By Laura Robledo
Science, technology, engineering and mathematics offer countless opportunities. People with degrees in STEM are at the center of discovering new cures in medicine, exploring the world beyond what we see with our eyes, and creating new technological devices that perhaps will allow us to drive flying cars one day. However, not enough students in the United States are pursuing degrees in these fields, even though jobs centered in STEM are in demand. What can educators do to encourage more students, particularly girls, to study STEM?
Last week, 2,000 educators gathered at the 1st Annual California STEM Symposium at the Sacramento Convention Center, looking for new ideas to spark students’ interests in the classroom. During this two-day conference, I had the privilege of hearing speakers talk about not only the importance of STEM, but also the different approaches educators can use to get more students excited about these fields.
Keynote speakers covered a range of topics. Award winning actress Geena Davis passionately spoke about the need to encourage more girls to study STEM, breaking the stereotype that only boys can excel in math and science. Later on in the afternoon, Dr. Kenneth Wesson discussed new ways to promote critical thinking and creativity in the classroom, particularity by allowing students to actively explore science, to go beyond textbooks. The session, Connecting STEM to Real Life Using Multimedia, lead by KQED’s Science Education Manager, Andrea Swensrud, provided a perfect example of actively teaching STEM. Swensrud showed participants how to incorporate science and engineering videos, and audio reports in the class. We watched a video on the mechanics of riding a bike that brought science to life using a real-world example. A second video featured a mechatronics engineer, a career not explored in standard science textbooks. These interactive videos highlighted an alternative text educators can bring to the classroom to activate students’ curiosity in STEM, connecting what they learn about science in a class to the real world.
The conference ended with a powerful and inspiring keynote given by Jose Hernandez who described his determination to become an astronaut after applying again and again to NASA. One idea Hernandez expressed summed up the conference: everything starts in the classroom. The positive encouragement he received from educators during his schooling steered him to a successful career path.
As California STEM Symposium participants return to various learning environments post symposium, they bring with them new approaches to teaching and learning. STEM demands that students question, explore and critically think about the world, hopefully the approaches learned at the event will help teachers and students do just that.
Note: The mechatronics engineer video will be found in Energy, KQED’s iBooks Textbook, due out in January 2014.