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With the high need for qualified, educated, effective professionals in skilled fields, what are some ways we can encourage students and build interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in the K-12 grades so that students have a wider opportunity to pursue STEM fields and careers as they move on to higher education?

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I created a set of posters showing recent STEM-career salaries and posted around the high school in an attempt to hit students where they always have an interest -- their wallets.  Feel free to download/distribute!

 

 

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I'm also changing up my program following the AP exam this year... instead of our standard student-picked project combined with an introduction to microtechnology, this year we're going to have the students engage in a simulated "space race" as they work in small teams to build a space program for an "alien race" known as the Kerbals.  They obtain various rewards for safely putting a Kerbal on the moon and bringing him/her home, putting a Kerbal on a distance planet, building a space station, etc.  I still have some tweaking to do, but you can get an glimpse of the general idea of the program on the project web page Kerbal Space Program.

 

Following a successful pilot, I envision this as a potential pathway to engage younger and younger students in an after-school enrichment activity environment.  Although it looks like a game (and is fun and highly addictive), to be successful you rapidly learn that you'd better develop a good grasp of gravity, forces, impulse, momentum, Newton's Laws of Motion, and as you decide you want to travel to other planets, transfer orbits, Delta-V calculations, thrust/weight ratios, structural stability all begin to play a significant role if you want your Kerbals to survive.

 

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The posters around the halls and in classrooms have gained some traction and have garnered perhaps an increased awareness of the potential for STEM careers- but is it too late?  I sometimes wonder if we haven't done enough to build the curiosity and "excitement" for STEM in the levels for where it matters most - in the elementary, middle and junior high levels.  Some of the best experiences within science programs have been removed (Science "fairs" or long term projects that allow students to build models, test designs and collaborate with peers - outside of school have been replaced).  Content coverage is an issue - instead of building the scientific practices.  By the time students are in high school, the discipline silos do little to show the interconnectedness of STEM concepts, and teachers may or may not have access to the network connections that support the burgeoning interest of their students.

 

That issue of content coverage (and even the sequence of courses) also does little to spark interest in STEM - courses become a series of isolated facts to remember.....it would be interesting to take a look at the students that participate in AP science courses - why they take what they take and when they decide to take those courses.....

 

Now don't get me wrong -there are fantastic teachers who, even faced with the issue of coverage, bridge connections for kids and spark interest.  They engage their students in complex, challenging problems and promote critical thinking skills that are necessary for success in any STEM path.  I don't think that this is an issue where there is one causal factor - parents, teachers, society, higher education institutions, corporations......all need to be a part of the conversations, and then hopefully reach the same conclusion regarding the importance of STEM in order to develop a LASTING plan of action for our educational system.

 

So, the question you pose is a relevant one.  We need sustainable partnerships that can bring skill-developing, real-world challenges and problems based opportunities to our students, while supporting the heart of our disciplinary core ideas.  We need a coherent, comprehensive K-12 program, where STEM never becomes an afterthought.  

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