How have humans solved world problems, found cures to diseases, and invented machines that could take us farther distances?
Science, technology, engineering, and math have all helped innovative minds to create, imagine, and excel. The advances we’ve made have always been grounded in these four disciplines, more commonly known now as STEM.
In our ever-changing world, STEM education has never been more necessary. To solve the next wave of problems that society faces, we need a generation that has mastered STEM.
What is STEM Education?
STEM education is more than a class, course, or knowledge a student can learn from one textbook. STEM encompasses a way of learning that transcends the classroom. STEM provides a way for students to investigate the world around them. Here’s a more detailed breakdown:
S stands for Science, and how students learn about the natural world.
T stands for Technology. It encompasses anything computer-related but also the study of objects and how they’re used to tackle a problem.
E is for Engineering which refers to studying how things are designed.
M is for Mathematics, the study of numbers, shapes, and quantities.
Teachers are expected to apply these concepts to real world problems within a K-12 education curriculum. However, implementing STEM into a curriculum can be difficult. Michigan Technological University research found that the biggest challenge toward STEM education integration in K-12 is the ability of a teacher to make explicit connections between the four fields of study.
Stereotypes and preconceived notions can also hinder STEM education efforts. For instance, girls may show less interest in science or math because of gender stereotypes. Teachers must work against these to ensure all students have equal opportunity to succeed in STEM education.
STEM Education in Makerspaces
Not all STEM education occurs in a traditional classroom. Makerspaces are collaborative learning settings that cultivate builders and creators. Educators encourage students to build and design products or tools and provide the resources and spaces to do so. The goal of a maker education is to ignite creativity, inspire imaginative thought, and create a deeper connection to design using STEM practices.
In 2014, there were approximately 135 million adult Makers in the United States, but it might just be young people who are taking the “makers movement” by storm. Many students across the country are creating incredible gadgets to help solve real-world problems. Prominent makers are starting to utilize crowdfunding in order to fund sustainable maker practices, build maker spaces and ignite awareness in local communities about the importance of emerging maker education needs for students.
STEAM is a Part of STEM Education
Add an “A,” or arts, to the mix and you have STEAM education. The addition of the arts provides students with a more well-rounded view of the world they live in. The arts portion encompasses:
- Communication and language arts
- Physical, musical and movement arts
- Emotional use of math, physics, physiology and often language arts
- Liberal arts concepts that are grounded in sociology, human nature and ethics
STEAM education allows students to dive deeper to understand the interconnectedness of all disciplines. An arts education strengthens our ability to analyze the world and incorporate critical thinking to problems we face.
Why is STEM Education Important?
Our future workforce is dependent on STEM education. The employment landscape is evolving and STEM job opportunities are rising. Since 1990 STEM employment has grown 79 percent compared to overall employment which grew only 34 percent. Specifically, computer-related jobs have grown significantly since 1990:
And, there’s no slow down in site as as the global economy relies on technology and science. Growth of STEM jobs is expected to increase between 10 and 23 percent by 2020.
- Individuals with a STEM background can help make better health and safety decisions
- STEM education can help individuals participate effectively in public policy decisions
- Individuals with knowledge of STEM can help find solutions for global challenges
- STEM helps individuals manage the struggles that come with adapting to an increasingly technology-based world
But before there are future workers, we need more STEM teachers. Here are the ways that STEM educator shortage is being addressed:
- Making sure STEM teaching is prioritized at the local level
- Incentivizing individuals who are pursuing STEM degrees
- Creating STEM education development programming that is specific to location and grade-level
- Increasing awareness of the STEM teacher shortage through networks
What is Working in STEM Education?
While there are still work to be done to improve STEM education, there are success stories to share. The following programs have met criteria set by the Building Engineering and Science Talent (BEST) Commission and the National Science Education Standards and National Science Resources Center. They incorporate challenging inquiry-based content and curriculum that can be applied to real world situations, include an active and participatory learning, have predefined objectives and concise methodology to scaling outcomes in the classroom, and receive sustainable funding from schools, parents, and the local community.
American Chemical Society Project SEED: This project was established in 1968 as an American Chemical Society program for disadvantaged high school youth interested in becoming scientists. The program provides two summer research placements at government lab facilities that provide hands-on science experiential learning. The program also provides a college scholarship for incoming freshmen students that have completed the SEED programs and plan to study chemical sciences or chemical engineering.
Outcomes: 63 percent of students obtained B.S. degrees, 13 percent M.S. degrees, 7 percent Ph.D.s and 9 percent other degrees.
ASSET STEM Education: Achieving Student Success through Excellence in Teaching (ASSET) programs provide STEM education services and materials for K-12 educators. ASSET currently works with more than 250 public, charter and private schools and educational organizations in Pennsylvania alone.
Outcomes: Fourth-grade students in ASSET member schools did better on science standardized tests than students in non-member schools. Additionally, fifth-grade students in ASSET-supported schools scored higher than the national average on international math and science assessments.
