STEM Education

Cartoon-Robot.pngScience, technology, engineering, and math are important subjects that our schools need to teach. Many groups have come to recognize this and are pushing for better STEM education for a variety of reasons. We do need to make sure our students are gaining useful skill sets, but that doesn't necessarily mean buying into the latest fads.  While it is important to promote STEM careers, the success of our economy depends on a variety of people and skills sets.

Many large corporations have began lobbying congress to increase the number of H1-B visas.  These corporations are claiming that there are not enough Americans qualified for these positions, and unless congress opens up the flood gates they will be unable to compete due to a lack of skilled employees.  This of course leads many policy makers to ask why we don't have enough Americans to fill those positions.  We have plenty of Americans looking for jobs and these are high paying positions, what can we do to put Americans in these jobs? There are many technology vendors who are quick to jump in and claim you should use technology to teach technology.  So we also have these vendors pushing for STEM education. There are also those of us who work in STEM fields who see the need and would like to see more qualified people in the field.

Before we begin discussing the solutions we need to first discuss the wide variety of careers that fall under the STEM label.  STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  Science includes anything from a lab technician to an  anthropologist. Technology includes the person who assembles computers at the local computer store to the people writing software for autonomous vehicles. Engineering could be someone designing a county sewer system to a someone designing a space station. Mathematics underlies all of these disciplines with people in each often learning completely different branches.  It's really the fundamental part that ties them all together, including statistics.

So how do we tie all these disciplines together so that our students are prepared for a job in any of these fields.  We focus on the fundamentals.  Mathematics, scientific reasoning, and boolean logic.   This is part of the purpose of Common Core, to introduce mathematical and scientific concepts to students at younger ages, and more often. I believe Common Core will do much to help our students be better prepared for these fields.

A few people have caused a lot of confusion around Common Core. Common Core is a set of standards developed by the education departments of participating states.  Utah's own Department of Education contributed to the development of these standards. Utah used the Common Core standards as the basis for the Utah Core Standards. I encourage you to take some time and look at the standards and provide constructive feed back.  When providing feed back make sure you are referencing the right policy. Many things have happened in school across the country in the last few years besides Common Core.  I have heard parents complain about Everyday Math, as part of their complaints about Common Core, Everyday Math is not part of Common Core, even though many school districts decided to implement them at the same time. You will be most effective discussing policy, if you are referencing the correct policy.  Always do your research first.

There are those who think exposures to the newest computing platforms are what matters in technology education.  My experience as a software engineer has demonstrated otherwise. As the curriculum in developed around Utah Core we need to make sure it includes the core computing concepts of boolean logic. This is the essential idea behind all programming.  Boolean logic is how all computers and software work.  Teaching this simple concept will allow Utah students to be more effective in any job that requires them to use a computer. For example I worked at a book store for a while, I was the most effective in searching for partial titles on the computer, because I understood what the software was doing.  Students will also be more effective and efficient in their careers when communicating issues to the IT staff. These simple concepts can be taught using spreadsheet software, or freely available interpreters(using languages like Python or Perl). These basic concepts will also be useful for those we go on to work as technology specialist especially software engineers.

I believe that people should be encouraged to provide for themselves to the best of their abilities, I also recognize that many people's abilities are not the same as my own. There are many jobs out there for those who pursue careers in technology and other specific STEM fields, but our economy would fall apart if everyone pursued these jobs.  We still need mechanics, construction workers, janitors, and teachers.  The pursuit of better STEM education should not be done at the expense of all other careers. We need to support policies that allow living wages and access to health care for all who are willing to work.



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