Regular inclusion of technology skills in the education of elementary school students has contributed to a Colorado district’s ongoing prowess in teaching STEM subjects with success. From computer languages and coding to programming robots and designing video games, students are enthusiastically learning the skills needed for 21st century learning.
President Barack Obama discussed the nation’s lack of qualified workers to fill jobs in the growing science and technology industries in his 2012 State of the Union address; he increased STEM education funding nearly 7 percent in his proposed 2014 budget.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has said increasing the number of students who graduate with skills required to succeed in STEM jobs is an economic imperative.
At Preston Middle School in Fort Collins, students take classes in aeronautics and biotechnology. And Shepardson Elementary believes in STEM’s value so much that its principal, teachers and parents have petitioned to add STEM to the school’s name.
But there’s no set definition for STEM, nor is there equal access among students to this type of learning, educators say.
Some schools overhaul the way they teach, integrating math and engineering concepts into music and English classes and vice versa. Some think of STEM as a way to inspire kids to dig deeper, ask “why” and understand how their learning applies in the real world. Other may simply offer new computer classes to fulfill the “T” in STEM.
And some say STEM is a buzzword for a manner of teaching that’s gone on for decades.
Why focus on STEM?
• The number of science and engineering (S&E) occupations in the U.S. has grown an average of 5.9 percent annually, from about 182,000 in 1950 to nearly 5.5 million in 2009.
• U.S. S&E employment is projected to grow by 20.6 percent between 2008 and 2018, compared to 10.1 percent for all occupations.
• The five states with the highest percentage of the workforce engaged in S&E occupations are: the District of Columbia (19.9 percent); Virginia (6.6 percent); Massachusetts (6.6 percent); Maryland (6 percent); and Colorado (5.9 percent).
• The most common degrees held by S&E workers in 2008 were in engineering (38 percent) and computer/mathematical sciences (22 percent).
• In 2010, median earnings for workers in S&E occupations were $75,820. That’s more than double the median ($33,840) for all U.S. workers.
Source: National Science Foundation STEM education and data trends tool, released in fall 2013