Push problem solving in STEM education
STEM — ever heard of it? I am guessing you have. The acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics is being funded and promoted at the federal level — and for good reason.
As our world continues to become more complex, it is critical that we have the knowledge, skills and abilities to solve tough problems. By studying science, technology, engineering and math, we develop these skills.
In my role at our firm, I am challenged with this talent shortage, as it is increasingly harder and harder to find people with the knowledge, skills and abilities to solve complex problems. And, as a mother, I find myself pushing my children to participate in activities and classes that promote further education in the STEM fields because I think it provides great value.
One of the things I find myself consistently challenged by, however, is the lack of opportunity for meaningful experiences for my children in this space. What I feel is lacking from the curriculum is teaching the students how to think, how to solve problems. It seems as though the classes are strictly outcome-based. Did he complete the project? Did he complete the project on time? Not, did he take the principles and apply them to solve a problem.
This curriculum gap, from my experience, is not narrowed or widened based on gender. I have four children: two boys and two girls. Teaching the ability to apply the knowledge, skills and abilities learned as part of their STEM education is lacking for all four of my kids (in two different school districts). So, while I value the attention being placed on women in STEM (as a woman in STEM), I think the attention should be placed on diversity of thought … and the ability to think, male or female.
In February 2013, President Barack Obama got it partly right.
“One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science and engineering. We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent … not being encouraged the way they need to,” Obama said.
I believe we need to take the emphasis off of gender in this equation and focus on creating meaningful experiences that result in a student’s ability to think, and equip that student with skills to solve complex problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information.
And I don’t feel that telling girls to be a “nerd” is helping, either. Recently, Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as saying “encourage them (girls) to be the nerd in their school.” Again, the focus should be on providing experiences that teach students how to think — all students. Neither girls nor boys have to be “nerds” to be able to think.
All the research shows there is clearly a significant decline in the number of students (both male and female) entering the STEM fields. Additionally, projections show that the number of jobs in STEM has and will continue to increase over the next 10 years.
So, what do we do? I can tell you what I am doing. I am working to educate myself and others on the effects of the talent shortage. I am participating in the Michigan Council for Women in Technology. I am pushing my kids to apply what they are learning in their classrooms to their everyday lives. I am connecting with my peers to provide meaningful experiences in classrooms.
This gap won’t be solved overnight and it won’t be solved until we are all participating on some level. Start at work. Start at home. Just start working to make a difference.