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Students, Educators, Business Leaders Meet to Discuss STEM Education

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Imagine sitting in a classroom and hearing a teacher tell you that you just might be smarter than he is, that he learns from you and your readings and discussions as much as you learn from him. Would that discourage you?

For Wootton High School senior Kassidy Meck, that was reality this year. And she loved it!

“The best science teachers are those that encourage discovery,” Meck said during a panel discussion at the Tech Council of Maryland’s Mid-Atlantic STEM Summit, held at the JHU Montgomery County Campus.

The teacher referenced in the first paragraph “encourages our challenging how things are,” she said. Meck was one of a line-up of students who discussed their personal experiences in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education as part of the Summit, which brought together students and more than 50 business and education leaders.

Why is STEM education so important?

tcm-stem-summit-winsky.jpgTech Council of Maryland CEO Renee Winsky started the day by explaining why when she cited some startling statistics:

• Workforce projections for 2014 by the U.S. Department of Labor show that 15 of the 20 fastest growing occupations require significant science or mathematics training to successfully compete for a job.

• According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, professional information technology (IT) jobs will increase 24% by 2016. Yet enrollment in undergraduate degree programs in computer sciences is more than 50 percent lower than it was five years ago.

• The U.S. ranks 20th internationally based on our share of graduate degrees awarded in engineering, computer science, and mathematics.

• If current trends continue, more than 90 percent of all scientists and engineers will be living in Asia.

• Many STEM subject areas are not integrated into the curriculum or taught on an everyday basis. For example, 29% of K-5 teachers report teaching science two or fewer days per week.

tcm-stem-summit-aris.jpg“As much as I’m an optimist, the situation isn’t very good,” said Aris Melissaratos, Senior Advisor for the President for Enterprise Development, Johns Hopkins University, during his keynote address. “The students here today are the chosen few. We need company for them. We need more people involved in the knowledge economy.

“A higher percentage of students need to make it through the educational system and study the right things,” Melissaratos said. “We need to reach those taking the easy way out. We need to create value in the educational system so kids are excited to learn.”

Melissaratos cited a number of problems within the educational system as contributing to the problem, including the growing trend of “social promotion” and STEM subjects being taught incorrectly.

“We need to keep the best teachers in the classroom instead of turning them into administrators,” he added. “We have some major societal restructuring to do. Look at the money made by shortstops and rappers vs. teachers.”

Melissaratos spent much of his time focusing on the need to better motivate students and the importance of STEM education if the U.S. wants to succeed in the global economy.

“If we don’t have more people who understand STEM, we as a nation will be left behind,” he said. “It is our job as educators and business leaders to maximize human potential.”

After Melissaratos’ presentation, Sarah Schenning from Representative Chris Van Hollen’s office talked about what was happening with funding for STEM education at the national level.

“Ensuring our teachers are trained well to teach STEM is a priority of this administration,” Schenning said. “If we want to advance science, we need to show experiments in the classroom that generate excitement. We need more resources for science and technology. We hear that over and over.”

The Summit concluded with two panel discussions: one featuring middle and high school students and one featuring college students.

“The biggest problem with the science curriculum is that it’s put into baggies and handed to the teachers and the students,” said Meck. “Instead, we should be being taught proper procedures and then allowed to experiment and figure things out vs. being given step-by-step instructions.”

“The best way to get and keep kids interested in science is to let us play around with it,” echoed Emanual Kyei-Baffour, a seventh grade student at Shady Grove Middle School. “Earlier this year we got to participate in the new Frontiers in Science and Medicine program. We all went home thinking, ‘Wow, science is really cool!’

“Before Frontiers, science had turned into just another class, even though I had always been interested in how things work,” Kyei-Baffour continued. “But programs like that help you to see the possibilities. It got me excited about science again.”

All three students agreed that they were probably more motivated than most of their peers when it came to STEM education. In explaining why she felt that was the case for her, Meck returned to a topic Melissaratos had touched on during his presentation: teachers!

“What teachers you get make such a difference in whether you become motivated toward STEM education,” she said. “There needs to be more emphasis put on teacher training.”

Meck also cited her Laboratory for Experiential Education and Design (LEED) class as key in her excitement about STEM education. LEED is a student-designed program in which participants are given specific design challenges and charged to conceive, develop, test, and then construct a solution — bringing their theoretical ideas to actualization.

“It’s a class where the students really get to create the class and the curriculum,” Meck explained. “It’s about the process, not just the product. It constantly pushes us to the next level of skills. And it’s an extremely collaborative environment.”

As to whether they would pursue STEM fields as careers?

“If I can find out something that people didn’t know before, that they’ve been researching and researching, that’s just amazing,” Kyei-Baffour said.

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CATEGORY: K-12 Outreach