STEM education is a critical part of a comprehensive K-12 education–it helps students build and improve critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and it teaches students to be persistent when presented with a challenge.
And while STEM education is essential, it’s not always accessible–underrepresented groups, including female students and minority students–often lose interest in STEM subjects as the subjects grow more challenging and as they move through school.
Representation is another obstacle to more ubiquitous STEM participation. When students don’t see STEM professionals who look like them represented in advertising, on TV and in movies, or in classroom resources, they have a harder time envisioning themselves in STEM careers.
But with the right engagement and approach to STEM subjects, which do become more challenging as students progress, students can become lifelong STEM learners. Here are five great insights about STEM education:
1. Female middle and high school students have a high aptitude fit with, but low interest in, STEM careers, such as technology, manufacturing, and architecture, among others, according to the 2023 Female Student and STEM Career Exposure Gap Report from YouScience. Based on nationwide data, key findings show that female students have more than 11 times the aptitude for advanced manufacturing careers than interest and 8 times more aptitude for computers and technology careers than interest.
2. When you think of racism in our classrooms and schools, what immediately comes to your mind? Signs that say “Whites Only” or Confederate flags hoisted on flag poles? Although these are pieces of evidence that racism does exist, racism isn’t as blatant as a physical sign that favors one race over another. In fact, racism is systemically embedded into our educational institution and can be camouflaged with other issues like socioeconomic status and even the learning loss from the COVID-19 pandemic. Every student should be able to see diversity in STEM education and in the STEM fields. This normalizes the concept of diverse voices. It also allows for students and teachers to reflect on their own biases, think about microaggressions and how truly to build a classroom community that stands up to racism.
3. Science is much more than naming planets or memorizing the periodic elements. At its heart, science is about tapping into a student’s innate curiosity and creativity while fostering their critical thinking skills. It encourages them to ask important questions and discover answers by carefully examining their surroundings. Given the incredibly packed school day schedule, finding room for science will take more than a little flexibility and creative thinking. Strategies that teachers can put into practice right away include engaging students in activities that will leave them feeling accomplished and treat them like real scientists in only 15 minutes or less, and using instructional models to remind students that soft skills like critical thinking are just as important as the science, math, ELA, and social studies content they learn.
4. There’s a common perception that young people don’t pursue STEM degrees or careers because math and other STEM education subjects are too hard. That’s nonsense. Math is much more than trigonometry and physics and calculus. At its basic level, math is about learning to think and solve problems. Learning basic math skills such as reasoning, estimation, and measurement can open doors to good careers in growing fields such as allied health, health care, medical offices and construction trades. To point students toward STEM careers that require mastery only of basic math, teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade must share the joy of learning math and show all students that math is a crucial skill.
5. STEM is often introduced in middle and high schools, but by that time, many students have already avoided it. Early STEM exposure–and successes or failures in STEM learning–can often make or break a child’s willingness to participate in STEM learning. Educational robotics can turn this downward trend around by incorporating all aspects of STEM in an engaging way that helps students reach success in problem-based learning challenges early on. This motivates students to tackle more difficult challenges.
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