The STEM Crisis
Our major global problems are exponential in nature – population growth, demand for fresh water, global temperature increases, generation of data – and so too is the rate of technological change and the demand for citizens and workers proficient in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). For our national and economic security, we must increase (exponentially?) the number of people who are STEM-literate and the number of students pursuing STEM education and careers. But, exponential too, is the decline in interest and competence in STEM between elementary and high school students.
Working to solve the challenge of STEM education in the U.S. requires partnerships between public, private, and government sectors. Science from Scientists (SfS), a Boston-based non-profit STEM enrichment organization, established its Minnesota office during the 2016-2017 academic year with the generous and insightful support of the Newton and Kohrs Families, 3M, Boston Scientific, Regenerative Medicine Minnesota, and Braun Intertec, the promotional efforts of The Medical Alley Association, and the enthusiastic participation of two elementary schools, Battle Creek Elementary School in St. Paul and Poplar Bridge Elementary School in Bloomington. This partnership brought SfS’ In-School Module-Based (ISMB) STEM Enrichment Program to 330 4th- and 5th-grade students and their classroom teachers with significant results. Participating student proficiency scores on the 5th-grade Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment in Science increased by 10 full percentage points in both schools (representing pre- to post-program improvements of 16% and 26%)! Both of those schools and six others located in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Forest Lake – serving a total of 1,194 students in 4th through 8th grades – participated in the program during the 2017-2018 school year; impact results are due later this summer.
“Participating student proficiency scores on the 5th-grade Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment in Science increased by 10 full percentage points in both schools!”
Beyond the increase in STEM competence, the ISMB program increases student interest in STEM by bringing exponential fun to the classroom. Science from Scientists sends the same two real, charismatic scientists into each partner school (during the school day) to see the same group of students every other week throughout the entire school year (~18 visits). During each visit, SfS instructors lead the students through hands-on STEM lessons (in all STEM topics) that are informed by Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), aligned with state academic standards, and selected by classroom teachers to complement their existing curricula. One student stated, “To be honest, I loved every lesson. They were fun and they got stuff into my brain.”
Exponential, too, is the meaning that fun learning can bring to participating students. Recall a pivotal and unforgettable life moment from your youth, during which you learned something that changed the course of your life. Chances are, you were immersed in the experience, influenced by a role model, and had a strong emotion or sudden insight. SfS’ ISMB program seeks to bring positive, discovery-based, “aha” learning with role models to all students – regardless of circumstances or means – to encourage a wider variety of students to pursue careers in STEM fields.
“Science from Scientists’ ISMB program seeks to bring positive, discovery-based, “aha” learning with role models to all students… to encourage a wider variety of students to pursue careers in STEM fields.”
Overcoming Challenges to STEM Education
The ISMB program uniquely addresses the factors that influence whether students have the confidence and proficiency to pursue STEM in high school and beyond. Social stigmas are removed, because the program serves all students in a grade level during school. Lessons are hands-on activities that reach students with a variety of learning styles; they are guided by real professionals, providing students with connections to role models, who encourage them to try new things. The program assists teachers, because it correlates to academic standards and provides them flexibility to choose lessons that best meet their needs, provides all materials and supplies, and offers embedded professional development with access to related educational resources. Employees of corporate sponsors have the chance to participate in classroom activities as volunteers. Parents, who may otherwise be unable to reinforce STEM education, have access to lesson descriptions and follow-up activities with inexpensive household items.
“Lessons are hands-on activities guided by real professionals, providing students with connections to role models, who encourage them to try new things.”
Looking to the Future
Exponential, now, is the demand for the ISMB program among Minnesota schools. More than 20 public, charter, and private schools, in urban and rural areas alike, are requesting the program for the 2018-2019 academic year. Over 3,600 students in elementary and middle schools from Shakopee to Waubun could be participating in the program over the course of the next year.
Exponential change can be achieved without exponential upheaval – we just need innovative partnerships that bring out the best in all participants!