Why STEM Education
In recent years, Governments of advanced nations across the world have placed a particular emphasis on improving the quality of education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). There have been numerous articles each year in the Bermuda press that encourage a national response. This reflects the critical importance of STEM disciplines for modern society. They empower our citizens in so many important ways. Science and Mathematics provide answers to the fundamental questions of nature and enable us to understand the world around us. Expertise in STEM disciplines is necessary to drive our economic ambitions, support innovation and provide the foundations forfuture prosperity. Knowledge-based economies are particularly dependent on the quality and quantity of STEM graduates.
The emphasis on STEM teachers and teaching is entirely appropriate. As the 2010 McKinsey Report, How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better (Mourshed, Chijioke & Barber, 2010), insists, ‘great/excellent’ status is largely achieved on the back of the quality of a school system’s teachers, or, as it is captured in the 2007 McKinsey Report, How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top (Barber & Mourshed, 2007), “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers” (p.15). The other Terms of Reference focus on enhancing the student learning experience in STEM subjects, through the introduction of proven innovations in teaching, learning and technology, and on student engagement with STEM subjects with a particular focus on future careers.
Because mathematics underpins all STEM subjects, there is a strong case for targeting improvements in mathematics teaching. Raising the entry levels (for primary teaching) in mathematics in a measured fashion would not only enhance the public and student perception of the importance of mathematics, but it would also ensure a higher baseline of subject knowledge upon which to build during the Secondary phase of Education.
What is STEM Education?
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. These four symbols represent the different areas of STEM education.
STEM education integrates concepts that are usually taught as separate subjects in different classes and emphasises the application of knowledge to real-life situations. A lesson or unit in a STEM class is typically based around finding a solution to a real-world problem and tends to emphasise project-based learning. A variation of STEM is STEAM, which includes an 'A' for art and design. Artistic design is becoming an important part of STEM education since creativity is an essential part of innovation. Many STEM lessons involve building models and simulating situations. A good STEM lesson ensures that students understand the connection to the real world.
A sample STEM lesson would start with showing pictures of large barges carrying crates. Then students would experiment with different materials and computer-aided designs in an attempt to build a model boat capable of holding large amounts of pennies. Math would be incorporated by demanding specific measurements for the design and requiring the students to keep within a certain budget for their materials. This experiment models how real-world engineers and scientists try to improve the efficiency of the current shipping designs.
STEM education could take place in a separate STEM class or be incorporated into practically any subject and grade level. Of course science and math classes would be able to directly implement STEM-related lessons. In a social studies class learning about the industrial revolution, however, students may design their own assembly line. Or, in an English class students may be keeping a journal about their thinking and research processes while designing a realistic bridge from a fictional text.
Over the next five years, employment is predicted to increase in professional, scientific and technical services by 14 per cent and in health care by almost 20 per cent. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has estimated that some STEM-related jobs, such as ICT professionals and engineers, have grown at about 1.5 times the rate of other jobs in recent years.
Australian Government, Industry Employment Projections 2015 Report; ABS Perspectives on Education and Training: Australian qualifications in STEM, 2010-11,
During 2013, The Office of the Chief Scientist asked Australians what they would like to know more about; what scientific issues concern them and what discoveries inspire them.
The results shaped this book – a collection of essays about the scientific issues affecting Australians today. This book provides some useful contextual background to modern day challenges that are not just unique to Australia, but also may impact Bermuda.
The Curious Country is available as a free download from ANU E Press. It is currently available as a pdf, so can be downloaded and read on your e-book reader, tablet, computer or mobile phone. Download it here.
STEM links and contacts
There are many organisations dedicated to supporting STEM teaching.