STEM Education Now Means a Stronger Workforce Later

STEM. It’s the latest four letter word taking over the nation, creating curiosity and some controversy. Earth Force has particular interest in building STEM engagement for under-served youth, and for good reason: the current opportunities available in today’s workforce point to enormous growth in STEM careers.

In recent decades, the U.S. education system has failed to provide its students with the learning experiences needed to become inspired and active participants in this increasingly scientific and technological world. Although there are more young adults attending college than ever before, the number actually graduating in a science, technology, math, or engineering (STEM) field has decreased, especially with diverse populations. According to the NCES Digest of Education Statistics, our STEM pipeline is significantly “leaking.” The U.S. lags behind other nations in math and science. Thus we are faced with an urgent need to provide our students with educational experiences that engage and encourage positive experiences with science and prepare them to join the next generation of scientists and technologists who can compete globally in the 21st century. Additionally, teachers need more high quality professional development that allows them to provide the knowledge, skills, and opportunities students need to become more scientifically literate. Educators are instrumental in providing students with experiences that allow them to become proficient in and knowledgeable of the social, economic, environmental, and political aspects of our world (Empire State STEM Education Initiative).

Creating classrooms that truly engage students in inquiry based science education requires a support system that goes beyond the walls of the school. Earth Force believes the solution to solving this “leak” lies in bringing together school districts, community based organizations, corporations, communities of faith, and institutions of higher education to create a coordinated effort to engage young people in STEM learning. There are strong correlations around 21st century skills and place-based and inquiry-based learning. Here are some basic ways every educator can work to incorporate STEM learning into their teaching:

  • Ask youth to look at their community and identify aspects they like and issues that can be improved on.
  • Allow youth to use inquiry-led learning to become more deeply engaged in content topics.
  • Work with other content educators to build on the skills they’re currently working on. Are they learning percentages in math? Have youth survey their school and find the percentage of students who recycle for their recycling project.
  • Connect youth to professionals in their community who are working in STEM fields.
  • Allow students to fail and encourage them to try again.

If you’re interested in learning more, Earth Force offers professional development STEM through the Next Steps Institute (NSI). NSI promotes hands-on, minds-on learning in STEM education by deeply immersing attendees in specific content Pathways. The next Institute is being held in Charleston, SC, Sept. 30 – Oct. 2, 2013. As educators, we need to be engaging youth as active citizens now to get them excited about the possible careers and connections of STEM. For more information on Earth Force or how to better integrate STEM into the learning process, contact us at earthforce@earthforce.org or visit www.earthforce.org.