Q. What is STEM Education?
A. The STEM acronym was first coined by the National Science Foundation in the early 1990s. The term STEM applied to any policy, event, curriculum, or education program dealing with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, but mainly focused on Science and Mathematics. The importance of integrating Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is quickly becoming a priority in K-12 education and at colleges and universities in both undergraduate and graduate programs. STEM education is evolving into an integrative curriculum aimed at preparing students for the challenges of the 21stcentury. An integrative, applications-based STEM education program prepares our students to become creative and innovative problem solvers, researchers, engineers, and designers.
Q. Why is STEM Education important to America?
A. The current and projected shortfall of workers prepared in STEM fields has been compared with the launching of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 that led to the creation and passage of the National Defense Education Act that was signed into law in 1958. According to the Department of Defense, the United States again finds itself losing ground in the United States workforce and academia in the area of STEM expertise. Globally, the United States’ competitors are increasing their investment in STEM education, training, and workforce development. STEM jobs are predicted to increase 10 percent during the next ten years, while non-STEM jobs are predicted to grow by only 4 percent. The wage disparity, or gap, between STEM and non-STEM jobs is $9.55 per hour. Finally, countries other than the United States are producing many more scientists and engineers than the United States. It appears to be just a matter of time when Asian countries dominating the current global manufacturing sector will eventually surpass the United States in engineering design and innovation.
Q. Why is STEM Education important locally?
A. According to a 2008 report titled Pennsylvania STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Initiative and the Southwest PA STEM Network from The Education Policy and Leadership Center, in the 12 counties located in the Southwest Region, there are approximately 4,000 manufacturing businesses. The median number of employees is 50, and of those 50 employees, 12 are engineers/technicians. With the average age of the employees in the businesses being 50 or greater, approximately 24,000 engineers/technicians must be replaced along with 2,000 to 5,000 new jobs filled for Toshiba/Westinghouse in Cranberry and an unknown number of professionals/technicians in the medical sciences, Biotechnology, Energy, Clean Tech, Robotics, IT and not to mention the growing Marcellus Shale industry. The total number of STEM employees predicted to be needed during the next 10 to 15 years is approximately 35,000 to 50,000 in southwestern Pennsylvania alone.
Q. What are some of your goals as Coordinator of STEM Education in Norwin School District?
A. Our first goal is to continue with the winter and summer robotics camps. Robotics camps were offered for the first time at Norwin during the winter of the 2010-2011 school year. As of this writing, 73 Intermediate and Middle School students participated in winter and summer robotics camps that were held this past school year. Camps were very well received by students and parents. Robotics camps are a great way to spark student interest in the STEM fields. Students have fun learning about robotics, computer programming, and don’t realize they are applying their mathematics, science, and technology knowledge to engineer solutions to a variety of robotic challenges. Agile robotics classes at the middle school and high school level will be introduced during the 2011-2012 school year. Students at the middle school will be working with the Lego Mindstorm robots while students at the high school will be working with Vex model robots.
Our second STEM goal is to assess what we have in place now in terms of curriculum, technology, equipment and faculty expertise. Norwin has an academic program and faculty second to none. Finding courses to integrate in order to develop STEM pathways is our next order of business. We need to make sure we are using all of our current resources efficiently in developing a sustainable STEM program that will distinguish Norwin students from all other schools in the county, state and nation.
Our third goal, and a very important part of STEM education, is to begin to establish internship and mentorship opportunities for students. We are looking at high school programs around the area to gain information to implement our own program. A committee of secondary guidance counselors and school administrators is working on the development of a 12thgrade internship class that pairs our students with local businesses to provide them authentic job experiences and mentorships.
Q. What are the challenges we as a region face with regard to STEM Education?
A. The Southwest PA region’s biggest challenge is to ensure we have a supply of well-educated workers who have the technical expertise necessary to fill the predicted 35,000 jobs that are going to be available during the next 10 or so years. The implication is that public education must step up to the plate and begin to develop partnerships with businesses, post-secondary education institutions, and government entities to work together to prepare our students to meet the needs of the future economy.
Q. What are the challenges we as a nation face with regard to STEM Education?
A. The most serious challenge our nation faces with regard to STEM Education is the lack of diversity in STEM fields. As a nation, it is imperative that all students have access to quality STEM Education programs. Parents, teachers, counselors, and mentors need to especially to encourage girls and students of color throughout their K-12 level of education and continue to encourage them during their postsecondary studies to stick with and complete that degree in a STEM field. Many talented young men and women fail to complete their degrees in a STEM field for a variety of reasons.
