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A Look at STEM Initiatives for Elementary School

As the world shrinks, technology grows and the need for more sophisticated scientific innovations emerges, it is becoming increasingly important that students are prepared for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. Even at the elementary level, schools are embracing STEM-based curricula and offering opportunities for their students to get a head start on successful and rewarding careers.

A Brief History of STEM

As early as 1985, the publication Education Week ran a piece about a policy forum discussing the value of initiatives designed to improve education in mathematics, science, engineering and other technology-related subjects.

In 2000, then-Texas Governor George W. Bush introduced a plan to promote increased federal student-loan forgiveness for students who majored in those four subjects and taught for at least five years in a high-need school.

In 2005, Reps. Vernon Ehlers and Mark Udall formed the STEM caucus in Congress, and within three years, the expression had become commonplace enough to show up in headlines.

Then, in 2011, President Barack Obama used the State of the Union address to promote and enhance student exposure to the STEM subjects and increase the number of teachers prepared to teach these subjects.

What Are Some STEM-Based Curriculum Resources?

Students interested in studying STEM subjects will not always get the depth of understanding and detail they may need for future success from general education textbooks. It is essential that resources designed specifically for STEM students be made available to both teachers and students as they pursue intense study of these subjects.

Several companies and organizations have taken the initiative to create programs and resources to fill in the gap. For example:

  • NASA is committed to “attracting and retaining students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, disciplines … and strives to inspire and motivate students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by supporting education in the Nation’s schools.” On the NASA Education website, teachers can search for lesson plans and resources like Light but Strong: a Lesson in Engineering. In this lesson, students design and build a mobile launcher platform. But unlike typical science textbook activities, there is no step-by-step guide. Students must design the platform based on information about its function and their understanding of scientific and engineering principles.
  • National Geographic is another source of STEM-based activities:
  • In Your School: Using a Geographic Perspective, students in the intermediate grades “learn how to use a geographic perspective by asking where and what as they explore the concepts of location and place with their classroom and school.” This activity gets children to be specific about the difference between location and place, as well as using the five W’s to geographically analyze their school and classroom.
  • Mapping the Classroom, a hands-on activity designed for PreK-1, gives students the tools and information necessary to create a map to discover hidden items in their classroom.
  • Companies such as E-Line Media, publisher of game-based learning products and services, and The Joan Ganz Cooney Center, an independent research and innovation lab, promote the STEM philosophy by supporting the National STEM Video Game Challenge, launched in 2010 by President Barack Obama. According to the “Games for Change Student Challenge” website, “Since the challenge was launched in 2011, students have designed and submitted nearly 20,000 original games and game design documents over six competition cycles.”
  • One way that teachers promote independence is by creating workstations where students can learn at their own pace. A favorite activity for students is to access websites such as Coolmath-Games. While teachers are at the ready and available for support, the goal is for students to work out problems on their own or collaborate with other students. The site features games of skill, strategy and logic. Memory, science and geography games are also available.

Resources for Kids

Many students who are interested in one or more of the STEM content areas are self-starters. Some simply enjoy working on their own and some learn better when they have control of the pace and presentation. Here are two of the free online resources which assist the more independent student without delay.

  • Desmos is a free online graphing calculator that students can use to “see” math.
  • Many times, students will understand all but one step of a math process. Or they simply need a refresher course. The website MashUpMath provides grade-level video math mini-lessons. Students can, once again, maintain independence, or even branch out on their own, by selecting topics with which they are having trouble or that simply interest them.

What Are Some STEM-Based Resources for Professional Development?

In order for even the most devoted teachers to stay current with the initiatives and newly designed programs for STEM teaching, several organizations have devoted significant efforts to develop resources and professional development modules.

  • An organization called ASSET (Achieving Student Success through Excellence in Teaching) offers professional development courses designed “to build pedagogical skills and understanding, content/conceptual knowledge and collaborative leadership.” These courses may be cross-curricular or focus on a particular area of the STEM initiative, such as science, math or engineering.
  • Some of the development opportunities are available on a more local level, like the EduPRO Development program at the Infinity Science Center in Pearlington, Mississippi. Workshops like “Full Speed Ahead into STEM” and “Science Every Day” provide classroom teachers with additional expertise in a more hands-on approach to STEM subjects.
  • The Merck Academy for Leadership in Science Instruction “is a three-year professional development program for teachers, principals and district administrators who work together in School- and District-based Teams to deepen their understanding of strong classroom science instruction and the fundamentals of leadership.”

Why STEM?

According to the National Science Foundation, “In the 21st century, scientific and technological innovations have become increasingly important as we face the benefits and challenges of both globalization and a knowledge-based economy. To succeed in this new information-based and highly technological society, all students need to develop their capabilities in STEM to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past.” In other words, the need for STEM teachers is on the rise.

Experienced educators interested in pursuing teaching opportunities in STEM schools or programs would be well-served by earning a Master of Education in Elementary Education from Mississippi College. Coursework required for this degree includes classes specifically tailored for those interested in math and science and courses that “serve as a backdrop for learning about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics in upper elementary and middle school science.” This master’s degree is the next step toward a rewarding teaching career in the STEM initiative.

Learn more about the Mississippi College online M.Ed. in Elementary Education program.


Sources:

It’s About Time: STEM for Elementary School Students – How to Instill a Lifelong Love of Science

Education Week: When Did Science Education Become STEM?

Education Week: Obama Emphasizes STEM Education in State of the Union

National Education Association: STEM Resources

National Science Foundation: National Action Plan for Addressing the Critical Needs of the U.S. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education System

Bayer: A Compendium of Best Practice K-12 STEM Education Programs

NASA: Light but Strong – A Lesson in Engineering

National Geographic: Your School: Using a Geographic Perspective

National Geographic: Mapping the Classroom

National STEM Video Game Challenge

ASSET STEM Education: Professional Development Courses

Infinity Science Center: eduPRO Development

PBS TeacherLine


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