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A Missing Puzzle Piece in STEM

Integrate stories of STEM careers into the standards curriculum

By Joshua Sneideman

Four years ago, I was honored to be the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator at the US Department of Energy (DOE) in the Office of Renewable Energy. My time at the DOE impressed upon me one STEM lesson greater than any other then or since. The people, the amazing STEM professionals working in renewables and energy efficiency were the real STEM story. The scientific breakthrough in solar efficiency was a process driven by people. I kept thinking to myself as I attended one after another-national meeting on STEM education, or the 3 pillars of NGSS, or STEM as a national security issue, if only we could share the stories of the REAL STEM PROFESSIONALS we could capture the interest of the next generation.

I recall at a meeting with former NASA Administrator and Astronaut Dr. Charles Bolden, I asked “How can we motivate students today the way an entire generation of students was motivated by John F. Kennedy to go to the moon?” His response was both insightful and alarming. He noted that today, NASA does so many different things it is hard to capture their attention in the same moon-shot sort of way. He posited this was a dilemma. I see this as the golden opportunity of STEM in the 21st century. The opportunity to connect almost every student with some aspect of STEM in the modern world that connects to them personally. Not only at NASA and the department of Energy but across all industries, STEM is in high demand. Consider that 27 percent of new agricultural jobs find STEM skills a necessity, according to a 2015 article in US News and World Report.

If we could find meaningful ways to communicate the positive impact STEM professionals in EVERY industry are having on society, solving local and global problems, confronting the challenges of the 21st century, we could tap into the potential of this generation!

They say, today’s student may have 10-15 different careers. Knowing this, how do we prepare students for success? I believe that if students recognized in a more profound way the translatability of their STEM interest to diverse fields, recognizing they will change jobs this many times, they will be more motivated than ever to work hard at math and science.

The National Research Council notes in their report, Successful K-12 STEM Education, 2011 indicates that for student interest in STEM to persist to workforce entry, it must be developed prior to leaving the 8th grade. The National Academies of Science in their report, Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science And Technology Talent At The Crossroads (2011) recommend improving access and increase underrepresented minority student awareness of and motivation for STEM education and careers through improved information, counseling, and outreach. Taken in conjunction with the Girl Scouts’ report Generation STEM which indicates that STEM Girls as they call them, “have had significantly greater exposure to STEM fields.” In sum, the missing puzzle piece becomes abundantly clear.

The missing puzzle piece in STEM is for late elementary and middle school educators to find ways to integrate stories of STEM careers into the standards curriculum to increase awareness and interest in these fields before not after students enter high school.

Author Further Reading
  1. Press of Atlantic City – Teentech introduces high school girls to STEM careers
  2. Jacksonville Free Press – Young Women of Color Conference Focuses on STEM Careers
  3. US News and World Report – Kelvin Beachum of the New York Jets Connects STEM and Sports
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