STEM education encompasses science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and all their sub-disciplines. These subjects are widely considered the most important areas of emphasis in education today. The four STEM disciplines cover a wide range of subject areas and career fields. Consequently, the National Science Foundation divides the STEM disciplines into the following very broad categories: agricultural sciences, chemistry, computer science, engineering, environmental science, geosciences, life/biological sciences, mathematics, and physics/astronomy. And each of these broad categories contains multiple sub-disciplines. This diversity of disciplines illustrates the importance of STEM to every aspect of our lives. Clearly, the STEM disciplines play a major role in maintaining our nation’s competitiveness and continued economic prosperity.
Back in 2009, President Obama launched his “Educate to Innovate” campaign for excellence in STEM education. The president called for preparing and recruiting 100,000 high-quality K-12 STEM teachers, recognizing and rewarding excellence in STEM instruction, strengthening the infrastructure for supporting STEM instruction and engagement, increasing the number of undergraduates with a STEM degree by one million over the next decade, and broadening participation in STEM fields by underrepresented groups. This national emphasis on STEM education continues to present tremendous opportunities for educators qualified to teach in the STEM disciplines.
STEM in Elementary Schools
Elementary schools provide an excellent opportunity to instill in students an appreciation for STEM subjects. According to a report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), STEM-focused elementary schools offer a unique opportunity to better connect science learning and literacy. The report highlights the potential for synergies between the two areas that are often overlooked. Providing scientific discoveries and advances in an interesting and dynamic story form gives students greater motivation to learn literacy skills. In turn, improving reading and writing skills make learning science easier.
The PCAST report also identifies several areas where elementary schools need to improve as they integrate STEM into their curriculum. Most elementary teachers are not trained in the STEM disciplines, leading to a lack of confidence in their ability to engage these subjects. The report recommends at least one expert teacher in a STEM subject on each campus. These experts can serve as leaders in their schools, providing expertise and mentoring to their colleagues on how to illustrate and animate their subject areas with STEM content. Initiatives such as this increase the opportunities available for STEM educators.
STEM in Middle and High Schools
Most mathematics and science teachers in our high schools and middle schools have a degree of STEM expertise. Yet, many of our students graduate from high school lacking the basic STEM skills they should have acquired. The PCAST report suggests the schools can improve by cultivating meaningful connections to the STEM professional community. Partnering with a STEM organization, such as a research organization, college, university, museum, zoo, or technology company, can bring real-world STEM applications to life for students and increase their interest and motivation. Applying innovative initiatives such as this and the need to improve the STEM skills of our high school graduates guarantee a need for highly trained STEM educators.
Both government and industry agree the nation needs more STEM educators to inspire and develop the next generation of critical thinkers, inventors, and innovators. As a result, the number of jobs available in STEM education is rapidly growing, and future STEM educators will enjoy an important and exciting career offering a wide variety of opportunities and immense personal satisfaction.
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