The importance of STEM education can be seen in the growing number of STEM-related occupations in the United States and abroad. In fact, in the U.S., 80 percent of the fastest growing jobs depend on a mastery of mathematics and scientific knowledge and skills.
In contrast, interest in STEM careers among high school students has lagged far behind the corresponding growth in STEM professions. According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16 percent of high school students are interested in STEM-related careers; while 28 percent of high school freshmen declare an interest in a STEM-centered field, more than half of these students will lose interest by the time they graduate. The numbers are even more distressing when we look at the post-secondary study of STEM fields by ethnic breakdown. According to the Federal Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education Five-Year Strategic Plan, just 2.2 percent of Hispanics and Latinos, 2.7 percent of African Americans, and 3.3 percent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives have earned a first university degree in the natural sciences or engineering by age 24. These figures are disturbing and point to a trend that must be reversed.
Schools play a pivotal role in triggering students’ interest in pursuing more STEM-related courses and eventually careers.
Increasing the number of students pursuing STEM-related post-secondary studies and professions will take the collective efforts of teachers, school administrators, parents, and business and community leaders. It is a matter of giving every child an opportunity to succeed in our ever-increasing competitive world.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) supports a number of STEM initiatives to help bolster interest among students and encourage their pursuit of post-secondary studies and careers in STEM. From district-wide participation in the Hour of Code to partnerships with organizations like Florida Power & Light and Discovery Education that offer STEM activities for teachers and students, M-DCPS is at the forefront of broadening student participation in STEM activities.
Each year the school district hosts a gathering of Dade County’s most creative, intelligent and resourceful students to compete and demonstrate their mastery in STEM activities. This ideal platform encourages students to explore, discover and solve problems through STEM.
M-DCPS Science Mobile Labs in elementary and middle schools provide students with inquiry-based enrichment activities that serve as an extension to laboratories and hands-on activities already implemented in the science classroom. Currently, the district offers three mobile lab experiences that focus on hydrology, fresh/saltwater ecosystems and water:
- MAST Academy’s Land SHARC Mobile Lab
- MAST Academy’s Weather on Wheels (WOW) Mobile Lab
- WaterVentures Mobile Lab
The conversation around academic rigor is extremely important in the context of STEM. Most practitioners agree that students in rigorous classrooms actively are engaged in analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating ideas—all of which are by-products of STEM instruction and curriculum. The integration of the four STEM disciplines—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—is a cohesive learning paradigm that exposes students to real-world applications, giving them a better understanding of the dynamics that shape our environment. A hands-on approach to instruction that captures natural curiosity and stimulates interest, STEM Magnet schools provide innovative strategies and technology to engage students in discovery and investigation. To this end, and with the support of our School Board and parent and business community, we have transformed traditional schools into Magnet schools that focus on mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry and engineering design.
Just as bolstering interest in STEM activities and careers among students is important, providing teachers with the tools, resources and training they need to effectively deliver STEM instruction is also important. Teachers in Miami-Dade County Public Schools have access to Florida STEM TIPS, which is a unique, mobile-ready online coaching platform designed to support new mathematics and science teachers. This online induction model supports the district’s existing efforts in developing and retaining new sixth-twelfth grade STEM teachers. Additionally, the district embraces federal initiatives, such as the STEM Master Teacher Corps, that recruit, prepare and support excellent STEM teachers.
In Miami-Dade County Public Schools, STEM education and access to cutting-edge resources always have been top priorities.
In fact, a resounding “yes” vote from Miami-Dade County voters in 2012 for a $1.2 billion General Obligation Bond has paved the way for capital projects that will outfit every public school in Miami-Dade with state-of-the-art technology to strengthen instruction in all disciplines, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics.