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STEM Skills Are Needed to Help Kids ‘Poke the Universe’ Again

Earth and North America from Space

Last week at the US News STEM Solutions Conference, the issue that everyone had in the back of their minds was the so-called “STEM Gap.”

For some reason, schools are not producing enough STEM-proficient students, even though there are an estimated 2.1 million jobs that will exist and need filling in the sector by 2020.

Steve Woodhead, manager of global social investment at Chevron, spoke to eSchoolNews about what he thinks is the problem. “For 200 years people relied on farming, and so they knew how to farm. Now, people rely on technology, but so few seem to know anything about it.” So how do we close this gap and get kids interested in science and math again?

A lot of the panelists and sponsors at the conference were in agreement: throw out the old-fashioned lectures, and replace them with project-based learning. “You can’t just attract kids to STEM,” Woodhead said. “There has to be something for them when they get there. It’s not just about teachers emptying their brains into classrooms.”

Once students recognize that there is a payoff to memorizing all these equations and numbers and that they actually lead to something like blueprints for a building or a circuit board for a robot, the hope is that then math and science won’t seem so intimidating, as eSchoolNews notes.

Just ask some of the students from Ohio that were at the conference to show what they’ve learned so far in their STEM related classes. “I’ve really liked the emphasis on doing actual projects,” said Cory Gabel, a high school senior. “It does a great job of easing high school students like me into being first-year engineering students.”

Organizations like Project Lead the Way and the Fab Foundation are trying to bring pre-college STEM training to high school students so they can see firsthand what all these skills are leading up to. Students often grow bored or frustrated with STEM classes because the material is dry and based around textbooks and exams, says Brian Iselin, an instructor for the Project Lead the Way program in Lorain County, Ohio.

“Just seeing how this stuff is applied to the real world does so much,” he noted in eSchoolNews’ article. “That’s what makes the difference.”

Human beings are naturally curious from an early age, but the way STEM is being taught to students can dull that curiosity very quickly. By figuring out how to recreate how researchers actually work, but do so in a classroom setting could help reignite some students’ natural curiosity. Luckily, we’re seeing more and more kids enrolling in STEM programs, so the opportunities to reignite that curiosity are multiplying.

“Babies love to poke the universe and see what happens,” says Jeff Goldstein, director of the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Space Education. And STEM courses should be creating that same atmosphere for students. Because poking the universe is how we make progress.

photo credit: IronRodArt – Royce Bair (“Star Shooter”) via photopin cc

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