What is STEM?
Major reports over the last few years have brought the need for comprehensive STEM education – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – into clear focus for educators at all levels. President Obama has championed the cause, and many states have renewed energy in developing comprehensive plans for improving the delivery of STEM education to students. These reports all point to the need for quality STEM education.
Concern for the nation's economic competitiveness and the related need for education programs in support of future generations are not new. But, data connecting teachers' lack of preparedness with students' under performance in STEM has raised the alarm to new levels.
It's time to take action
Today, an understanding of scientific and mathematical principles, a working knowledge of computer hardware and software, and the problem-solving skills developed through integrated STEM curricula are necessary for most jobs. Specialized jobs in STEM fields are hot - a 2013 Forbes report shows that recent grads with a bachelor’s degree and less than three years’ experience in the workforce typically earn $39,700 a year—but that number can more than double for those in positions in science, technology, engineering, and math. 2 Change the Equation reports that across STEM fields, job postings outnumbered unemployed people by almost two to one. 11
The job market for employees with strong STEM skills is not limited to petroleum engineers or software developers. The 2013 the U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index reports that "The second STEM economy draws from high schools, workshops, vocational schools and community colleges. These workers today are less likely to be directly involved in invention, but they are critical to the implementation of new ideas, and advise researchers on feasibility of design options, cost estimates, and other practical aspects of technological development." 10
The Lemselson-MIT Invention Index, which gauges innovation aptitude among young adults, shows that many students don't know enough about STEM fields, think they are too challenging, and don't feel well-prepared to seek additional education in STEM areas. 13
The research goes on, and much of it shines a headlight on lack of students readiness and teacher confidence in teaching STEM. We can help.
Teaching K-6 teachers
At the National Center for STEM Elementary Education our focus is on teachers and future teachers. As part of this national imperative, teachers must engage elementary and middle school children in becoming problem solvers, innovators, inventors and logical thinkers eager to master STEM subjects now and as they move into high school, college and careers.
In elementary classrooms today, 38 percent of teachers lack full confidence in their qualifications to teach science. 6 Almost as many say they rely more on what they learned in high school science than on what they learned in their teacher preparation courses in college. 3
Programs delivered by the Center help practicing elementary teachers and teacher candidates become confident, competent and comfortable in teaching STEM subjects and integrating them into their daily classroom activities.
Breaking the cycle
Current elementary educators and teacher candidates may already be at a disadvantage. Research shows that a negative interest in science begins in elementary schools where about 33% of girls and boys in fourth grade express negative attitudes. By eighth grade almost half express negative attitudes.
In all likelihood, some of the students who lost interest in STEM between grades 4 and 8 have become elementary teachers and perpetuate the cycle of negative attitudes toward science.
Studies point to inadequate preparation among elementary educators, and a belief that elementary teacher education programs should require their undergraduates to take more coursework both in science itself and in science teaching methods. 2 Issues include limited science knowledge and pedagogical experiences, and lack of confidence in teaching STEM concepts.
Women, STEM and St. Kate’s
Over 75 percent of elementary school teachers are women. 1 The National Center for STEM Elementary Education, headquartered at St. Catherine University, is uniquely positioned to foster girls’ and women’s proficiency in — and comfort with — science, technology, engineering and mathematics. At the heart of the University is the nation’s largest undergraduate college for women. We are experts in how women learn best.
The National Center for STEM Elementary Education is leading the march toward STEM literacy for elementary teachers. We are the first institution of higher education in the country to:
- Require that all elementary education majors complete a STEM certificate program to receive a teaching license
- Develop an engineering course specifically for elementary education majors
- Integrate STEM curricula into a Professional Development School (PDS) model for all elementary education majors
- Use a team-teaching approach – pairing education professors and professors from STEM fields to develop and deliver integrated curricula