Someone recently asked me: "If only 4 percent of students will become scientists, engineers, or mathematicians, why should time, effort, and resources go toward helping the other 96 percent learn science, technology, engineering, and math?"
Doing Versus Being
As STEM professionals, educators, and neighbors, we need to recognize that as an innovation economy, the United States ranks among the top GDP and patent-producing countries in the world. But being a leader of innovation requires a workforce with the skills that go beyond "DOING."
Computers and robots are good at doing. Innovation requires the ability to think and act, to discover or solve what is unknown. By training students with the STEM skills to identify problems, ask questions, and persevere toward a viable solution, we are equipping a generation to "BE" on the forefront of innovation: teaching them to leap from what is to what can be.
There are Practical Economic Reasons for Teaching STEM
According to the National Academies of Science and Engineering, the four percent of STEM degree holders create a disproportionate number of jobs for the other 96 percent. So STEM professionals are not limited to just those who hold a STEM degree. They also include salespeople, accountants, machinists, technicians, and communicators, among many others who support STEM industries.
For K-12 education the answer is even more practical. By creating an environment where students can learn as scientists and engineers, we can replace worksheets and practice tests, textbooks and PowerPoints, with hands-on opportunities to practice and develop students' critical thinking skills – skills that are useful in every discipline, that deepen over time, and that never go out of date.
So Why Would Some Argue Against Equipping All Students With STEM Skills?
Equipping all students with STEM skills requires resources that are not easy to develop for teachers or districts because of the time, testing, and materials involved. That leaves teachers and administrators searching to find high-quality resources among a spectrum of quick fixes produced by non-profits and curriculum-resource companies alike.
I've broken these resources down into the four different levels of STEM resources.
1. Awareness-Ready Resources
At the bottom are awareness-ready resources, like those from a museum or public agency. These resources focus on PowerPoint-style presentations, small activities, and reading activities that prepare students to recognize what an engineer or scientist does. While these may be hands-on, research-based, or award-winning, they do not go beyond raising awareness about science and engineering.
2. Knowledge-Ready Resources
Next we have knowledge-ready resources. Good examples of these are textbooks and apps that help students learn the facts related to science and engineering, readying them to recall definitions and understand the discipline's history. Knowing about a discipline is vastly different from developing the skills to participate in developing technology and scientific knowledge.
3. Performance-Ready Resources
Third on the list are performance-ready resources such as science kits. Many of these are the augmented franken-cousins of early science kits developed in the 1980s and 90s, designed to ready students for a specific task. In this case, a student would learn things like how to test a rock's hardness, scratching it against something harder or softer so that when presented with that specific scenario later, the student will know to perform that specific task.
4. Mastery-Ready Resources
KnowAtom focuses on providing the highest level of grade-specific classroom resources, which we call mastery-ready resources. We deliver to classrooms everything needed to focus September through June on readying students with transferable STEM skills – practices and processes of science and engineering that are the analytical, evaluative, and creative thinking skills – that cross all STEM disciplines and, in fact, all careers. These critical thinking skills make students better equipped to evolve with any career or industry they choose.
KnowAtom celebrates the power of STEM education to transform lives. Our mission is to equip urban, suburban, and rural districts alike to elevate their students to STEM mastery levels by equipping them to create an environment where students are scientists and engineers in the classroom every day. We empower teachers with the resources and training to set the expectation that each student engages in the same science and engineering practices STEM innovators do so that, as students, they too get the chance to see their contributions come to life in real time.