Mar 03 2008

Improving STEM Education

These vital areas need an overhaul, says science expert

First the bad news: International math, science and technology test scores demonstrate that U.S. students lag behind their peers in other countries. And these poor results can affect students’ job potential and the U.S. economy.

Now the good news: STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education can be bolstered, and it doesn’t have to include an expensive renovation for your high school, says Shirley Malcom, director of education and human resources at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Malcom’s group, with the National School Boards Association, are making available a CD-ROM training module that discusses the importance of these subjects. Starting in May, the groups will launch a Web site that will include updated information and online links. In June, the groups will roll out an in-depth workshop aimed at school board members to show them how to boost the curricula in these vital areas.

“I don’t know how someone functions in the 21st century without STEM skills,” says Malcom. With today’s focus on the environment and green living, science can help students discover better ways to clean water, create alternative fuels and arrest ongoing climate change, she adds.

The reason the United States has fallen behind in science, Malcom says, is because the subject was only recently added to the testing requirements for compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act. And those results still don’t count against a school’s adequate yearly progress, she adds.

But Malcom says that creating a change doesn’t have to mean costly renovations and longer lab periods. “There are strategies about how to teach science more inexpensively,” she says. “There are micro-skill chemistry kits that are smaller than a shoebox. That’s where technology comes into play, there’s the potential to extend the learning environment for all kids.”

Malcom says the biggest obstacle to change could be convincing teachers to change their methods to incorporate some of these new ways to teach science.

As hard as it can be to overhaul curricula in these areas, Malcom says she hopes her group’s information will help school officials start to rethink the focus on these subjects.