the country forever. And even if they did, I can’t guarantee that – let’s say that I raise them in a certain part of the country where they can receive a K through 16+ education. That doesn’t mean that they will necessarily still be able to give back to their community in a meaningful way. I need for them to be exposed to other opportunities and other experiences in other places, so that they are well placed and prepared to be globally functional – and when I say “globally,” I just mean globally in terms of universally able to adapt, to understand, to move fluidly within multiple environments. So if I raise my child in a small town in a rural part of the country where there’s a history of mining and farming, that’s fine. I grew up in a place similar to that. It’s a great place to raise a child. But if their best opportunity for college and beyond is occurring outside of that area, they need to be equipped to be able to go to that place and adapt, and function, and learn, and grow, and develop, because perhaps what they do in that new environment can come back and impact and positively affect the community in which that child was raised.
[Pius] So do you have any final thoughts?
[Sadhan] Do you want to leave it in an upbeat manner? [laughs]
[Rachel] Yes, please do. We got pretty deep, so yes, please.
[Sadhan] OK. I mean upbeat as in more positive way.
[Pius] Yes, let’s leave it on a high note.
[Sadhan] This is something I was talking with another coworker, regarding the administration that we have. So the point is it’s only four years. I think for us, at least, the people who are fighting for more science education, I think we need to keep doing what we’re doing, because if we stop, then we could be the tipping point, what we are doing right now. Including the listeners, like, whatever teachers are listening, what you’re doing could literally be the tipping point. So what we’re doing is very important, and we just need to keep doing it. And I think that’s – yeah, that’s what it is.
[Pius] Thank you, Sadhan.
[Rachel] That’s, Sadhan.
[Pius] I think that’s very true. And we’ll have another whole episode on climate science and engineering.
[Sadhan] And also movies.
[Rachel] And also movies. [laughs]
[Pius] If you have any ideas for what shows we should have, you should totally send us messages. My Twitter is – [laughs] We fist-bumped our microphone, but that’s OK. My Twitter is @PiusWong, and Rachel, your Twitter?
[Pius] And Sadhan?
[Sadhan] I don’t remember.
[Pius] I’ll put it in the show notes. [@SadhanSathya] So, yeah, send us messages, and thank you so much for listening. You are a small but might crew, and we will meet you soon.
[Rachel] Thank you all for your support. Happy New Year. Happy Q1.
[Pius] And keep on the good fight. We’ll keep on doing our best teaching people and making cool stuff.
[Rachel] Hook ‘em.
[Sadhan] All right. Sounds awesome.
[Pius] Take care.
[closing music fades in]
[Pius, narration] Check the show notes for this episode for links to any of the things we mentioned here. Let us know how we’re doing by tweeting us, as you heard. Remember to subscribe to the show and leave reviews and comments on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and Facebook. Get the details at the podcast website: k12engineering.net.
[Pius] Our closing music is from “Late for School” by Bleeptor, under Creative Commons Attribution Licenses. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of Pios Labs, and you can support Pios Labs at patreon.com/pioslabs.
[music fades out]
[Pius] Attention South by Southwest 2017 attendees. If you’re going to the Interactive conference, come register for our workshop on improv games for designers and engineers. I’ve also got a guide on the same subject in the works. So if you can’t go to South-by, but “Improv for Engineers” still interests you, send me a message. And if you’re an educator going to South-by EDU, we’ll see you at our Playground session hopefully, talking about STEAM curricula. Thanks.