Curriculum designed to teach STEM skills through an interdisciplinary approach is becoming increasingly available. As opposed to teaching these STEM subjects in isolation, a STEM program provides students with real-world, problem-solving abilities needed for college, career, and beyond.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 17%, compared to only 9.8% for other occupations. The fastest-growing occupations over the next 10 years will be in technology, engineering, data, and healthcare (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).
While the United States has historically led the world in these fields, that will not be the case if career and educational performance trends continue. In a recent survey by the U.S. Department of Education, only 16% of high school students are interested in a STEM-related career. Perhaps even more alarming, over half of the students who enter high school with STEM interest during their freshman year will choose another area of study or career field by the time they graduate.
Bringing STEM into the Classroom
Educators are charged with finding compelling ways to engage students in STEM earlier. Traditionally, students would study from a more theoretical perspective through elementary school and may not experience a hands-on, problem-solving approach to STEM until high school. This likely has resulted in students’ interest wavering.
To combat the decline in interest, hands-on STEM in the early years is essential. Here are a few ways teachers and administrators are finding success:
- Labs & Makerspaces
- Online and virtual field trips to explore museums, national parks, and wildlife sanctuaries
- STEM professional role-modeling
- Career pathway education
- Internship experiences
Computer science (CS) education, which falls within STEM, can be challenging for teachers at the elementary level who might feel unprepared to teach CS. One program that has shown great success is Unruly Splats, a learn-to-code platform that includes software, hardware, and ongoing coaching for teachers. Splats foster student collaboration by allowing them to code active games they play with classmates like whack-a-mole or relay races, and even virtual games like Exquisite Corpse. Splats are programmable so students code the rules for the games using a Chromebook or iPad that make the physical Splats light up and make sounds when they are stomped on. Splats are a full school tool that can be incorporated across subjects like CS, PE, technology, math, science, and even music! Webinar training and lesson plans are provided to support even the most novice CS teachers. Best of all, students are learning STEM skills while they are moving, and cross-curricular connections are leveraged from the earliest ages.
STEM Education Creates Critical Thinkers and Enables the Next Generation of Innovators
A well-prepared STEM workforce is critical to the future of every industry worldwide. To successfully tackle our collective future needs, the next generation of STEM professionals will need to master new knowledge and skills and be able to collaborate across disciplines. The blended learning approach of STEM shows students how the scientific method can be applied to everyday life. It teaches students computational thinking and focuses on the real-world applications of problem solving. With these skills in hand, the future looks bright.