tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today, especially in math, science, technology, and engineering.
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. 1
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' underperformance 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 will increase by 32 percent from 2002 to 2012, and the number of 18 to 24 year olds in the United States who receive scientific degrees has fallen from third to 17th in the world in the last three decades. 2
STEM disciplines identified by the National Science Foundation include engineering, mathematics, agricultural sciences, biological sciences, physical sciences, psychology, economics and other natural and social/behavioral sciences, computer science, and earth, atmospheric and ocean sciences.
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. 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 our 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. 21
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. Issues include limited science knowledge and pedagogical experiences, and lack of confidence in teaching STEM concepts. The result – many elementary teachers avoid teaching of science altogether.5
Women, STEM and St. Kate’s
Over 80 percent of elementary school teachers are women.6 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
- Offer a STEM minor as a course of study open to any undergraduate student
- Use a team-teaching approach – pairing education professors and professors from STEM fields to develop and deliver integrated curricula
We are also playing a leading role in developing graduate-level STEM certificate programs so elementary teachers in the field can upgrade their STEM understanding and skills.