Even if you know what STEM stands for – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – there’s a good chance you don’t know the full extent of what it means.
Lee Lambert of nonprofit Washington STEM is quick to point out STEM-based skills hiding in plain view. “Anyone in construction, that’s STEM – no one can add fractions like those people! That big warehouse on the way to work could be a carpet liquidator or it could be an advanced manufacturing facility that makes precision water knives to cut through carbon fiber. That’s a STEM job too.”
Any tech company counts as STEM, and so does any healthcare company, the sheet metal fabrication shop down the street, plumbers, shipbuilders and tons of other professions in Washington state. Even writers use STEM skills – the process of collecting information, brainstorming ideas, developing a draft, getting feedback and revising is the engineering design process thinly disguised.
Why does it even matter that we recognize STEM skills and jobs? Understanding their prevalence is key to making sure Washington's schools prepare Washington’s kids for the jobs that will be available to them. Kids can’t dream of becoming something they don’t know about, so exposing them to real STEM jobs is crucial.
On a national scale, growth in STEM jobs over the last ten years has been three times greater than that of non-STEM jobs and in Washington, there are 45,000 unfilled STEM jobs because applicants don’t have the required skills. Preparing kids from impoverished backgrounds to take on these jobs could be their ticket to a better life – the challenge is finding the best way to do it.
Washington STEM applies a three-pronged approach to meeting this challenge, and Lambert oversees the STEM Networks part of the approach. Along with his colleagues and STEM Networking administrators around the state, Lambert fosters Career Connected Learning opportunities and networks through which kids can work alongside – and learn from – real professionals in the STEM field.
If you believe in the power of STEM to create opportunity for those in need, you can get involved. Here’s how:
1.Talk about your STEM skills
When you talk to your kids or your friends’ kids or other youth you interact with, tell them what you do and how STEM skills play a part. Kids can’t dream of becoming something they don’t know about, so do your best to open their eyes to the possibilities. You could even see if there’s a “career day” you could speak at.
2.See about starting a STEM club
If you have time to give and enjoy spending time with kids, you can reach out to the administration at a local school and volunteer to run an after school STEM club.
Whether you’re a computer programmer who can show kids how to code using a free online tool like code.org, an electrician who can help them set up cool circuits or a construction worker who can oversee a team effort to build a club house on the playground, sharing the work you do with kids can help them uncover skills and ambitions they never knew existed.
3.Advocate for STEM support
If you believe in the power of STEM to have a positive impact on our communities, let your local representatives know! When you sign up for emails from Washington STEM, you’ll be notified when there’s legislation on the table to expand funding for Career Connected Learning, teachers’ continuing education or classroom resources.
By voicing your opinion and spreading the word, you can help support policies that open kids’ eyes to new possibilities.
4.Involve your company
If your company is in a STEM-based industry, why not suggest that leadership reach out to your local STEM network coordinator and let them know what you can offer? The coordinator will be able to match your resources with a teacher’s needs to take advantage of your offer. It’s also a win for your company – supporting STEM education is a key part of keeping the talent pipeline full.
1.Weave STEM education throughout your [already busy day]
It takes some effort, but find ways to incorporate real local STEM problems in your curriculum can have a big payoff for your students.
Use computer programming examples when you teach logic in math class. Maybe a biology lesson includes a portion where kids try different techniques used in Washington agriculture and measure results. Maybe high school physics students pretend to be engineers and design their best paper plane. Who knows – they could work for Boeing one day.
Whenever possible, let your students “try on” different careers, especially ones with local relevance, to get a sense of what it’s like to do the work that real STEM professionals in Washington do.
2.Use free resources
Participate as a class in “The Hour of Code” or use lessons on code.org to teach a little lesson on computer programming each week. Explore the internet for other free resources that teach kids STEM skills through games and other engaging interfaces.
3.Ask for training
Summer “outernships” give teachers a chance to work real STEM jobs so they can teach relevant lessons in the classroom. There are also other opportunities for teachers to brush up on STEM skills that they can pass along to their students.
Make the case to your administrator and brainstorm to decide what type of training for you can have the biggest impact for your students.
By trying out some of the suggestions listed above or making a donation to Washington STEM, you can help give every student a quality STEM education so every student has the opportunity to realize his or her full potential.
To learn more about getting involved in your local STEM network, visit washingtonstem.org/STEM-Networks.
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