STEM education provides many opportunities and challenges. How can our practice evolve to meet the needs of 21st-century learners?

Why STEM?

Eric Brunsell Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh

Innovations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are one of the forces that drive our economy and society. Ask many politicians and business leaders and they will say that producing a bigger STEM workforce is critical to our economic security and prosperity.
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I was recently speaking with a CEO of a company that prioritizes hiring of scientists, mathematicians and economists because they are good problem solvers. They are creative, yet able to analyze data and trends. He told me that hiring those types of people is a very competitive process - he may only have a few candidates that are also being recruited by other companies. On the other hand, he adds, when we hire someone with a business background, we might have 50-100 (or more) applicants for a single position.
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Payscale, Inc. released a report that ranked undergraduate college degrees by median starting salary and mid-career salary (w/o graduate degree). Seven of the top 10 majors were in engineering. The other three (economics, physics and computer science) all require a significant “STEM” background. In fact, every career in the top 20 (marketing comes in at 21) requires substantial science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics coursework.
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So, is that it? We need to do a better job at STEM education to prepare kids for the workforce? This does not seem like a compelling reason for students that may not be intrinsically interested in STEM fields.
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Why do you think STEM education is important?

Comments (3)

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Georgia High School Engineering & Technology teacher

Why STEM?

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I think the better question is : Why not STEM? Why are my classes full of students who have no desire to become the scientists, doctors, engineers, etc of the future? Who turned these kids off? I can remember that as a 3rd grader, 45+ tears ago, we designed and built our own flashlights! We learned basic electricity, assembling procedures and problem solving.
Our country's future depends on the generation sitting in our classrooms today! Where will we be in 20 years if the downturn in intellectual capital doesn't end?

drilling rig learning model

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Here in Fort Worth we see drilling rigs all over our city. One of the few areas of Texas without oil reserves, the Barnett Shale was found in the last 10 years to have the largest producible natural gas reserves in North America. This was made possible through development of new geological formation fracturing technologies. Having formerly worked as a Geologist/logging engineer on rigs, I know how the planning and operation of such a drilling complex device, admittedly a large one, involves almost ALL phases and disciplines that are grouped together as STEM. I want to use these BIG GADGETS as teaching tools instead of just large noisy intrusions into our community. How can I get GLEF funds to 1) set up a rig on donated land for a teaching demonstrator, and 2) to produce a teaching video for all levels of students. Drilling a well requires integrated knowledge of geology, ecology/biology, chemistry, mathematics/engineering, and al kinds of combined technologies to produce the fuel that propels this AGE OF OIL. Like it or not, and the preferability of alternative energy resources notwithstanding, this is a HUGE unused teaching tool that needs to be exploited for STEM education! Please send me any information to accomplish this goal.GF Scott

Charter High School Math Teacher & Community Outreach Coordinator, NM

The future calls

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I am about to apply for a STEM workshop. Part of the application asks "why." Well, um?? For those of us that understand the importance of STEM education it seems obvious yet is sometimes hard to articulate. When I try to explain the importance to my students, who without a doubt have had awful learning experiences in both math and science, I focus on their futures. The future jobs that will pay the most will require a background in math, science, and technology. And, if everything were to remain the way it is now, those jobs would go to graduates from other countries. We, the American Educational System, is just not motivating or inspiring our students to study these subjects. My hope, if I am able to attend this STEM training, is to be able to light a fire under my reluctant and frightened students. I have always loved math and science. I just hope I can inspire my students to do the same because if they don't then I fear our future economy will suffer.

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