STEM in California

From Silicon Valley to San Diego, California is a global hub for innovation. The fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) are among the fastest growing, and jobs in these fields are expected to increase 19% over the next decade. Further, San Diego is ranked the third best city in the nation for STEM jobs. Even though many of the world’s most innovative companies are located within California, results from the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress place California among the lowest five performing states in math and science proficiency. Nonetheless, our students are not graduating from high school prepared to continue on to higher education STEM programs or enter the STEM workforce. So how do we better prepare students to meet the STEM job demands here locally? We must first address the current state of STEM education in our schools and how we are preparing our students to meet the challenges of tomorrow. Secondly, in order to ignite a curiosity and interest in STEM fields, we need to look at the support we can provide our students outside the classroom such as group tutoring, one-on-one lessons, enrichment classes, and summer camps.

What is the current state of K-12 STEM education?

To address low test scores in math, California has adopted new math curriculum standards known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and schools within San Diego County are now implementing these new math standards in the classroom. According to The Foundation for Excellence in Education, the new CCSS will require students to “accurately calculate equations, understand concepts not just memorize answers, and accurately select the best mathematical concept or equation to solve real-world problems, while demonstrating why the method or equation they selected was accurate.So instead of teaching students to simply solve problems, we are training our students to become logical thinkers and problem solvers. 

Even though schools are taking drastic steps to improve student understanding in math, what about Science, Technology, and Engineering?  Most of our local schools offer a range of math and science classes, but technology and engineering do not fall into our schools’ traditional curriculum. One of the key problems with the current state of K-12 STEM education is that even though STEM fields are deeply intertwined in the real-world, STEM subjects are being taught separately.  Students may certainly excel in one of these subjects, but without integrating their knowledge with other subjects, we fail to provide real-world context.

What is being done to enhance STEM Education?

In 2012 the Obama Administration announced an initiative to increase the number of undergraduates who receive degrees in STEM by 1 million over the next decade.  This initiative is designated as a Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal and is a collaboration between the Federal Government, academia, industry, foundations, and other partners in the education community.  President Obama has said that “science and innovation are key components to a strong American economy and that increasing opportunities for young Americans to gain STEM skills can both create jobs and enhance our national competitiveness. Advances in STEM education are important for our Nation’s ability to “manufacture better and smarter products, improve health care, develop cleaner and more efficient energy sources, preserve the environment, safeguard our national security, and grow our economy.” This goal has gained further support and was announced in the 2015 Federal Budget.

One of the key CAP Goal Initiatives is to address the STEM preparation gap that students face when they arrive to college.  In order to better prepare our students to be successful in their first year of college, one of the sub-goals of the STEM Education initiative is to improve K-12 STEM Education.  The key factors underlying this sub-goal are to support teacher preparation efforts that encourage the use of evidence-based STEM learning opportunities and to increase authentic STEM experiences for teachers.  By exposing our teachers to STEM-based trainings, we may be able to increase the support that our teachers are able to give our students.

To further increase our efforts of integrating STEM subjects in schools, California is in the process of adopting the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  The implementation of NGSS will occur over several years and is expected to be fully adopted by 2017.  These standards will increase the integration of STEM subjects in K-12 classrooms and “help provide students an organizational framework for connecting knowledge from the various disciplines into a coherent and scientifically based view of the world.

How do we further support our children in STEM?

The Government is putting a lot of effort into increasing STEM literacy among our youth, but how do we further support those students who are interested in STEM fields?  One statistic has shown that fewer than 40 percent of students who enter college expecting to major in a STEM field actually complete a STEM degree.  So if we have students who are interested in STEM fields, how do we inspire them to move forward and pursue a STEM career?  Most students are inspired from a young age through experiences that leave a lasting impression.  There are a number of avenues that students can pursue in order to discover their passion for STEM fields.  Such avenues include clubs at school, after school programs, enrichment classes, one-on-one and group tutoring, and summer camps. The Inspired Mind Learning Center is unique in that our program focuses on integrating science, technology, engineering, and math to further broaden a student’s perspective on often difficult subjects.  Using project-based learning in our Fusion Lab, students are exposed to real-world problems where they are encouraged to use their critical thinking and problem solving skills to decipher the task at hand. We hope to see you stop by our center soon to take a look for yourself!


  1. www.cslnet.org/our-agenda/what-is-stem

  2. www.economicmodeling.com/2012/05/17/joel-kotkin-best-cities-for-tech-jobs

  3. www.nces.ed.gov

  4. www.corestandards.org

  5. www.whitehouse.org

  6. www.performance.gov

  7. www.nextgenscience.org


Author Bio

Dr. Ashlee Lain received her PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology from Baylor College of Medicine and is the Director of The Inspired Mind Leaning Center in Rancho Bernardo, CA.


What's the news?


by Tori Leahy
Lead Tutor

Looking through articles about San Diego County Schools can be a very daunting task, so I am here to give you all the news highlights that will keep you interested in how the schools in San Diego County are doing.

