STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) has been a focus for many years, with districts and schools focusing on the integration of the subjects and intentional work around creating scientific thinkers in our classrooms. President Obama recently reprioritized STEM with his “Educate to Innovate” campaign. Businesses nationwide are calling out a crisis in STEM, arguing there aren’t enough employees in the burgeoning fields that have become the backbone of our world’s economic drivers. They claim the supply and demand problem is increasing – demand is there and the supply simply isn’t.
In order to have students enter fields like engineering and math, they have to be engaged well before they enter college….or high school…or middle school. The work around STEM and career readiness really needs to begin at the early elementary levels on a very regular, if not daily, basis.
STEM can take on a host of appearances in our elementary classrooms. It can be Project Based Learning with hands on explorations driving the learning, shepherded by the interests of students. It can be Design Thinking, modeled after the Stanford D School approach, that uses and inquiry and empathy-based focus to solving challenges. It can be FOSS kits with hands-on activities led by teachers, aligned to science standards. It can be a plethora of new websites and apps that engage interest, curiosity and critical thinking.
It can be FIRST Robotics where mechanical designs teach students to design, test, redesign and try again. Maybe it’s the design of MakerSpaces in a school, open locations where students can create and design, test and enact. MakerSpaces have exploded into the elementary science world, their open ended approaches bringing forward a playful tinkering approach to exploration. And maybe it can be Project Lead the Way, an intensive research-based, rich hands-on science program that focuses on the scientific process through units that allow students to build and apply their knowledge.
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