Biotech Partners: Biotech Partners is a nonprofit STEM education organization that offers academic and job-training program to public schools in Oakland and Berkeley, Calif. specifically with populations underrepresented in the field of science.
Outcomes: Biotech Partners has helped nearly 1,200 students obtain co-op work positions and internships in the STEM field. And in the last four years of the program, 100 percent of students that participated in Biotech programs graduated from high school, while 99 percent went on to pursue degrees at post-secondary educational institutions.
STEM Education: Tackling Exclusion
The field of STEM continues to grapple with the exclusion of various identity groups including but not limited to gender, sexual orientation, and race/ethnicity. Additionally, there is still a problem of labeling those who are interested in STEM. Using words like “geek” or “hacker” to describe kids, particularly in makerspaces, can affect recruitment into the field. Diversity within STEM is also affected by a “belief gap,” which is when people of color, girls, and those from low-income backgrounds believe they can’t become scientists.
Gender Gap in STEM Education and Job Growth
The gender gap exists throughout many industries, but STEM may suffer from one of the widest. Recent statistics show that only 17 percent of undergraduate students in computer science are women.
Girls Who Code are attempting to fill the gap, but there still is a lot of work to be done with 1.4 million jobs projected in the computing related fields by 2020, and only 3 percent of women on track to fill them.
According to the Pew Research Center, while some progress has been made with women in STEM roles, computer-related occupations have seen a decrease in female representation. In 2016, 25 percent of workers in these occupations were women, down from 32 percent in 1990.
Research also shows that there is stereotyped messaging targeted at girls who want to pursue STEM fields. For example, elementary school teachers, a field that is 87 percent female, may make comments such as “maybe math isn’t for you, you are good at English” if students are struggling with the subject. These narratives can cause girls to abandon STEM instead of seeking help to excel.
Changing these mindsets may be one step in tackling the gender gap in STEM. Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American female in space, says that much of the exclusion of girls in STEM education might be due to “subtle microaggressions that take place in the educational or workplace environments. It’s couched in things like, we want them to act and behave like we do. Or there are people who get degrees and then they are not included.”
Racial Gap in STEM Education and Job Growth
Racial diversity within STEM education often relates to access. A 2016 report found many educational disparities between white students and students of color and the availability to classes like calculus. Additionally, public high schools with higher numbers of black and Latino students were less likely to offer courses in subjects such as physics and algebra, decreasing access to STEM education and diminishing chances of those students pursuing further education in STEM. This problem then trickles down to the STEM workforce. For instance, black and Hispanic individuals are underrepresented in various STEM fields.
LGBT Gap in STEM Education and Job Growth
Racial and gender gaps in STEM are apparent, but studies show that the STEM environment is also a difficult place for the LGBT community to participate in.
One study found that a “sexual minority” were 7 percent less likely to follow through with their STEM degree than heterosexuals. A previous study examined how LGBT individuals fared as physicists, and a significant portion of respondents in the study considered leaving their lab workplace.
Similar trends in STEM education have also been found. According to GLSEN’s most recent National School Climate Survey, LGBT high school seniors whose STEM curriculum was more inclusive were twice as likely to pursue a degree in STEM fields. Similarly, the less inclusive a STEM work environment was, the less likely LGBT will want to participate.
Who You Should Know in STEM Education
A STEM curriculum is a critical part of our economy and global development, but clearly more work needs to be done to remove barriers of entry.
Here are several sources who regularly cover STEM education:
- Getting Smart is a media platform that engages in topics around education written and compiled by top educators, school administrators, nonprofit leaders, and business executives.
- Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news organization that is dedicated to the improvement of schools particularly for youth who historically lack educational opportunities in their lives.
- The 74 is a nonprofit, non-partisan news source reporting on education-based issues that are backed by investigation, experience, and expertise.
Below are organizations working directly to improve STEM education:
- Gooru is an online database housing educational materials for students to expand their education and for teachers to harness best practices, share resources and curate their own curriculum.
- AVID stands for Advanced Via Individual Determination and helps to foster communities in classrooms. It promotes inquiry-based and student-centric instruction.
- Project Lead the Way provides innovative and collaborative STEM programming along with teacher development.
How Can I Get Involved With STEM Education?
Donors and volunteers can get involved with STEM education in a variety of ways.
- Get involved in local STEM education initiatives in your community. Many organizations rely on volunteers with STEM skills to serve as mentors or experts.
- Donate to the Improve Education Fund which aims to increase accessibility in education for all students.
- Donate to Bright Funds U.S. Education Fund that is trying to help students become civically engaged and thriving adults by improving the education system that they are attending in their formative years.
Related STEM Education Articles
- Building the STEM Workforce Our Future Economy Needs
- How An After-school STEM Program Has Grown to Inspire Students
- It’s OK To Fail: How Indiana Teachers are Rethinking STEM
- CA Technologies Promotes Volunteer Initiative Through Environment and STEM Programming
- Why More STEM Pros Are Ditching The Office For The Classroom
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