What’s holding STEM back in the US?

As organizations worldwide continue to invest in science, technology, engineering and math initiatives, and as students take a higher interest in technical careers, you would expect the number of educational institutions responding to the workplace’s increasing demand for technical talent would naturally increase, right?

Wrong. In fact, STEM is still not even on the roadmaps of many educational institutions--a reality that inhibits students from achieving meaningful learning experiences and becoming 21st century career ready. This is in large part due to some common misconceptions about STEM education.

Here's a look at some of those misconceptions and the arguments to debunk them.

  1. There’s not enough money for STEM studies. Despite popular belief, STEM does not need a huge investment to get started. Per student, the investment does not increase to modify the curriculum to one that can incorporate STEM. There is steady funding in the US and most developed countries for STEM programs, as well as many private contributions to STEM classrooms. Companies like Oracle are well known to be huge financial supporters of STEM education programs, as it creates workplace-ready graduates for their employment needs. Also, virtual learning, graphic simulation and cloud-based tools can offer STEM to every student with a browser at a much lower cost and with a much broader reach.

  2. There’s no infrastructure for STEM education. This may be true if you identify STEM as a robotics class, but if you see it as a quest for digital literacy on all levels and for all students, then today’s cutting-edge technology makes this a moot argument. Cloud-based learning environments help debunk this myth, too. Virtual learning, Web 2.0 tools, and robotics simulations are becoming increasingly popular, allowing every student to work with technology and engineering from any desktop. The focus of technology is also not only on hardware and engineering, but also on software engineering. This is true for in-school classes, as well as informal learning environments. This style of learning is low cost and low risk and gives both students and teachers hands-on STEM environments with little to no investment in infrastructure.

  3. STEM is just math and science with another name. Creating more math and science courses is not the same as giving students a technological foundation. Inherently interdisciplinary, STEM covers more than just the sum of its parts. For example, studying through the lens of STEM gives students meaningful learning experiences that include critical thinking skills, collaboration, communication, and creativity. Making STEM a cornerstone of a curriculum is about creating graduates who are workplace ready in emerging fields of software, robotics, and technology. But more than that, it’s about creating students who understand how to learn, and can adapt and reposition themselves in multiple fields throughout their careers.

  4. Teachers don’t understand STEM, so they can’t teach it. Some teachers lack the skills to transfer knowledge in a STEM classroom. The good news, though, is that STEM learning providers are anticipating this and designing their products to help ease this transition. One product, CoderZ, a cloud-based learning program, comes with lesson plans, assessments, tutorials and professional development to help teachers get started. Teachers with little or no background in STEM topics can get the right training and easily become mentors and leaders in rolling out technology literacy to all students.

  5. Not every student is interested in STEM. Technology literacy is the most important skill in 21st century jobs. A baker, an artist, a musician, a writer, a politician, a lawyer and almost everyone else will benefit from a core understanding of how software works, how robots operate, and how machines control the equipment they interact with daily.

  6. STEM is just a lot of hype and lacks substance. What is “technology”? How do you measure critical thinking? How do you analyze collaboration? The key areas that make up STEM studies, such as how to interpret problems and how to gather and evaluate evidence are the building blocks of 21st century careers. That’s why there are billions of dollars’ worth of funding being put into STEM in the US right now.  

  7. STEM isn’t standardized. Multiple choice questions, essays and coursework of the traditional kind may not be suitable for STEM education, but that doesn’t mean you have to kiss those assessments goodbye. Differentiated learning is easy to implement with a cloud-based learning environment, where students can work at their own pace, starting from varied levels of knowledge or ability, and teachers can see at a glance how far they’ve come, and what they have achieved. In addition, computer science is becoming more pervasive in the school curriculum and many states now require this to be offered at the middle and high school level.

Nate Greene, Ed.D, is a former principal and high school science teacher. He currently serves as the Administrator of the Office of Academics and Professional Learning for the NH Department of Education. 

Tech Tips is a weekly column in SmartBrief on EdTech. Have a tech tip to share? Contact us at knamahoe@smartbrief.com.

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