STEM Challenges

From the National Journal: ” .  . . And let’s not forget the optics. Science is still for nerds, Bill Gates’ fame aside. These are teenagers we’re talking about, after all. To the average girl on the street, meeting the Seattle Seahawks is still way cooler than meeting a superstar rocket scientist. Even if she rooted for the Broncos.”

If that girl’s in preschool, though, she doesn’t yet think that the Seattle Seahawks are cooler than Sid the Science Kid.  She also hasn’t figured out that science and math are boring, difficult, and something that “other” (supersmart, nerdy) people do.

How can we ensure that she never does learn these lessons about STEM?  One way is to give her, and her peers, teachers who understand science and math, who understand how children learn them, and who understand how to support children as science and math learners. No argument from me that we need to improve STEM teaching in high school, but it’s far too late if we wait ’til then to engage students with decent science and math teaching.  Young kids are naturally drawn to math and science.  They count blocks and stairs and say, “no fair!” when they don’t get the same number of cookies as their sister. They question where cow babies come from, why leaves change color, what happens when you flush. They deserve teachers who can support–and maybe even share–this curiosity and enthusiasm.

Yet, many of the challenges for upper grades teaching plague earlier grades, too.  Anyone who understands math understands that they could do much better financially than teaching elementary school or, even worse, preschool. Teacher training programs for early education rarely require in-depth coursework in science and math, nor do they provide teacher candidates with enough opportunities to practice teaching these in real classrooms, with real kids.

Consider this a plea for putting a fair amount of these newly committed teacher training dollars into early education. Every child, in every year of his or her life, is a STEM learner. To create the STEM-literate society we want, to build the STEM workforce we need, to get kids as excited to meet physicists as football players, requires an overhaul of STEM teaching from pre-K to graduate school. Most of those Seahawks and Red Sox played Pee Wee and Little League. Don’t budding STEM professionals–and all those kids who will never go pro–deserve similar opportunities to build their skills and a lifelong love for science and math from their earliest years?

–Kimberly Brenneman, Assistant Research Professor, NIEER

This entry is cross-posted to The National Journal’s Education Insiders blog  in response to the prompt “Stem Challenges” from Fawn Johnson.

3 Responses to STEM Challenges

  1. I would also add that ECE Teacher Ed programs need materials. It is impossible to teach our students to inspire children without putting high quality teaching materials into their hands. By this I don’t simply mean the one set of mismatched unifix cubes that we (the professors) found at a garage sale. ECE Teacher Ed programs suffer, just as ECE programs do, from a mentality of “Make do”.

    While this is a central tenet of ECE, it also undercuts a view of ECE Teacher Ed programs as being unworthy of funding.

    Don’t buy me an Ipad for Toddlers when what I need is good balances, or a sand and water table.

  2. I agree with the NIEER posting in many points, especially that early experiences in schooling with math and science thinking greatly influences the outcomes in the later years. In fact, I believe they often debilitate thinking and drive an child’s native intelligence so far away from what is put in front of them that a student feels unable to think and therefore alien to the task of engaging science and math.

    As Dr. Rouse points out, materials are essential, but I add that they are often surprisingly commonplace. The Ramps and Pathways curriculum available from NAEYC is an excellent example of repurposing common stuff into intoxicating engagements for young children, experiences where they drive themselves to pose and solve problems about the physical world.

    I pursue some other ideas at my blog, “There are no circles”, for those interested.

  3. Allan Whittemore says:

    I agree with the article. However, I have a paper that suggests how our secondary education makes it more difficult for students to complete a STEM-prep program in public school systems. I would like to e-mail my paper to the author.
    Allan Whittemore

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