After browsing through a number of articles I found some interesting ones that are worth mentioning. This first one is titled, “Southern California Schools Receive Prestigious Award.” This article is about the National Blue Ribbon Award, the most prestigious award a school can receive. This award honors high-performing schools and schools that are making great strides in closing any achievement gaps among student groups. What makes this article hit close to home is one of our very own Poway schools won this year! Congratulations to Del Sur Elementary School for showing such excellence and winning this amazing award! I also want to point out that two schools in the Compton Unified School District won this year for the first time ever!

The next article, “California could drop its high school exit test,” describes how the new common core curriculum, which is what we specialize in here at The Inspired Mind Learning Center, alters how we should test our students. The new exit test would either be adapted from the common core standards or college placement tests, in order to gauge what information has been retained. In the past, standardized testing has never had wonderful reviews because the tests were set up expecting students to memorize answers. The new style of learning that comes with the common core is to create minds that are not set to just memorize facts or equations, but to understand the applications of those facts. Regardless of how the new test is created, it must show how much the students understand in regards to using equations and not just memorizing answers.

The final article that I selected is “San Diego County Schools work to combat absenteeism.” This article explains that students who miss just ten percent of the school year in grades K-1, have only a 17% likelihood of reading at grade level! This is equivalent to missing more than 18 to 19 days of school in one school year. The article further explains that less than 50% of students read at grade level when they miss ten days! Teachers explain this as similar to when you leave a movie to use the restroom and come back lost because you missed a critical part of the plot. You are stuck spending the rest of the movie trying to catch up, and no one wants to rewind just because you missed something. Well, teachers are unable to reteach everything each student misses from absences. Obviously, if your student is ill and has no other choice, the best way to get that rewind is with tutoring; however, the best way to keep your student on track is to limit the amount of school that is missed. How are school districts dealing with excessive absences? Well step one is to speak with the parent to find out why their child is missing so much school. If there is no improvement in attendance after such a discussion, then home visits from a welfare and attendance technician may be necessary. If attendance of the student still does not improve, the family is seen before the school's attendance board. If none of these attempts get the child to school, the family is seen before the San Diego Deputy DA who will deal with the issue through a juvenile court. The issue of missing school is a serious one and unless it is for medical issues, it should not happen. I am proud to see all the measures that are being taken to ensure that students attend classes, and for those of you who have children who miss school for health reasons, you are always welcome to catch up here at The Inspired Mind Learning Center!

Now that I feel more educated on what is going on, and I have accomplished my goal of sharing interesting news, I will say goodbye. If you want to read the articles that I sited, the links are posted below. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them for me and I will respond! I am going to post about news events whenever I can and I will only write about what is interesting! Thank you all for your time and I hope to see you soon at The Inspired Mind Learning Center!



by Tori Leahy
Lead Tutor

Being that I work at a tutoring center I just had to see what the important questions were and if I met the standards set by US News and World Report. In their article, "5 Questions to Ask When Hiring a Tutor," the first question is, ‘What can I expect to pay for a tutor?’ This article listed a few numbers, the high end being $75 an hour for a certified tutor to the average in her area being between $45 and $60. I can tell you that our programs offer a more affordable alternative then what this article states.

Question 2: Where can I find a tutor? Well this one I can easily answer by saying we have many lovely and trained tutors working here at the center! This article says to check with the schools and other parents as well as checking online and we are mentioned at some schools in the area and you are welcome to ask parents of our current students what they think of our center!

Question 3: How can I ensure my child’s safety? The article states to keep your guard up and we agree, no matter where you take your child or whom you hire it is important to know who it is that is working with your child. Here at The Inspired Mind Learning Center, we have you sign in your child as well as sign them out. You are welcome to meet the tutors and check us out. You are also welcome to stay at the center while you child is here.

Question 4: Is the tutor a good match? Just because you are proficient in math or any subject does not mean that you would make a good tutor! The article states that tutoring is 90% motivation! Here we give each student a learning style assessment and each tutor has taken the same assessment so we start by matching students to tutors with the same learning style. If the student and tutor still are not working out as best as expected then we move the child to a more appropriate tutor. Our goal is to teach your child and he/she will only want to learn if they enjoy the person teaching them.

Question 5: Does your child need more then a tutor? This article answers this by stating that there are students with such severe test anxiety that the tutor will recommend them to counseling. Other times all they need is a good cheerleader to help them along the way. We can help to assess the situation and get to the root of whatever your child’s issue is.

This is the only article for today. Please ask questions and leave comments! Thanks again for your time and hope to see you all at The Inspired Mind Learning Center!


by Ashlee Lain, PhD.

For a number of years, states have been transitioning to a new set of math and English language standards for grades K-12, known as Common Core Standards. I know a number of parents that are very concerned about these new standards. My goal in this post is to help parents better understand the Common Core Math Standards and address common misconceptions about this new teaching style.

