How Top School Districts Are Preparing Students with STEM Skills
November 9th, 2022
Rethinking K-12 education requirements and integrating STEM into the curriculum is vital when it comes to preparing youth for success in today’s job market. Empowering students to pursue STEM education and careers means setting them up for success. Not only are STEM careers expected to grow by 10.8% from 2021 to 2031, but full-time STEM employees over the age of 25 also earn a median salary that is $30,500 higher than their non-STEM colleagues. In addition, most students are interested in learning about the field, with 60% reporting that they enjoy math classes and 75% enjoying science classes (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022; The Source, 2018).
What Barriers Do School Districts Face for STEM Programs?
Despite the general agreement that STEM education allows students to develop lifelong skills, school districts face several barriers in implementing programs. One of the most prominent is a lack of access to STEM-trained teachers and limited funds to hire and train these teachers. School leaders have also cited that STEM classes are often pushed aside in favor of other courses required for standardized testing (Gallup, 2016).
What is the Current State of STEM Education in School Districts?
Gallup (2016) found that approximately 76% of K-12 principals reported that their schools provide students with access to STEM education through either classes or extracurricular activities. However, only about 58% of teachers, 44% of parents, and 55% of students in grades 7-12 state that they are aware of relevant learning opportunities. In addition to trying out new strategies, school districts should take stock of existing resources and identify opportunities to improve awareness and involvement.
How are Top Districts Implementing STEM into the Curriculum?
School districts have taken various pathways to implementing STEM resources with notable success. While each school has taken a slightly different approach, the most successful STEM school districts tend to focus on a few key areas:
Incorporate STEM into Other Classes
Finding opportunities to integrate STEM concepts into non-STEM classes is a great way to increase student exposure while navigating standardized testing needs. Twenty-nine percent of non-STEM teachers have reported incorporating STEM, specifically computer science, concepts into their classrooms, allowing students to strengthen critical thinking and problem-solving skills (Gallup, 2016).
Train and Support Teachers
In order for students to feel supported, teachers must feel supported as well. School leaders can help by allowing educators to use dedicated instruction time for STEM activities, providing training on the latest technologies and industry trends, and expanding available learning resources (The Source, 2018).
If budgets allow, school districts might also choose to hire teachers with specific skill sets. Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, for example, places a strong focus on hiring teachers who are experts in their field. These educators guide students through various STEM pathways based on their interests and goals, including the Honors Poly STEM Program and the Computer Science Program (Miller, n.d.).
Solidify STEM as Part of the Curriculum
School districts may choose to forego STEM courses in favor of the traditional curriculum, whether it be for standardized testing or other reasons, but the truth is that STEM content produces results. With the goal of strengthening general programming and problem-solving skills, Stuyvesant High School requires students to take classes such as Tech Graphic Communications, Applied Learning, and Intro to Computer Science.
Forty-three percent of Stuyvesant High School students are considered economically disadvantaged, and 100% of these students achieved proficiency or higher scores on all state exams – just one testament to the power and value of a STEM-inclusive curriculum (Miller, n.d.)!
Establish Interesting STEM Pathways
Students are more likely to be engaged if they see how STEM can align with their interests and goals. Wheeler High School in Marietta, GA provides both accelerated and advanced courses of study that allow students to begin preparing for future careers and gain an advantage over other high school students. Pathways and courses include Chemical Engineering, Medical Biotechnology, Advanced DNA/Genetics Research, Essentials of Healthcare, and Honors Multivariable Calculus.
Students who enroll in these programs also have the opportunity to take on senior research projects and participate in local internships (Miller, n.d.).
Promote Hands-On Learning
Hands-on learning is a great way to teach students about STEM concepts while fostering excitement and engagement. The public-private partnership school Craft Academy for Excellence in Science and Mathematics offers project-based courses with a focus on creativity, innovation, and community engagement.
To further hands-on learning and provide additional support for underrepresented populations in the field, the school also hosts an annual Girls in Engineering, Math & Science (GEMS) Day which offers workshops led by local women in STEM (Miller, n.d.).
Establishing and growing STEM programs in your school district is critical for long-term student success. Not only have jobs in the field grown from 9.7M to over 17.3M since 1990, but STEM helps students develop the troubleshooting and critical thinking skills necessary to thrive in the modern world (The Source, 2018). Whether small-scale or large-scale, introducing STEM into your schools provides students with impactful learning opportunities, an avenue for exploring interests, and early support as they go on to become the next generation of engineers, innovators, and experts.
Gallup. (2016). Trends in the State of Computer Science in U.S. K-12 Schools. Google.
Kennedy, B., Fry, R., & Funk, C. (2021). 6 facts about America’s STEM workforce
and those training for it. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/04/14/6-facts-about-americas-stem-workforce-and-those-training-for-it/
Miller, O. (n.d.). Top 30 High School STEM Programs. Study.com.
The Source. (2018). How Schools Can Prepare Students for the STEM Workforce. ISM.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022). Employment in STEM occupations. U.S. Bureau of
Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/emp/tables/stem-employment.htm