STEM Education for grades PK-12

What is STEM?


‘STEM” is an abbreviation for the academic disciplines science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is an applied approach in education, integrating students into a cohesive paradigm learning based on the real-world (https://www.livescience.com/43296-what-is-stem-education.html)


5 goals of the STEM approach;

1.) Improving STEM instruction in preschool through 12th grade;

2.) Increasing and sustaining public and youth engagement with STEM;

3.) Improving the STEM experience for undergraduate students;

4.) Better serving groups historically underrepresented in STEM fields; and

5.) Designing graduate education for tomorrow's STEM workforce



Why it is important to be taught in schools (K-12)? 

The STEM approach in education is important because it provides standards-based structured, inquiry-based and real-world problem-based learning, connecting all four of the STEM subjects, especially in elementary school. In middle school, the courses become more challenging, and STEM related career research begins. In high school, the program of study focuses on the application of the subjects in a challenging and rigorous manner. Preparation for postsecondary education and employment takes place in high school as well. (https://www.livescience.com/43296-what-is-stem-education.html)

What does it hold for the future?

“According to a report by the website STEMconnector.org, by 2018, projections estimate the need for 8.65 million workers in STEM-related jobs. The manufacturing sector faces an alarmingly large shortage of employees with the necessary skills — nearly 600,000. The field of cloud computing alone will have created 1.7 million jobs between 2011 and 2015, according to the report. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2018, the bulk of STEM careers will be:

    • Computing – 71 percent
    • Traditional Engineering – 16 percent
    • Physical sciences – 7 percent
    • Life sciences – 4 percent
    • Mathematics – 2 percent

STEM jobs do not all require higher education or even a college degree. Less than half of entry-level STEM jobs require a bachelor's degree or higher. (livescience.com)

Programs to aid students and Educators implement STEM

Programs such as investing in innovation, the Teacher incentive fund, the Math and Science Partnerships Program, Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow, and the Teachers Quality Partnership Program aid educators in better understanding their students’ needs, and in a more personalized learning approach. Each of those programs focus on knowledge and teaching skills of classroom and teachers. Minor differences exist between each program. (https://www.ed.gov/stem)

STEM in Elementary School

  • STEM is used in elementary school to enhance the children's’ skills in math, science, technology and English. Math skills taught in kindergarten and elementary school enhances their spatial skills, which is important for understanding science and consequently technology. Also, English improves their language and the way in which they learn to express themselves.
  • Activities such as early puzzle play may lay the groundwork for development in these areas. In particular, the ability to mentally transform shapes is an important predictor of STEM course taking, degrees and careers, say researchers.
  • "We want to see whether parents provide the same input to boys and girls when the puzzles are of the same difficulty," Levine said. "In the naturalistic study, parents of boys may have used more spatial language in order to scaffold their ability to put more difficult puzzles together."
  • Alternatively, the difference in parent spatial language and engagement may be related to a societal stereotype that males have better spatial skills. "Our findings suggest that engaging both boys and girls in puzzle play can support the development of an aspect of cognition that has been implicated in success in the STEM disciplines," Levine said. (https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=123203

STEM and Gender

The STEM program aims to decrease and possibly eliminate the gender gap that exists: engaging females in the program in proactive ways. (CBS)

“Much of the STEM curriculum is aimed toward attracting underrepresented populations.

Female students, for example, are significantly less likely to pursue a college major or career. Though this is nothing new, the gap is increasing at a significant rate. Male students are also more likely to pursue engineering and technology fields, while female students prefer science fields, like biology, chemistry, and marine biology. Overall, male students are three times more likely to be interested in pursuing a STEM career, the STEM connect report said.” (livescience.com) 

“While the numbers of women in biology, chemistry, and math have increased in recent years, the gap has widened in computer science and persists in engineering and physics fields. Echoed by the 2016 U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index, the research reveals that the academic culture of these fields is more masculine, which deters high school girls from enrolling in the often-optional courses.”- US News

Girls in Middle School and HS

In general, female and male students perform equally well in mathematics and science on standardized tests, but larger gaps exist between students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds or family income, with white and Asian/Pacific Islander students and those from higher income families scoring higher than their counterparts who are black, Hispanic, or American Indian/Alaska Native or who are from lower income families.  (https://ngcproject.org/statistics)

National Science Foundation (NSF) research indicates women are 1.5 times more likely than men to leave the STEM pipeline after calculus. In fact, women’s interest and participation in STEM starts to decline as early as the fourth grade. (http://www.gettingsmart.com/2016/12/empowering-girls-to-become-future-stem-stars/)

Why are girls even more inclined to leave the STEM pipeline after calculus?

Nikole: There are many reasons for this. For example, especially in middle school, girls begin to understand who they are in the society—popular, pretty, what’s cool and what’s not, and often STEM is on the negative side of those perceptions. We also have to manage that girls often feel that if it’s not perfect, then it’s not good enough. In an industry that sees failure as a necessary component to the process, it is important to shift the mindset of girls so that failure is looked at as a positive path toward “perfection.” (http://www.gettingsmart.com/2016/12/empowering-girls-to-become-future-stem-stars/)

Higher Level Education:

The rates of science and engineering course taking for girls/women shift at the undergraduate level and gender disparities begin to emerge, especially for minority women (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016).

Women earned 57.3% of bachelor’s degrees in all fields in 2013 and 50.3% of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees. However, women’s participation in science and engineering at the undergraduate level significantly differs by specific field of study. While women receive over half of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the biological sciences, they receive far fewer in the computer sciences (17.9%), engineering (19.3%), physical sciences (39%) and mathematics (43.1%). (https://ngcproject.org/statistics)

In 2012, 11.2% of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering, 8.2% of master’s degrees in science and engineering, and 4.1% of doctorate degrees in science and engineering were awarded to minority women (NSF, Women, Minorities, and People with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, 2015).

IN GENERAL: Women remain underrepresented in the science and engineering workforce, although to a lesser degree than in the past, with the greatest disparities occurring in engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016). (https://ngcproject.org/statistics)    

What can educators do to enhance, motivate and encourage students to become STEM leaders?

Some ideas for customizing design solutions to better engage girls include:

  • STEM recruiting, resources and programs should focus on girls’ potential to transform society through STEM.
  • Use real-world scenarios in curriculum to allow girls to see the value and impact they could be making through engaging in STEM courses and eventually STEM careers. For instance, the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges can serve as a great resource to inspire girls in how they might address global issues such as health, infrastructure and sustainability through engineering.
  • Design girls-only “safe spaces” for students new to STEM that can empower girls to fill every role on an engineering team. An environment like this offers girls a place to learn from each other and to build confidence to learn and grown in a STEM-focused space.