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STEM Education Designed to Reach Broad Audience

November 16, 2016

One of the greatest assets in transforming STEM education is so simple it is often overlooked: a child’s innate sense of curiosity. Harnessing that curiosity and engaging students in activities that instill a sense of wonder and discovery can help legitimize behaviors that are core to the practice of science and engineering. Experiences that invite play, tinkering, discovery and risk are valuable tools that can reach across every audience to increase an interest in STEM activities, and reach more students, according to STEM 2026.

The complexities of today’s world demands new knowledge and skills to solve difficult problems, and all students need to be fully prepared to take on those challenges. Knowing that a strong STEM education will increasingly become a key driver of opportunity, STEM 2026, focuses on ways to improve STEM teaching and learning and engage all learners. Currently, state and local education agencies struggle to close achievement gaps in core subjects like mathematics and science, skills that are increasingly needed in the workforce. The study emerged as a way to address some of those gaps and broaden the concept of STEM education.

STEM 2026 emerged from a series of workshop discussions with experts in STEM teaching and learning, organized by the U.S. Department of Education. The report states that it is hoped the vision will “start a conversation about opportunities for innovation, and propel research and development that can build a stronger evidence base for what works in various contexts, best serves diverse learners, and motivates action toward achieving transformative change.”

The findings from the series of workshops contain six focus areas. They are intended to motivate actions and are considered a starting point, not necessarily an action plan. The six focus areas are:

  • Engaged and networked communities of practice. All schools and learning programs should form a community that draws on resources to effectively participate in STEM activities, fostering skills for postsecondary and career success.
  • Accessible learning activities that invite intentional play and risk.  These activities are designed for all students in the P-12 continuum and encourage creativity and divergent thinking through a team-based approach to problem solving.
  • Educational experiences that include interdisciplinary approaches to solving “grand challenges,” which are challenges not yet solved, including: water quality and conservation; better understanding the human brain; developing tech-enabled systems for improving access to health care; and, making solar energy cost competitive.
  • Flexible and inclusive learning spaces that are located in the classroom, natural world or makerspaces and are augmented by technology-based platforms to enhance learners’ STEM experiences.
  • Innovative and accessible measures of learning, including testing to identify achievement gaps. It also includes more formative measures of learning that may be drawn from observations or portfolios of student work.
  • Societal and cultural images and environments that promote diversity and opportunity in STEM, which includes an overhaul of how STEM is messaged to youth and their families. Images, toys and games are utilized in all geographic locations to promote the idea among all students that they can shape the world through STEM disciplines.