STEM: It’s not just part of a plant anymore

Apr. 13, 2013 @ 08:04 PM


STEM is the new buzzword in education these days.

So what is STEM? STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Why has STEM become an important topic among educators, employers and economists? Science proficiency among students in the United States is shamefully low and we should all be concerned about it.

According to the National Institutes of Health Science Education Nation, “In 2006, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment surveyed scientific competency among more than 400,000 15-year-olds in 57 countries. In the United States, 24 percent of students fell at or below basic science proficiency and an additional 24 percent attained only a basic proficiency. Some labor economists fear that this 48 percent of students are at great risk in our 21st-century workforce. U.S. students rank 21st and well below the OECD average.” Shocked? I certainly was when I read this.

Modest gains have been made since this 2009 report but experts are cautioning against calling it a victory. “ ‘There is no cause for optimism,’ Gerry Wheeler, interim director of the National Science Teachers Association wrote in a statement, because ‘the results show miniscule gains in student achievement.’ He lamented that ‘the majority of our eighth-grade level students still fall below the proficiency level,’ calling the scores ‘simply unacceptable.’ ”

This is a huge problem with many facets. What can be done about it nationally, statewide, even locally? Locally, Vance County Schools has recognized and addressed the need for an emphasis on improving science scores with the designation of several schools as STEM schools.

Responding to this national push to improve science scores is being addressed on all levels academically but what can we do outside the formal education setting? We can involve our youth in informal science education through science-oriented camps, after-school programs, programs offered by science museums, and even involvement in 4-H.

The week of March 25 was spring break for Vance and Warren county schools and the perfect opportunity to offer a joint 4-H STEM Day Camp. Vance and Warren County 4-H received a $1500 grant from NC 4-H to conduct a four-day camp for 22 youth in grades 4-8. Each day had a different theme. The topics were robotics, electricity, alternative energy and aerospace.

Marie Hopper of NC FIRST Robotics explained the program and a robotics team mentor demonstrated the full-size robot that they brought with them. The Vance 4-H Robotics Club team just successfully finished their second year and competed in the NC FIRST Regional competition. This club is open to all Vance County high school students. Contact Elaine Webb at Southern Vance High School at 252.430.6000 for more information.

A trip to the Biofuels Center of NC in Granville County was very eye opening and I highly recommend that you check out this center, which is the only one of its kind in the U.S. The remaining days were filled with learning how to safely and properly solder, building and launching rockets, making ethanol and a host of other fun activities.

The lesson we must take from this is that we need to provide our youth every opportunity to engage in science-related activities that are engaging and fun in order to spark their interest in science as well as sustain that interest throughout their education process. Our nation’s economic development security depend upon us creating a generation of proficient scientists.

For more information on 4-H STEM programs, call (252) 438-8188.