The future is ultimately uncertain. We can never completely predict what will happen to the economy, the job market, and even society. But, there are some things that we know make sense when looking to the future.
For one, if we, as a country, want to maintain our prominent role in science and technology discovery, we need to prepare adequately.
Preparation lies in education. Creating an approach to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education that helps today’s students prepare for tomorrow is more important than ever.
Education today should inspire students in these areas while helping them develop their STEM skills. It should drive home why it’s important to take an interest in STEM.
There's no doubt about it– STEM education is shaping the future, and if done right, it will positively impact science and our nation as a whole.
The big picture of what STEM can do
Thinking about STEM education from its discipline-specific angle, it really does offer students some amazing benefits.
Equipping students to participate in the innovation economy and manage technological change, STEM education is one-half of a complete curriculum for students. It’s what helps students develop skills that are essentially future-proof since they become better equipped to pivot when things change.
- Helps students develop marketable skills within the STEM disciplines
- Prepares students to handle real-life situations early on, which can improve adaptability as an adult
- Enables students to keep up with technological innovations and see real opportunity as they look to their future
- Gives students skills and knowledge they can use for a lifetime
Where STEM needs to go
Just like STEM education can help prepare students to adapt to any future, how it's taught must also have a level of adaptability. Teaching STEM should take into account how learners can absorb STEM at different stages of their lives, as well as how they actually learn as technology changes.
The way in which STEM gets presented in grade school will not be the same as it’s taught in high school. There are also those adults who are going back to upskill their own knowledge and need to learn how to engage in the workforce of the future.
It’s genuinely about lifelong learning when it comes to STEM skills.
Developing STEM talent
Looking beyond the actual scientific and mathematical skills involved in STEM education, STEM learning introduces students to a whole array of secondary skills that often play a prominent role throughout life. The National Science Foundation’s STEM Education for the Future report calls for students to “acquire core 21st Century competencies” regardless of their “educational pathway.” These include the ability to adapt, be flexible, work collaboratively, and learn independently.
This occurs as students are given more complex problems to solve. As they work on developing math talent, for example, they’re also learning how to collaborate with a group, use trial-and-error, and navigate the emotions associated with rigorous problem-solving.
Since once you get into a career setting, just about everything is a group project or collaborative effort– your STEM talent, honed over the years in school, suddenly becomes a professional talent.
Think of it like this: You divide your class into groups to work on a science project. You’ve just finished teaching about the International Space Station, and the students are now getting to design an addition to it. Most groups are pretty evenly matched when it comes to personalities, but you find your most headstrong student is in a group with your quietest.
You may worry about how this group will function, but you let it stand. As you walk by the room a little while later, you hear your quiet student asking the others in their group to listen to their ideas. They’re taking center stage all on their own, and this confidence may continue through that student’s educational career. This confidence will then become an essential tool they can use for professional success.
And it all started with that one STEM activity.
Connecting STEM to college and career readiness
This same overlap in skills expands once students get to college. By focusing on STEM throughout school, students are inadvertently given a skillset that can help them survive higher education.
Things like resilience and GRIT are honed through STEM-based learning in school, where the environment is a little safer and there’s a little more support. Students can struggle in school, overcome it, and see the connection between working hard, failing a little, and still finding overall success.
Once they get to college– where academics are more independent and you really have to motivate yourself to stick with it– students can fall back on these skills and hopefully find greater success, feeling better equipped as they move into their future careers.
All of this connectivity is why starting students out in STEM learning early is so crucial.
STEM education can shape the future
As educators, it’s inspiring to know that what you’re teaching students, no matter their age, can have relevance in their everyday lives. It can prepare them for success in the future, both inside the classroom and inside an office.
STEM education checks these boxes, giving students exposure to problem-solving in a way that builds a variety of essential skills. It’s a way to teach students while readying them to be successful adults, and it can help shape their readiness for the future, no matter what that future holds.