Photo from Gap Kids
You may have heard this buzz word – STEM – thrown around, mentioned on news shows, or seen it in a political ad. Chances are you have an idea of what the education acronym stands for: Science Technology Engineering Mathematics. And though that is the basic information, you may still be asking yourself, “What is STEM education and why is it important?”
According to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the United States ranked 36th overall in testing for mathematics, reading and science (reading was the strongest branch, while mathematics and science were lacking). There are many reasons for the United States performing below average in these subject areas and believe it or not, it’s not about the money. In fact, the United States was outperformed by countries that spend less per student. It’s more about the content they were assessed for. According to the standardized test that all these countries take, the “real world” calculations seemed to be a stumbling block for U.S. students. Students struggle with high-order thinking questions, such as multi-step equations, versus one-step numerical equations. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) aims to combat these gaps. Although the CCSS has faced serious criticism in the United States, its goal is aimed at pushing students toward closing the achievement gap with other countries in STEM areas.
Why is it important to focus on STEM education? In a word: jobs. Although you may not be thinking about your child’s global competitiveness when they are still young, the reality is that STEM education will open doors in the job market. According to the STEM Education Coalition, jobs requiring STEM education are growing at nearly the same rate as healthcare jobs. In a time when unemployment is a constant topic, STEM job openings outnumber unemployed people 1.9 to one. This means that STEM jobs are plentiful, but the qualified applicants are few. Not only are there jobs ready to hire for STEM educated individuals, but they also pay more. In fact, 47% of STEM bachelor degree holders earn more than non-STEM PhD holders. Therefore, STEM job growth, employment opportunities and competitive salaries make STEM education more attractive than ever before.
Despite the reality of the benefits of STEM education and STEM degrees, there is still a lack of interest in these fields. As an educator, I have some personal opinions on why this is true. As I thought about this topic, I recalled a conversation I had with a friend from the Czech Republic. She said when she was young, they took a test which measured ones academic strengths, and then assigned a set career path in middle school. From then on, you were trained for what you would be: a scientist, an accountant, a janitor. In the United States, we live the American Dream, which encourages kids that “You can be whatever you dream to be!” Our country does not require children predisposed to excellence in science, technology, engineering or mathematics to be betrothed to that area for the rest of their lives. Students are allowed to pick their university, their major, their minor, and choose to change those at any time.
Our education system emphasizes reading and writing, and is now trying to catch up in mathematics.
In my personal experience in elementary school, science is an afterthought. We are required to instruct science for a certain amount of time a week, and it is often skipped in light of testing, assemblies or field trips. STEM degrees are difficult to achieve based on our education system, there is no doubt about it. However, should we be pushing our children towards these subject areas and careers? That is the question we need to be asking ourselves.
How can I encourage my child in STEM Education areas? There are several ways you can encourage your child in these areas, and all require interaction. Positive parental involvement equates to children being more at ease with the activities, and more likely to have a positive attitude toward a difficult subject area. Here are a few ways you can enhance your children’s STEM skills at home:
• Conduct experiments, such as weather predictions or plant growth, using the scientific method.
• Bake with your kids! Measuring using fractions, an often difficult task for children, will help their verbal and calculating skills in real life situations.
• Ask “What do you think would happen if…” questions. Get your children posing theories and backing them up!
• Have a “problem of the day” by taking a situation in your real life and create a problem to solve together. For example, “I want to buy a shirt for $24, but it is 30% off. If I pay with a $20 bill, how much change will I get?” (Use two or three step problems)
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