This year in schools across the nation, approximately 136,000 students took advanced placement (AP) computer science, a 31 percent increase from last year. This group included a record number of female and minority students, but girls still only accounted for 28 percent of students taking AP computer science exams, while underrepresented minorities accounted for 21 percent. Meanwhile, the increase in STEM jobs shows no sign of slowing down, and only 33 percent of workers ages 25 and older have a degree in a STEM field.
What does this all mean? It means we can’t afford to leave anyone out. We need to find ways to immerse all students of all ages, races, genders, and types (not just the “talented and gifted” kids) in rich STEM learning. Educators need to do whatever they can to engage all students in a way that appeals to their interests across all STEM subjects. In working with hundreds of school districts across the country, here are four steps I’ve seen educators take to effectively build and nurture an equitable STEM program.
1. Provide STEM professional development (PD) to elementary teachers.
One of the challenges educators face is that there are limited opportunities for STEM-specific PD designed for elementary teachers. To promote STEM equity, schools first need to help more teachers figure out how to integrate STEM into their curriculum.
Providing this support can start at the school and district level. For example, schools can create the time and resources to allow STEM teachers to empower students in their education with support structures such as integration across disciplines and building coherence in STEM-related goals.
Elementary teachers, who may have more cross-curricular experience with STEM, can provide support to educators who teach middle or high-school students with a more distinct focus on content areas such as science or mathematics.
2. Expose students to STEM at an early age.
Often, by the time students hit middle school, they have already decided whether they are “good” at science and math. To avoid losing these kids, we need to make sure we are exposing students to STEM lessons and career opportunities in elementary school. Facilitating students’ exposure to STEM careers not only deepens their understanding of the subject matter, but also helps increase their interest in pursuing a STEM career after graduation.