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Though there has been an increased focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skills recently, the ideals of STEM education were a recurring priority in education years before the term was first coined by the National Science Foundation in 2001.
In the late 1950s, Sputnik was launched and NASA was established. The space race was taking human civilization to new heights. Education and society as a whole refocused attention on fostering students who could think critically and solve complex — sometimes unknown — problems.
The children of the space-race age didn’t obtain all their STEM training and inspiration in classrooms. They were driven to learn more, excited for the future they heard about in the media, through popular culture, and from their parents. “STEM-esque” role models such as NASA’s astronauts were pushing the limits of human thinking and ability. New Wave science-fiction novels and movies were making science “cool.” Most importantly, children were using their imaginations to build, learn, and play. All these milestones occurred before they were seated in rows in front of their teachers.
Today, we expect students to be inspired by the ideas of STEM, many times without providing any context or connection to their lives. Teachers often struggle to show their students the importance of developing STEM skills for their future careers, as students struggle to see the connections to their own current and future realities. STEM skills need to be nurtured and cultivated, starting before students set foot in a classroom. Problem-solving and critical thinking, communicating and collaboration, and creativity, curiosity, and adaptability all should be developed early in a student’s life.

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