By Matthew Lynch
According to the STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math) Coalition, there are 26 million STEM jobs in the U.S., comprising 20 percent of all jobs. By 2020, there will be 9.2 million STEM jobs in the U.S. Despite the need for these workers, only 45 percent and 30 percent of high school seniors are prepared for college-level math and science courses, respectively.
As the American K-12 system continues to look for ways to increase student interest and aptitude in STEM learning, technology is playing an increasingly pivotal role. Children who come to classrooms today have an inherent aptitude for technology and educators should encourage that skill set with resources that integrate STEM learning. Just a few of the ways to do that include making use of:
Scientific experiments are no longer just reserved for physical labs. Through interactive technology, students can now do experiments remotely through use of virtual laboratories. The virtual labs at New Mexico State University, for example, give high school and college students access to food-based experiments. Students can test for corn mold, milk bacterial contamination and prevent C. Bot growth in salsa from a remote website. There is certainly something to be said of in-person experimentation, but student access is usually limited based on actual class times and resources. A virtual lab means that a student can do an experiment multiple times, and learn from mistakes in real-time and make adjustments. It also means that experiments are not limited to a determined class time and can be done on a student’s schedule. So students with an appetite for experimentation have greater access to it, and the others are not easily discouraged by “one shot” experiments.
In-class mobile devices
A student with a tablet or smartphone in hand has a portal to hundreds of apps that support STEM learning. There are a lot of things that students can do on basic tablets and phones, but there are also products like the einstein Tablet+ from Fourier Education that have a specific focus on STEM initiatives. Instead of going out and searching for STEM-centric lessons, the einstein Tablet+ comes preloaded with experiments and modules that cover physics, biology, human physiology, chemistry, and environmental science. This STEM-specific tablet can be connected to classroom projectors and monitors so that all the students can participate at once, or can be used as an individual tablet for customized learning in grades K-12. Teachers can search mobile apps for highly-reviewed ones, some of which are completely free, to use on the screens in their classrooms.
While statistics show that too much television watching among children leads to higher obesity rates, behavior problems and less interest in things like reading, kids ages 8 to 18 are still watching television programs on various screens for 4.5 hours every day. It isn’t all bad news though. The value of children’s programming is increasing though. Programming is no longer created for the purpose of entertainment alone. On PBS alone, STEM-learning programs like Sid the Science Kid, Curious George, Cyberchase, Nature and Nova run the gamut of childhood ages and interests. In some cases, teachers are even able to incorporate some of these learning programs in classrooms and build entire lesson plans around the content.
Math, science and engineering are all intrinsically linked with technology. This gives educators an advantage with the current generation of K-12 students who arrive in Kindergarten classrooms with a technological edge. As learning technology improves, STEM education will continue to be the beneficiary if educators use it resourcefully.
What do you think can be done to improve student interest in STEM pursuits?