As an educator interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), I have the opportunity to research the cutting-edges of science and technology every day. The rate of change in how the world works is accelerating at a dizzying pace. Aspirations, such as Elon Musks initiative to send humans to Mars, present the same challenges as John Kennedy’s goal to put a human on the moon. Time, money, technology, collaboration, desire, successes and failures, knowledge and, most of all, wisdom.
While going to Mars is exciting, future generations will be asked to create solutions to our present world problems. Clean water, safe bridges, autonomous automobiles, lean manufacturing, cybersecurity, food supply for a growing population, and curing diseases will present continuous challenges. As the baby-boomers age, the solutions rest on fewer shoulders. Engineers, scientists, doctors and tradespeople are retiring in large numbers and the need for a skilled labor force to provide for a thriving economy is critical. You have heard the numbers before:
- One million new engineers are needed by 2025 to meet the needs of our economy;
- Twenty-three (23) percent of engineers currently working are age 55 or over;
- Only 20 percent of students choose a STEM path in college despite STEM majors having the highest median earnings;
- America ranks 26th in math and 19th in science competency compared to other countries;
- In Delaware, there are three jobs for every one skilled STEM worker.
At Delaware STEM Academy High School, we look at the world through the lens of science, technology, engineering and math. Everything in our world is a project waiting to be explored and solved. Learning is more about problem-solving and critical thinking, rather than just reading about the newest technologies. Proposing solutions, and discussing pros and cons with teammates, leads to an appreciation of different ways of thinking. Collaboration results in better and more creative outcomes. Viewing the world this way becomes an exciting proposition, one that all students can embrace, internalize and view their own future endeavors.
But convincing students that STEM is accessible to them is not an easy task. Many students are intimidated by math and science. Many think that STEM is accessible only to the top echelon students. Many students may never have had access to STEM in their previous school experiences. For instance, according to the National Math & Science Initiative, only 12 percent of African-Americans and 17 percent of Hispanics took Algebra I prior to high school as compared to 26 percent of students overall.
STEM education, while quickly becoming the subject du jour in many schools, often does not put STEM in the context of everyday life, nor does it fully demonstrate how STEM is integral to other subjects, such as history, social studies and the arts. These classroom silos may create knowledge but often times they prevent understanding. This is where project-based learning becomes important. Project-based learning allows students to directly work with a hands-on project, developed specifically to reinforce the STEM principles that underlie it. The Academy will utilize a system developed by the New Tech Network, used in over 200 schools nationwide. In addition, we asked local STEM professional to advise both on projects and the context in which they are used in industry. A project-based system of learning integrates information from multiple disciplines to create greater understanding. It also appeals to students with different learning styles. Most importantly, at the end of each project, every student receives not only a grade but a sense of accomplishment.
In our experience, students already have the curiosity, the insight and the passion within them. It is our job as educators to fan these flames and to teach our young people how to develop a hypothesis, set and achieve goals, express themselves clearly, collaborate on solutions with their teammates, and develop the confidence to present their ideas to other students and to adults. In order for us to support our industries in America with a skilled workforce, we need students who have the confidence to solve problems and work in collaboration with others. We need students who are not intimidated by the problems of the future, but embrace the challenges. As informed citizens, let's give all students – not just those proficient in STEM – the opportunity to impact our world and their future. The Mission of the Delaware STEM Academy is to prepare students in grades 9 through 12 for the future economy through the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) using engineering, environmental science and bioscience as a basis for learning…. in an ethically driven educational environment emphasizing intellectual curiosity, individual responsibility and planetary stewardship.
J. Brett Taylor, Ed.D.
Delaware STEM Academy