According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the next seven years over a million jobs will open that require specialized technology skills. These jobs are outlined as STEM occupations — technical jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As too few students are pursuing these types of careers, President Obama has articulated the need for STEM education, giving the ultimatum that within the next decade America must “move from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math.” The administration is making a push to create a cohesive national STEM education strategy in cooperation with schools, and one of the main tenements of this all important push is utilizing STEM instruction in grades K-12.
The President has already expanded the program “Educate to Innovate,” which supports the training and professional development of teachers in STEM related fields. In addition to this, plenty of government agencies have pledged to volunteer their services in providing exciting STEM educational opportunities to students country-wide, some of which have already gone into effect. For example, NASA will continue to provide a multi-year program called the ‘Summer of Innovation‘ in which middle school students across the United States are challenged to share in the excitement of scientific discovery and space exploration. This program specifically aims to keep students involved in STEM related activities over the long summer break, keeping them engaged in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; keeping them curious and keeping them asking questions about the universe around them.
There are also other ways of keeping students engaged in STEM activities that may not explicitly seem like traditionally STEM-branded curriculum. For example, integrating the arts into a lesson plan may help “soften the blow” of these sometimes “scary” concepts, encouraging students to think outside of the box in the mean time. By showing students how they can apply these skills, perhaps by building a Rube Goldberg machine or by drawing complex ideas, they can conquer many different disciplines at once, applying critical thinking within a hands-on activity. A great example of this hands on learning is in Philadelphia, where The Wooden Boat Factory works to engage urban teens in hands-on boat building and on-water programming to nurture many aspects of STEM education: including problem solving, high-order thinking skills, deep understanding, and meacognition, as well as collaboration and communication. As the description of the video notes: “This is a powerful demonstration of hands on learning at its finest.”