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STEM education is critical, but schools struggle to keep students interested

STEM-edEducators hear it all the time: STEM education is one of the keys to a competitive and successful U.S. workforce. But for all the emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and math, these subjects often can be dry and leave students wondering how they’ll apply these concepts in the real world.

The latest PISA results paint a grim picture of U.S. math and science performance–in math, the U.S. ranked 26th out of the 34 testing countries, and the nation ranked 21st in science.

There also exists a gap between U.S. performance and that of top-performing countries. For instance, Shanghai-China’s performance “is the equivalent of over two years of formal schooling ahead of those observed in Massachusetts, itself a strong-performing U.S. state,” according to the results.

(Next page: Important ways to keep students interested in STEM)

What can be done to ignite student interest in STEM?

High school students are often taught by teachers who have not majored or minored in the subject area they are teaching.

The Obama Administration has emphasized STEM education and has called for recruiting 100,000 STEM teachers in the coming years.

U.S. educators and stakeholders can take three immediate steps, outlined here in an infographic, to generate student interest in STEM education:

1. Explore rich media products that help STEM topics “come alive” for students. Games, videos, labs, and interactive simulations are just some of the tools that can give students a fresh perspective on STEM learning.

2. Swap lectures with hands-on learning experiences. When students are allowed to explore a problem or solve a challenge on their own, they are often more engaged and absorb more information. Letting them solve real-world problems is another way to help them see the connection between classroom learning and real-world applications.

3. Re-imagine science fairs. Make the stereotypical science fair a thing of the past. The White House Science Fair is one example of young scientists being lauded and celebrated for their curiosity and innovation.

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Laura Ascione

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