STEM has been getting a lot of attention in the education world lately, and many parents may be wondering what all of the hullabaloo is about. I for one am happy to see that reading and math are not the only subjects getting attention in school anymore. I was beginning to worry that all might be lost in the sciences and arts!
What is STEM?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. These fields have increased in importance exponentially in our now digital age and will be vital skills for our children to learn in order to compete in the global marketplace of the future. STEM education involves giving students the skills and experiences needed for competency in these four disciplines, with a focus on real-world applications.
Why are STEM skills important?
Innovation has been the cornerstone to our success in a global economy. The science, technology, and engineering fields are exploding with possibilities right now, and our work force needs people with strong science and technological skills. Large companies are reporting a shortage of qualified people to fill jobs, and there is a shortage of students, especially girls, graduating with science degrees. Who will be the entrepreneurs, CEOs, physicists, software designers, engineers, and Nobel prize winners of tomorrow?
Students need a knowledge base that will allow them to become the innovators of the future. They need the ability to think critically, to have a basic understanding of math and science, and the opportunity to explore the natural curiosity that children so often lose as they work their way through the education system. Look at visionary Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc., who didn’t get a college degree but had the imagination, creativity, technical and leadership skills to build a highly successful company.
Is there a gender gap in the STEM fields?
Women only make up 24% of STEM jobs, according to the US Commerce Department, and a lower proportion of women are pursuing college majors and careers in STEM fields. YES, I’d say there’s a gender gap. Why? Maybe cultural factors and stereotypes are to blame. Maybe it’s the historical data showing American girls with lower science and math test scores than boys. Are girls encouraged to do all of the things boys are? There are excellent role models in the STEM fields for girls to look up to, but their visibility and awareness need to be improved.
Where can I find STEM activities for kids?
Children love learning about the world around them, and are more attuned than ever to technology at a young age. Here’s a list of resources to inspire and promote the creativity of your children and students:
PBS Kids Zoom Science
How to Smile.org
Science After School
STEM for Kids on Pinterest
National Geographic Kids
Who is backing STEM education?
President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign is working to advance the participation and performance of U.S. students in the STEM fields. His latest effort is to create a STEM Master Teacher Corps, educators who will receive a stipend to serve as mentors and leaders in STEM at their schools and districts.
“If America is going to compete for the jobs and industries of tomorrow, we need to make sure our children are getting the best education possible.” -President Obama
Another major supporter of STEM (and partner in Obama’s campaign) is a non-profit, CEO-led initiative called “Change the Equation.” Their goals are to improve STEM teaching in grades K-12, and inspire excitement for STEM fields especially for women and minorities. This is a smart move for the heads of the very companies who will have these positions to fill – they are essentially paying it forward and nurturing their future workforce! Numerous other major companies are also involved in promoting STEM, including Intel, NASA, and PBS to name a few.
What can I do to promote STEM education?
Encourage children, regardless of gender, to ask questions about the world around them. Support scientific exploration and creative thinking. Teach them not to be disheartened when they don’t know an answer, but resolve to find a way to figure it out. We have more resources available at our fingertips than ever before thanks to the Internet – images, videos, and information available on just about anything. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are ripe with hands-on opportunities and fun exploratory projects. So sign your kids up for AstroCamp, be a part of the school science fair, and encourage building with LEGOs. Let kids have fun while preparing for their futures!
My own daughter dissected a frog when she was five, won the school science fair with her entry on bridge design, participated on the math team in high school, and still loves to knit and read in her free time. She plans on majoring in the physical sciences at a top research university after graduating from high school this year, with the desire to one day make a difference in the world. Yes, I am a proud mama.
How have you helped to promote STEM education? What resources can you add to the list?