By Gi Hallmark
You may have heard the phrase “STEM,” but do you really know what it’s all about and what it means for young learners?
STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, yet the sum of what STEM represents is greater than these individual disciplines. STEM is about the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education to change the way students think and approach ideas.
A focused strategy on integrating these subjects, rather than a fragmented approach, has shown that students receive a more relevant and stimulating learning experience. This combination promotes innovation, big picture thinking, improved problem solving skills, self-reliance, and technology literacy. All these benefits produce more naturally confident, inquisitive and productive students.
For these reasons, the focus on STEM continues to increase in the hopes of cultivating a more competitive talent pool in the world marketplace, in addition to breeding a generation of innovators. The STEM acronym was first used by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the early 2000’,s and since then vast amounts of data and research have been collected to support fortifying an integrated STEM education approach.
In 2009, of the 10 most wanted jobs listed by the US Department of Labor, 8 of them were jobs with degrees in STEM fields; accounting, computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, information sciences and systems, computer engineering, civil engineering, and economics and finance. The NSF also reports that from 1950 to 2009, STEM occupations have grown at an average of 5.9% per year, much greater than the 1.8% growth rate for total workforce during this same period.
The importance of STEM in careers and education is well documented. However, the value of STEM extends beyond the surface of careers and competitiveness. As research on STEM education is evolving, there has been a movement to add an “A” to STEM for the acronym STEAM. The “A” is for Art and Design. This doesn’t necessarily mean boosting art education (though there would be benefits to that as well), it’s about learning the creative aspect of design and the design process.
Design is a vital part of the STEM experience: identifying a problem or idea, designing a solution or process, implementation and evaluation. Taking an abstract or concrete idea and utilizing it takes the ability think creatively, and the benefits of the ability to master this creative process extends far beyond careers in STEM.
Education systems nationwide are embracing an integrated STEM curriculum and are in constant motion working on effective ways to implement these curriculums in the classroom. Science and math have had their place in standards and assessments for years and in addition, technology is now becoming more than just an elective.
The most challenging STEM element to introduce and integrate appears to be Engineering, which is vital for its design and problem solving components. As educators and localities work on integrating STEM, it’s clear that parents need to also step in to become more knowledgeable and interested.
The mandate for parents to become more involved in integrating STEM outside of school can be intimidating. Parents know what to do to increase exposure to reading, math, or history; these traditional subjects can be fortified with trips to the library, flashcards or visits to museums. As the STEM integration movement is fairly new and still evolving, immersing students outside of the school may be a difficult task for parents to take on alone.
Fortunately, the funding for STEM programs and education is abundant and there are a wealth of resources online as well as camps and classes here in Charlotte that families can access to incorporate STEM outside of the classroom.
A Selection of STEM Opportunities in Charlotte:
National Girls Collaborative Project
A directory of programs and organizations that focus on motivating girls to pursue careers in STEM fields. There are links to over a dozen programs in Charlotte, including Microsoft, Project Scientist and IT-oLogy.
Tech Talent South
Tech Talent South offers 8 week code immersion programs for adults in addition to some fantastic education programs for kids. In addition to summer camps, TTS is offering “Kids Code Thursday”, a FREE hour and half of code every Thursday, event details can be found here.
Central Piedmont Community College STEM Experience
Full and half day camps at both campuses. Themes range from “Build Your Own Bio-Mechanical Hand” to “Computer Crimes.”
Engineering Camp Charlotte
Queens University of Charlotte will host the NC State University (NCSU) College of Engineering’s Youth Summer Program at its main campus in Myers Park
Week long camps focused on creativity, innovation and problem solving. A national program, with multiple locations and dates in Charlotte.
Engaging and empowering girls with a passion, talent and aptitude for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
A non profit helping bridge the technology skills gap with a multidimensional learning experience designed to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.
STEM Resources on the Web (Dozens more online):
The 10 Best STEM Resources – National Education Association
Resources geared mainly towards educators but downloads, ideas, and links that can be useful for parents as well.
DiscoverE’s mission is to help “unite, mobilize, and support the engineering and technology volunteer communities.” This website supplies activities, resources and downloads for parents and teachers.
STEM Resources from PBS
For grades K-12, learn how to incorporate STEM via PBS.
Articles, activities, and interactive to get parents, teachers, and kids interested and eager to learn more about STEM and it’s relevancy in the world.
Stories, links, and contests designed to bring attention to the exciting opportunities in the engineering world for women and girls.
Discovery Education- Connect the Dots
Resources for parents, teachers and kids.