The National Research Council recently completed research sponsored by the National Science Foundation regarding the best ways to educate K-12 students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The report, titled "Successful K-12 STEM Education," began with the statement: "The primary driver of the future economy and concomitant creation of jobs will be innovation, largely derived from advances in science and engineering. ... Four percent of the nation's workforce is composed of scientists and engineers; this group disproportionately creates jobs for the other 96 percent."
Researchers Lacy and Wright project that 16 of the 20 occupations targeted with the largest projected growth by 2018 are related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Only four of these occupations will require an advanced degree. There is a need for our schools to train not only college-bound students, but all secondary education students to fill these STEM related careers of the future.
The NRC's report examined three categories of STEM focused schools to identify "best practices" in inspiring and educating students in STEM fields of study. The categories included: selective STEM schools which you have to apply for admission, inclusive STEM schools that take all applicants, and STEM focused career and technical education schools. Findings and recommendations included ensuring the districts devoted adequate time/resources to science education in grades K-5, providing students a strong knowledge base.
Districts should ensure that the K-12 science curriculum is aligned, each year building off of what was learned the year before. Districts need to provide annual professional development for their science teachers, helping build teachers intellectual capacity. School leaders must support teacher's creative efforts in science instruction in the classroom to ensure successful curriculum execution.
The National Research Council met July 19 as it moved toward its fall 2012 deadline to develop the next generation of national common core standards in science and engineering. In developing these standards, the NRC has developed three priorities. First, the curriculum will emphasize "depth over breadth" in understanding science. Research suggests teaching students fewer subjects in greater depth is more effective in knowledge retention and development of high order thinking skills. Second, focus on getting students involved in practicing scientific inquiry and engineering design as part of their learning process. The third priority deals with "scaffolding." The council recommends revisiting core science concepts at multiple grade levels, using them as foundations as they introduce new concepts or exploring underlying concepts of the basic concepts students were introduced to previously.
Engineering and technology are being added to the science curriculum to stress the importance that "relevance" is to educating our youth. Current generations learn better when they see or can apply science to their everyday lives. The NRC hopes that by 12th grade students should "see how science and engineering are instrumental in addressing major challenges that confront society today, such as generating sufficient energy, preventing and treating diseases, maintaining supplies of clean water and food, and solving the problems of global environmental change."
The degree of success we have in teaching our students about science and engineering could define the future success of our economy and country. Ninety-six percent of us are depending on it.
Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.