During the last century, the United States became a global economic leader, in large part, as a result of the genius and hard work of its scientists, engineers, innovators, and technicians. During the last quarter century, technology has moved to the forefront. And, as the influence of technology continues to increase on nearly all business functions, there is little that can be accurately predicted about what the next 25 years will bring.
However, one thing is certain. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education will shape the future. Yet today, too few American students pursue expertise in these fields to even approach meeting the market demand, let alone forge widespread sustainable expansion. Further, there is currently an inadequate supply and no pipeline of development of teachers skilled to teach those subjects, to ignite interests in our students, and to guide them to pursue these fields of learning.
To respond to this reality, the United States Department of Education continues to expand its priority of increasing the number of students and teachers who are proficient in these vital fields. But what exactly is STEM Education? When should STEM education begin? And, what does it look like to the average student, teacher, and parent? The answer is, it’s never too early. And this is a snapshot of what it looks like.
STEM schools approach education by creating a blended learning environment, in which students learn how the scientific method can be applied to everyday life. Inquiry-based investigation, computational thinking, problem solving and a focus on real world applications are used to help students acquire and apply critical thinking skills which are requisite of a multitude of 21st Century careers. The general mindset of a STEM school focuses on helping students integrate knowledge across disciplines, encouraging them to think in a more connected and holistic way about the world around them, and how it works.
At the primary level, STEM curriculum focuses on the introductory level STEM learning, as well as awareness of STEM fields and occupations. Standards-based, structured, real world problem-based learning activities connect all four of the STEM subjects and serve to probe students’ individual curiosities, and begin to expand and hone their discovered special interests. At the secondary level, STEM expands to increase students’ depth of knowledge in specific fields, disciplines, and careers, while incorporating business partnerships, diverse project-based learning, and expansive experiential activities.
Technology plays a vital role in all areas of learning, especially STEM. Today’s students are digital natives and as such they don’t just expect, but require, ubiquitous and seamless use of technology in order to access information and communicate. Accordingly, most STEM instructional models are quickly evolving to incorporate a 1:X instructional model: 1 representing the learner and X representing a varying number of devices (laptop, tablet, phone, digital devices, etc.). Supported by digital-age teachers who themselves have evolved to embrace and champion this new and rapidly changing age of learning, these new learning environments look, sound, feel, operate, and exist in stark contrast to traditional classrooms and schools.
A limited number of schools offering robust STEM programs currently exists. Those which do exist serve as models for others and as an example of what’s to come. Over the next decade, these instructional models will expand and continuously improve both the approach and the body of knowledge regarding STEM Education. As a result, STEM schools will ensure student success in related college and career fields, and will ultimately safeguard the continued strength of our country.
For more information on the nation-wide STEM Education initiative, visit: http://www.ed.gov/stem