Q. What are some future job opportunities predicted for STEM fields?
A. I wish I had a crystal ball and knew the answer to this question. We know that our students need to be prepared for jobs that are not yet on the radar. We need to prepare students to be able to compete in a knowledge-based economy. Students need 21stCentury skills of adaptability, complex communication, social skills, non-routine problem solving, self-management, self-development, and systems thinking. Our students will be required to be innovative and creative problem solvers, designers, developers, and inventors.
Q. What has Norwin School District’s involvement in STEM education been like over the years? When did Norwin’s involvement in STEM begin, and where is it headed in the future?
A. Norwin has a very strong science program, mathematics program, and technology program. It is through the integration of these programs that we get to the heart of engineering, where students must be creative and innovative problem solvers. STEM activities at Norwin actually began with the Texas Instruments CBL equipment and graphing calculators the District purchased for Middle and High School students in the early 1990s. This technology allowed students to use various probes and sensors to solve applications-based, science-based problems in mathematics and science classes. This has evolved over time to include Vernier equipment, mobile laptops, and Palm Pilots as portable data collection devices used in both the science and mathematics department for applications-based, “real world” activities. Recently, Robotics has been added to selected classes. Robotics is such a robust STEM field that really excites students. Robotics incorporates all of the academic pillars of STEM, combined with the often forgotten field of computer programming. We are well on our way to incorporating robotics into our programming classes to provide students with practical application of their programming skills.
Norwin High School’s technology education department now offers students who are enrolled in Computer Aided Drafting classes (CAD) the use of a 3-D prototyping printer, which a high-tech machine usually seen in college engineering programs. The prototyping printer allows students to make a three-dimensional object by laying down successive layers of material. Norwin received the 3-D printer during the fall of 2010-2011 school year through a combination of grant opportunities and federal stimulus funds. Students are able to design and produce a variety of items. In fact, last year students competing in the Battle Bots challenge designed and produced a part needed to improve the mobility of their robot.
Norwin High School students who are enrolled in the College in the High School program are also experiencing some terrific STEM opportunities at the University of Pittsburgh and Seton Hill University. Some examples of the kind of STEM learning Norwin High School students are experiencing include Computer Science Intermediate Programming Using JAVA, Web Site Design and Development, General Biology and Chemistry and mathematics classes from Statistics, and Pre-Calculus through Calculus III.Students are earning these college credits at a discounted price without having to leave the High School Campus during the school day.
In the near future we would like to grow our program and impact all of our students. I think it is important for all students to develop a sense of “STEM literacy” before leaving high school. The development of an integrated curriculum, career pathways, business partnerships, internship opportunities, and mentorships are in their infancy with the goal to give Norwin students the edge when competing for STEM employment or college opportunities.
Q. What are some STEM Education resources you recommend for parents and students?
A. Please visit our “Resources” page to view Web sites that we highly recommend for students, teachers and parents. Make sure you check out the Carnegie Mellon University site and take a look at the new robotics virtual world. We hope to add more resources for students, teachers and parents as we build our program.
Q. I’m a Norwin parent, and I hear your message about STEM Education loud and clear. What are some basic steps Norwin parents can take to help their children explore STEM Education
A. Here are some things you can do as a parent to encourage your child’s interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. This information is taken from National Aeronautics and Space Administration:
Parents can help their children by exhibiting attitudes and values that support learning. Encourage your child to ask questions and avoid negative statements like “I was never good at math”; be positive and expect your child to be successful.
- Help your child see how they encounter science, technology and mathematics in their everyday life. Whether it be in the sports section of the newspaper reviewing team statistics, cooking with your child or working around the house on painting or building projects, point out how mathematics, science or technology is being used.
- Encourage students to ask questions and explore careers early. How much education is required to be a mechanical engineer, a computer programmer, or a radiologist? What subjects should they be taking in school to prepare them for a STEM career?
- Familiarize yourself with the national and state standards in science, mathematics, and technology. Become aware of what your child should be learning at each grade level.
- Have your child involved in various organizations such as the 4-H, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Explorer Clubs, or Boys and Girls clubs that help develop an interest in the STEM fields.
- Take advantage of informal learning opportunities such as museums, science centers, planetariums, aquariums, zoos, and park/recreation programs. We live in an area that has excellent selection of informal learning opportunities and programs.
Thanks. Have fun!
Research provided by Mr. Timothy Kotch, former Norwin High School Assistant Principal and Coordinator of STEM Education, September 2011