We’ve all seen the headlines—America is falling behind other countries in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This trend is one to take a closer look at and examine. Reports show that:
- In science, U.S. eighth-graders were outperformed by eighth-grade students in Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong SAR, Estonia, Japan, Hungary, and the Netherlands.
- The 2010 ACT College and Career Readiness report found only 29% of the tested 2010 graduates are considered college-ready in science and 43% are considered college-ready in math.
While U.S. student performance can be affected by a complex mix of educational, socioeconomic, and other factors, STEM is a major concern for America’s education system given that jobs of the future increasingly require strong competency in STEM.
Change is underway thanks to the research we’re doing at the STEM Education Center at the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD). We’re addressing the national need by exploring how we integrate STEM into K-12 education, train teachers, develop curriculum and assess learning.
What Exactly is STEM Education?
STEM is comprised of four subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The heart of STEM education, however, is creating excitement among students for these topics by combining the four disciplines to solve real-world, relevant, and timely issues.
A great example of this comes from STEM curriculum called “Save the Penguins” developed by the Virginia Middle School Engineering Education Initiative, and shared in our research. The curriculum integrated the real-world issue of climate change with traditional science concepts of heat transfer. Students first learned the environmental science concept of climate change and its impact on penguins. After understanding the impact of climate change, students were encouraged to think about who can save the penguins and how. Applying heat transfer concepts learned in class, students created and tested an engineering device that can keep a penguin-shaped ice cube from melting.
Why is STEM Important?
Many teachers (and parents) have needed to answer, “why do I need to learn this?” at least once. But with the fresh approach to STEM education, this question all but disappears. The translation of STEM disciplines into relevant topics (like climate change) not only generates incredible interest in learning among students, but also improves comprehension. STEM education creates critical thinkers and innovative problem solvers, so improving STEM education positively impacts not only our educational system, but benefits our economy, global stature, and quality of life.
Next week, we’ll share how engineering curriculum has been incorporated into science standards by state mandates and how Minnesota pioneered this integration.
–Gillian Roehrig and Tamara Moore, STEM Education Center Co-Directors
Discover additional insights into STEM education research:
- Five Challenges in Science Education (PDF) by David Thornburg, Ph.D.
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