Writer: Brianna DeOsca
Imagine if you will a first grade classroom with the word “pediatrician” written on a SMARTboard. As the scene pans the room, the students are talking in groups of two. Their instructions are to work together to create new words using the letters from the word on the board. Two by two, the students eagerly come to the board to share their new words with the class. The purpose of this activity is to use medical terminology and create different words from the letters. This is an example of a STEM activity.
STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, has become a worldwide movement that encourages children to gain skills and knowledge in these areas for future STEM-related jobs. According to a study conducted by the Program for International Students Assessments (PISA), America is ranked 35th in math and 27th in science out of 64 countries that have STEM-programs offered to children. These numbers have become to running force behind the recent explosion of STEM programs and activities in entities involving children.
We all know that colleges encourage graduating within a STEM based program, however children can be exposed to STEM programs much early to jump start learning before they get to the college level. Tammy Haberman, principal at Holiday Hill Elementary School in Jacksonville, encourages STEM programs and tells of their importance.
“STEM offers students a unique experience by giving them time to focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics which may not be available at a school without a STEM program. The long term goal for each student participating in the STEM programs is to prepare them for future success when looking for jobs in those fields”, said Ms. Haberman.
There are some STEM based schools in Duval County, while other schools are strong in specific areas. For example, Woodland Acres Elementary School is labeled as a medical magnet school, so there is a heavy focus on the sciences and technology. Along with traditional school resources, music, art, media, etc., here students visit a medical lab on campus to engage in real-life experiences and hands on activities. In addition to this exposure in science, classrooms are fitted with document cameras, SMARTboards, and projectors to enhance the students learning through technology.
“STEM programs are very important to creating better prepared, more successful students of the future. These programs help create more well-rounded students who have an expanded vocabulary and are able to problem solve efficiently”, said April Bradford, first grade teacher at Woodland Acres Elementary.
Ms. Bradford has been teaching for six years and encourages STEM learning. The illustration at the beginning of this story portrays a typical morning activity in Ms. Bradford’s class. Having teachers like this guiding and supporting children’s higher thinking, is a step in the right direction to strengthening our economy and country as a whole.
Many children focused organizations have added STEM activities to their programs. For example, the Girl Scouts have partnered with several STEM based sponsors to offer girls a chance to explore these areas. Some partners, sponsors, and initiatives include: Imagine Your STEM Future (AT&T), Imagine Engineering (National Science Foundation), FIRST Robotics (Motorola, UTC, and Goolge) and NASA just to name a few. Not only does Girl Scouts encourage troops to engage in more STEM activities, but the girls also earn badges which are a bonus.
“Girls are precocious learners, but tend to start leaving science and math to the boys as early as fifth grade. In high school, girls match or surpass boys’ aptitude but are less likely to take advanced placement physics or computer science exams. A recent study by the Girl Scout Research Institute discovered that girls’ future career choices are more influenced by role models than by academics interests. This is why Girl Scouting now introduces more girls to leaders in STEM careers than any other organization”, said Mary Anne Jacobs, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Gateway Council.
With opportunities, educated mentors, and resources an entire world of STEM learning can be available to children of all ages. STEM programs also give children a huge advantage as they enter the job market. The U.S. has the potential to increase their ranking and provide a better future for our children. Let’s plant the STEM seeds and watch them grow!