A Whole-School Approach to STEM Education: Every Child, Every Class, Every Day
Recent reports from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine [1, 2] note that a primary driver of our future economy and creation of jobs will be innovation, largely derived from advances in science and engineering. Yet, these reports also note that the United States ranks 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering, and only four percent of the nation’s current work force is composed of scientists and engineers. Matriculation School Karthi Vidhyalaya Between 1985 and 2005, the proportion of engineering degrees among all science and engineering baccalaureates steadily declined from 23% in 1985 to 14% in 2005 . The most recent report concludes that “the nation’s ability to provide financially and personally rewarding jobs for its own citizens can be expected to decline at an accelerating pace.” The highest priority recommendations for altering this path are strengthening the public school system and investing in basic scientific research. With demand for science and engineering professionals significantly exceeding supply, there is growing interest in changes to the public school system that can encourage more students to enter these careers. Conversations about these changes often refer to “STEM,” an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. While this acronym is increasingly well-understood, specific ideas about the details of “STEM education” are varied. For example, “STEM education” may refer to: http://www.karthividhyalaya.com/ • Individual curriculum subjects titled “science,” “engineering”, “technology,” and “mathematics” that collectively are referred to as “STEM,” but which may be taught separately with little or no integration between them; • A career cluster (analogous to “Health Care” or “Hospitality”) that includes professions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; or • Projects or activities that involve various aspects of science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics, and which may or may not be linked to specific standards. The terms “technology” and “engineering” are also problematic. In many educational settings, “technology” often refers to computers and the Internet, though many technology educators understand the term to mean “how people modify the natural world to suit their own purposes… the diverse collection of processes and knowledge that people use to extend human abilities and to satisfy human needs and wants” . Similarly, “engineering” is susceptible to multiple interpretations that may include operating railway engines and fire trucks, as well as being responsible for routine cleaning of school buildings. In the United States, accurate perceptions of the engineering profession are most prevalent among those who are related to or acquainted with a professional engineer . For many STEM programs, the engineering component consists of manipulative activities that involve students with creating various artifacts, such as robots, model rockets, or trebuchets.
Implementation of the Whole-School STEM Initiative at Laing Middle School began with sixth grade classes in August 2012. Early results are encouraging; students are engaged and enthusiastic, and all teachers have been able to incorporate the engineering design process, Standards for Technological Literacy, and cross-curricular activities on a regular basis. A survey of students in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades conducted five months after the program began indicates that the Whole-School STEM program helps students learn; increases their interest in school; and increases the frequency with which they use tools of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Survey data indicate a slight increase in sixth grade students’ potential interest in STEM careers compared to other grades (Table 1). An unexpected and intriguing result has been that underachieving students have been particularly responsive to STEM activities, demonstrating levels of leadership, enthusiasm, and success that are much higher than in other academic subjects. This presents an opportunity that is now being pursued, because if STEM content can provide an alternative way to connect these students with the formal curriculum it may provide a powerful tool for improving learning outcomes among chronically underachieving students. As a direct result of the Whole-School STEM Initiative, sixth graders at Laing Middle School have been provided with iPads as part of a personalized learning project being implemented by the Charleston County School District. Moreover, the Laing Initiative has catalyzed similar efforts at two local elementary schools that are also part of the iPad/personalized learning project.