Common Core Standards

Let me first start by asking you this, have you ever learned something for a math test and then immediately forget about it once the test is over? I am guilty of this myself! Such an experience is the result of memorizing answers and not actually learning the concepts. What good is memorizing an answer for a test when we are eventually going to have to apply that math concept to a real-world problem down the road? According to The Foundation for Excellence in Education, the new Common Core Standards will require students to “accurately calculate equations, understand concepts not just memorize answers, and accurately select the best mathematical concept or equation to solve real-world problems, while demonstrating why the method or equation they selected was accurate.”

The Common Core consists of a set of standards for each grade level. These standards are grouped under Domains, which are key concepts that can be covered over a number of grade levels. For example, students in the third grade learn a set of standards under the Operations and Algebraic Thinking domain. They will continue to learn additional standards under the Operations and Algebraic Thinking domain until they are in sixth grade. Once they are in sixth grade, additional domains are introduced. Therefore, the Common Core curriculum is set up to build on a strong foundation that is learned over a number of years. Once the foundation is in place, students are able to tackle the more difficult problems they will encounter in high school and college with the overall goal to better prepare students for college and their careers.


When it comes to Common Core Math, many critics claim that “new math” is more complicated than “old math.” What these critics don't realize is that students are still learning “old math” concepts in school; however, they are also being introduced to new concepts that will allow a student to choose which concept makes the most sense to them. Let’s be honest, none of us learn exactly the same way. What works best for one student may not be the best strategy for another student. Exposing students to multiple mathematical concepts will provide a more diverse student population with the tools to be successful in math.

Some critics question the new set of standards and claim that the old set of standards were working just fine. However, according to the ACT Corporation in their yearly publication The Condition of College and Career Readiness, three-quarters of high school students are not prepared academically for their first year of college. Additionally, in California, only 28% of eighth grade students are proficient or above in math, less than our national average at 34%. These numbers are not even comparable to those of other countries. Therefore, our old set of standards is just not working and something had to change with the way we are teaching math to our students. That change is known as Common Core.

Some parents believe that since the new Common Core Standards are being implemented nationwide, that schools will not be able to adapt the curriculum to fit their students’ needs. Even though the Common Core Standards have been adopted by a number of states, each state can customize the given standards to best fit the needs of their students. Therefore, the new Common Core will allow for more innovation, varied examples, and options in regards to curriculum. Teachers will have the flexibility to creatively teach their students as long as they meet the standards set in place.

Common Core and The Inspired Mind Learning Center

You may be asking yourself why we are so interested in the Common Core Standards at The Inspired Mind Learning Center. First of all, we understand that Common Core math may be difficult for a number of students, and even some teachers, to fully understand. Here at The Inspired Mind Learning Center, our curriculum is based on the new Common Core Standards so our lessons are completely seamless. Your child will take an assessment that will tell us exactly which lessons they need to review in order to be successful in their current math class. Working one-on-one with a tutor, students are able to get individualized attention and learn math in a way that is tailored to their learning style. By building a strong foundation and learning key math concepts, students will not only be able to apply what they have learned to classroom assignments, but also to solve real-world problems.


The Foundation for Excellence in Education: excelined.org/

Since we opened on September 22nd I've been getting a lot of questions from clients about why I wanted to open a learning center. Answering that question isn't as easy as it seems but I'll give it a go. 

When I look at the state of American schools I see an outdated and dysfunctional system with content that hasn't changed much since it's inception (in current form) from the Prussian model of 1818. The major changes to education have been in the form of who we teach, by allowing girls to attend public secondary schools in 1826 and African Americans after the American Civil War. What hasn't changed much are the methods used to teach children.

Teachers orate; students listen and write down what they heard. For the average student this method is suitable enough (Conway and Christiansen, American Psychological Association, 2005, vol 31). However, according to a recent study by Heller and Steelbahe as few as 30% of students are auditory learners. As one who prefers visual learning myself, it seemed obvious the most effective way to learn is using the modality that best suits the individual student.

In a classroom of 30 plus students who all learn differently, the only method available is what I call the "Shotgun" technique where instruction spans each learning modality. The result of the Shotgun technique is the loss of engagement by students during the portion of instruction not suited to their learning style. This lack of engagement is the problem I wanted to address. 

I set out to help students who are different than the average learner. I investigated becoming a public school teacher, even earning an emergency credential.  I soon realized that I could best help students by providing a service in a small center where every child is treated as an individual. But I couldn't do this alone, I needed the help of people with education and experience beyond my own.

I sought out education specialists whose cutting edge visions of a reformed school system complement my vision. Dr. Ashlee Lain spent years as a research scientist and brings practical real world experience to our center. Her passion for children and dedication to science education makes her an ideal individual to direct the center's integrated hands-on science activities.

Marysue Lindsay M.Ed is a learning specialist whose work with special needs children made the Inspired Mind Experience curriculum a perfect fit for children of all abilities and challenges. Her perceptual learning techniques activate existing neural pathways and create new pathways that helps students to deeply understand math concepts.

With this team of professionals, The Inspired Mind Learning Center is an education service like no other. I hope you'll call or stop by and check it out for yourself.