The views of this article are the perspective of the author and may not be reflective of Confessions of the Professions.
Whenever you turn on a show or a podcast about societal or political issues, people always bring in STEM jobs. By listening closely, but without much context, you would get the impression that these STEM jobs are the best-paid and most sought-after jobs in society. However, they seldom go deep into the topic. Where do STEM jobs stem from (pun intended), and even more importantly, where do people taking these positions come from? The answer to the latter question is – STEM education. Here’s what you should know about it.
STEM is the abbreviation consisting of (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). However, rather than just teaching about the application of these sciences, it emphasizes their application in real-world environments.
The biggest difference between STEM and traditional education (which also teaches some of the topics we’ve just described) is that it approaches these subjects from a pragmatic perspective. They show them how these scientific methods can be applied in the real world and one’s workplace. Giving kids the example of relevance also ensures that kids approach the subject with much higher intrinsic motivation.
So, the key lies in learning some basic scientific principles and applying critical thinking and problem-solving to get better results.
Employers are primarily interested in what you can do, now what grade or certificate you have. In most workplaces (all the good ones), you’ll have to complete a test before you’re hired. This test usually carries more weight than your CV, grades, or even the school you graduated from. This test will usually be solvable with the help of skills that you develop in the process.
The most important thing to understand is that STEM workers with bachelor’s degrees have a 47% higher median salary than their non-STEM equivalent (even non-stem Bachelor’s degree or higher).
STEM jobs are always in demand, and these are the most esteemed roles in society. If you’ve ever heard someone advocating for egalitarianism in the workplace, you’re usually hearing them argue that there are not enough X people working in the STEM field. This just goes to show how societally relevant and privileged these jobs are.
While a STEM teacher is a pretty wide term, and there’s no uniform answer, there are a few things that you would need to become a STEM teacher. First, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree in STEM-related fields. This way, you would be qualified to teach in your chosen subject.
Second, you must complete a teacher’s education program, meet certification requirements (these vary by state), and gain some teaching experience.
Since you’re teaching something specific, you should also pursue professional development. Talented, brilliant kids will come to you with specific answers, and not knowing the answer or not being competent enough to answer may be a major hindrance.
Regarding professional development opportunities for STEM educators, there are always online courses, workshops, and conferences to attend. There are also many STEM industry partnerships you may want to explore.
Understanding STEM education and its benefits is pretty straightforward. The real problem comes in designing STEM curricula and lesson plans. Still, you can always take a standard approach of:
Identifying learning objectives
Emphasizing real-world relevance
Integrating STEM disciplines
Promoting inquiry-based learning
The last part means you’re merely guiding the activities, not being in charge. This also means you have no idea what direction the lesson will take. At one point, it will be out of your hands.
An even more important part is integrating real-world applications and STEM activities. You can go with anything from renewable energy discussions (something your youngest students are quite invested in) to talks about robotics, automation, and AI.
Encouraging curiosity and exploration is your first responsibility as a STEM teacher. First, you need to introduce problem-based learning. Traditional education had this concept in mind, but the execution was… sloppy, to say the least. It’s hard to immerse yourself in a scenario where Jimmy has 28 watermelons. Your scenarios need to be more relatable, so you have to be more creative.
You also want to make your projects open-ended. Give them an experiment that they won’t want to finish. Tell them to make their own micro-biosphere and tell them to bring it in after several weeks for inspection. What do you expect they’ll do after these weeks have passed? Just throw it in the trash? Well, most of them won’t. You need to show them that STEM exists beyond the school’s borders.
Setting up STEM labs and marker spaces is a major challenge you may need help resolving. Namely, STEM is not always expensive, but getting one or two sophisticated pieces can help kids get more interested in the subject matter. It’s a lot harder to impress with technology a generation that had access to an iPhone in their crib. Still, what about items that were outside of their reach?
Equipping the classroom with essential tools and resources for STEM learning and experimentation requires careful budgeting. Sure, every school wants a STEM program, and it’s fairly easy to find donors, but your access to funding won’t be unlimited. Make your list, assign priorities, and create a multi-year acquisition plan. Even if you need it all, you don’t immediately need it. Resource management is the name of the game.
Also, remember to label everything and put an emphasis on safety. Some of these items are expensive and fragile. Others are hazardous when handled improperly.
The biggest problem with evaluating STEM education lies in the fact that this field attracts those personality types that are already prequalified to succeed. Intelligent and ambitious people usually succeed even without STEM education, which makes it harder to definitively answer whether STEM helped and how big of a difference it made. Still, the numbers don’t lie. STEM jobs are the most sought-after and best-paid jobs today, and STEM education delivers impressive results. Everything else is pure speculation.