My Vision For the Future of STEM Education
STEM is ever present in all parts of daily life in the modern world. And, STEM jobs are more in demand every day, expected to grow exponentially over the next few years. However, STEM education in the U.S. has a long way to go. According to the latest PISA results, the United States is average in science and reading compared to the rest of the world. Additionally, the U.S. scored below average in mathematics.
To compete with global education leaders and produce STEM workers, American schools need to improve the way STEM education is approached. My vision for the Future of STEM education is for the United States to take the reins of innovation and start competing globally. Here are six steps, suggested by the STEM 2026 report by the Department of Education, which can help realize that goal.
- Community Engagement
The STEM 2026 report encourages “engaged and networked communities of practice.” For educators, parents, and students this directive means incorporating STEM learning in early childhood education through primary and secondary learning. The cooperation of professionals and organizations in the STEM field with educators can elicit curiosity and learning in children of all ages. Expansion of the FIRST mentoring program may help bridge the gap in community engagement.
- Access to Learning Activities
The inclusion of hands-on learning activities in STEM education is paramount to facilitate student engagement. Additionally, children must have the opportunity to learn through failure and exploration. The Department of Education classifies these activities as inviting play and risk. One such activity, which can be incorporated throughout K-12 STEM learning, is robotics. Robotics is hands-on and encourages problem-solving and risk-taking in students.
- Interdisciplinary Approaches to Solving “Grand Challenges”
Tasking students to address real-world problems helps them understand the role of STEM in everyday life. Additionally, requiring them to use more than one STEM discipline or incorporate non-STEM disciplines in problem-solving encourages innovative thinking. Students can be engaged through school programs or community competitions. An excellent example of “Grand Challenge” exercises can be found on the Practical Action web page.
- Inclusive and Flexible Learning Spaces
Along with the use of more hands-on approaches, flexible learning spaces will incorporate blended learning and flipped classroom organization to schools. The inclusion of educational technology in and out of the classroom can help bridge achievement gaps and provide a level playing field for all students. Additionally, the use of games, media, intelligent tutoring systems and virtual reality will increase student participation in STEM.
- Innovative Measures of Learning
The STEM 2026 report calls for creative and accessible measures of learning. Meaning, the way we test students’ understanding of core competencies must change to encourage STEM achievement. Assessments must be equally available to children, regardless of physical or mental disabilities. The National Center On Universal Design for Learning has outlined three principles for fair and equitable testing. As STEM education advances, the use of a more holistic approach to testing will incorporate edtech assessment tools with lifelong learning evaluations to judge student performance.
- Promotion of Diversity in STEM Opportunities
The proliferation of stereotypes in society and the media have pigeonholed the STEM field. These stereotypical images have created a homogenous culture in STEM education and work. The community and media must commit to promoting diversity in STEM to encourage underrepresented demographics to pursue STEM education.
The engagement of U.S. children in STEM education is the key to companies filling an estimated 9 million jobs in the industry by 2022. Time can only tell how many STEM careers will be created in the years that follow. However, it’s up to everyone to ensure that American students are prepared to compete for those spots.
With the commitment of parents, teachers, and communities we can offer a more inclusive and effective STEM education to children. While improving STEM learning may seem like a lofty goal, the Every Student Succeeds Act has provided support for the idea. It’s now up to us to make the changes necessary to realize a vision of better STEM education for American students.
What programs do you want to see incorporated in your local schools? Are you a STEM teacher, working on the frontlines to improve education? We want to hear your opinions and ideas.