The US needs to compete, and the government thinks STEM education holds the keys to success for our kids and our future. The term gets bandied about, but what is STEM? The acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering
A Brief History of STEM Education
Obviously, all these subjects are taught in schools (some of them, like engineering, gets the emphasis more at the college level), but STEM as an overall concept wasn’t even coined until the early 2000s. Dr. Judith Ramalay dreamed up the term while working as the director at the National Science Foundation, to describe a new, blended curriculum she and her team developed.
This curriculum combined the subjects with real world experimentation and projects. The popularization of robotics at the elementary and middle school levels, the unavoidable integration of computer science into curriculums, and the enthusiasm for invention through events like Maker Faire are all part and parcel of STEM.
And while the Obama and Trump administrations don’t agree on much, the importance of STEM is a unifier. Obama was an enthusiastic early STEM booster, giving speeches about it and generously funding it though the administration’s Department of Education, and the Trump administration has continued the support.
The US Department of Education states on its website:
“In November 2018, the Department announced that it not only fulfilled but surpassed President Trump’s directive to invest $200 million in high-quality science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), including computer science, education. In total, the Department obligated $279 million in STEM discretionary grant funds in Fiscal Year 2018.”
The Underlying STEM Philosophy
The basic idea behind STEM (or STEAM, where the “a” in the acronym stands for “arts”), is to teach this combination of subjects in a holistic way.
That means project-based learning that combines disciplines, like building robots. It means exploring how math and geometry are part of a design assignment. It means coding computer programs at a very early age. And, it means budding writers pen not just short stories, but pieces about the sciences.
“Instead of attempting to fit STEM activities into existing blocks of learning, we should look at how we can deconstruct traditional content blocks and reconstruct meaningful experiences using innovative STEM practices,” says Nathan Lang, an education strategist with CDW-G, quoted in a Mand Labs article.
Mand Labs also found younger children were excellent STEM sponges, soaking up the material readily and easily. Between the very young ages of one and four, kids’ brains are more receptive to logic and math, indicating that preschools should probably incorporate STEM in
A study by the University of California, Irvine, has also proved that early math skills prove to be beneficial for later academic success. The study found that “early math concepts, such as knowledge of numbers and ordinality, were the most powerful predictors of later learning.”
It also means finding ways to attract girls and kids from lower-income strata to STEM. Historically, girls were discouraged and downright excluded from the sciences in general. While this has improved, especially in medicine, women in STEM fields lag behind men. It’s still
One fantastic example of innovative STEM education in action is the Tristar Experience Lockheed L-1011 mobile classroom. Currently in use in Kansas and Missouri, this refurbished jet (one of the only double decker jets around) is a STEM wonder, complete with various STEM oriented teaching modules. Kids inside the plane can query the pilot about the mechanics of flight, learn about different types of aircraft, and even design their own helicopters, which then get a maiden voyage from the upper to lower decks.
Another amazing STEM resource with online and app reach is the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI). Located outside Manhattan in the borough of Queens, the interactive space hosts groups of school children, programs, and activities designed to spark imagination and interest around STEM.
“There is a large need to prepare students for STEM in the 21st century,” Harouna Ba, the Director of SciPlay at the New York Hall of Science, tells Parentology. “This is especially critical to the success of the diverse populations we aim to serve. Two of the challenges we face with STEM education are access to interactive resources and
Thus, NYSCI invented Transmissions: Gone Viral. This fully interactive, web-based comic book is inspired by the 1999 West Nile Virus outbreak. NYSCI staff members Senior Scientist Martin Weiss and Creative Producer Geralyn Abinader conferred with outside experts and advisors, creating a learning tool for both individuals and classrooms. Plus, the comic book and educator can be downloaded for free, a STEM resource for anyone.
“The fun comic book Transmissions helps kids with STEM learning by presenting an engaging story about science discovery by kids who act like all kids, even the ones reading the comic book,” NYSCI scientist Weiss says. “They can play scientist along with the kids in the comic, solving a mystery that is killing birds and elderly neighbors. And discover that animals under their skins are all alike, making all animals vulnerable to the same diseases.”
In addition to Transmissions, NYSCI offers a large assortment of other STEM resources online, ranging from using fractions in photographic mash ups to discovering the uses of physics in playground games. All are engaging, fun, and stimulating for kids.
There’s A Growing Demand for STEM Professionals
If you want to almost guarantee a successful future for your child, STEM education is probably an express ticket. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that by 2019 there will be a requirement of 1.9 million STEM educated professionals in the US, but roughly 40 percent of students, who intend to do a major in STEM, end up switching to other subjects. That adds up to a STEM pro shortage.
There’s no shortage of college STEM degrees, but it doesn’t often carry through to a career in STEM; a Census Bureau report shows that about 74 percent of college graduates with STEM degrees are opting for non-STEM jobs starting from law to education and social work.
There’s still a lack of preparedness at the high school level. A study conducted by the National Math and Science Initiative indicates that only 36 percent of high school graduates are prepared to pursue a college-level science course. And only 16 percent of high school seniors are interested in STEM careers.
This is unfortunate, because STEM is lucrative. In fact, STEM education, when properly implemented, gives students exactly what they need for a successful career: problem solving prowess, creativity, data analysis, and better communication skills.
According to the site STEM Jobs, kids who receive a good STEM education score higher on standardized tests (including the SAT and ACT), take fewer remediation courses upon entering college, and generally have better prospects.
Plus, STEM jobs are growing 17% faster than other fields, making it easier to find that much-needed job upon graduation. And, the starting salaries are higher: $77,400/year for biomedical engineers, $72,590 for medical scientists, and $70,930 for financial examiners.
So, instilling an interest or passion for STEM in your child, it will pay off for them later. Even if they don’t end up in a strictly STEM field, the analytical skills they develop are invaluable.
Find A Program in Your Area
There are STEM resources everywhere. The aforementioned NYSCI offers its own take, called the Science Career Ladder. Established in 1986, the youth participants are called Explainers, and they advance through a series of graduated job opportunities. These high school and college students work the museum floor, interact with the public in increasing
While the Science Career Ladder is just one example, there are programs available in most cities and even towns. Getting your child started early is vital; keeping them motivated and interested during teen years might be even more important.
“As innovation and advancements in science and technology change the world around us, we need to prepare young people not only for the jobs that will be created, but with the skills and literacy they need to better understand the world around them. STEM education not only allows students to explore the “how” and “why” behind things they experience every
Mohabir continues, “The Science Career Ladder is a program for high school and college students that introduces students to a variety of complex STEM ideas in a fun and engaging manner, equips them with the skills to engage visitors at NYSCI, and empowers them to be creative