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Why better STEM programs are the key to creating global citizens

Overworked teachers and overburdened curriculum makes improving STEM programs a challenge, but there are solutions

Knowledge has become a commodity. We live in a society today were facts are at our fingertips through ready access to the internet and search engines. To keep pace, our educational system needs to focus less on memorization of facts and more on how to use facts and how to ask the right questions.

Regardless of one’s career, success in that field will be governed by the mastery of critical thinking. It’s a challenge for educational systems around the world, but especially in the U.S., somewhat ironically, the birthplace of so much innovation. During the next few decades, those that can master this new challenge will have a competitive advantage, and will be better at preparing students for career opportunities.

The best place for today’s schools to start is with revitalizing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, as so many of the skills taught during the study of STEM fields (critical thinking, testing and redesigning, patience, perseverance, team work, etc.) are key to personal growth and perseverance.

The issue goes far beyond creating well-rounded students prepared for higher education. Companies across the U.S. are struggling to find talent to keep up their numbers and sales. If they can’t find the talent here, they will have no choice but to look overseas to find the right candidate. To keep our students competitive, we need high-quality lessons during school educational programs, to prepare and engage students, so that they are ultimately the ones filling these positions.

We need to understand the impact of the decisions we make when and if we de-emphasize science and engineering from the educational system. Companies need this talent or they will move away or bring in overseas talent.

In response to these challenges, many companies in the Unites States are working to revitalize and support impactful STEM programs that can improve student attitudes and aptitudes in this space.  One of the best sources of hope in the improvement of STEM education comes from companies acting in their “enlightened self-interest” by investing in initiatives to assist and encourage effective STEM education for future generations.

Next page: The best ways to improve STEM programs

A better model

Corporations large and small, as well as a number of dedicated providers, are helping to close this gap by providing STEM programs that assist schools through customizable, pre-packaged content including lessons, take-home materials, teacher preparation guides, and more, that integrate seamlessly into the teacher’s curriculum, scope and sequence.

And while some schools have made efforts to incorporate such programs as part of their extra-curricular offerings, there is a growing understanding that it is critical for STEM programs to be implemented during the school day in a repetitive touch-point model to leave the most impactful result.

Programs offered during school hours can help educators who are struggling to develop and deliver STEM content to their students. Unlike after school programs where students self-select in or have parents who enroll them, during-school programs ensure that all students in the classroom are exposed to the lesson at hand. Multiple touch points are also significant, as a single “science day” can be exciting, but does not offer the continuity to allow for greater exploration and understanding of material.

Programs that occur during school hours are usually intended to assist or fill-in the needs of classroom teachers. Teachers sometimes struggle to present engaging content due to their lack of STEM background, lack of available funding to create and develop hands-on materials that bring science to life, and lack of time (usually to address testing constraints in other subjects such as ELA and math).

Countless data sets show that children decide where their interests lie by the time they’ve completed middle school, making it critical for education leaders to focus on STEM for grades 4-8. Those early, formative years are so important because it’s a time when self-discovery and confidence building occurs. Programs that target elementary and middle school students and have a goal of improving interest and aptitude in STEM are extremely important.

In the U.S., the majority of K-8 teachers are trained to teach a variety of different subjects, which means that while the breadth of their knowledge is extensive, it’s difficult to have deep knowledge of every subject. In science, for example, teachers may receive as little as a single semester’s worth of training, making it difficult for them to become comfortable with all of the various “areas” of science (chemistry, life science, earth-science, physics, technology, etc.). This is especially true in grades K-5 where teachers are expected to teach everything (English, math, science, social studies, art, etc.).

This is where use of external experience can be helpful and key, to augment the teacher’s experience.  That usually requires educational leaders to reach outside the current educational model and we should reward those leaders willing to do so.

We are at a critical time in education history in the United States. The status quo is falling short of creating the number of graduates with the skills the industry requires. Employers are reacting to this challenge and are finding ways to partner with schools to close the educational gap. We need to reward and encourage our leaders to form these partnerships and take advantage of the opportunities they create to bring experience into the classroom during school, particularly during elementary education, when children are forming their attitudes towards STEM subjects, which will influence the decisions for the rest of their lives.

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