For the love of STEM…

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So, I just read through the ASQ release regarding youth and their perceptions of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) fields as career choices.  When it says that our youth sees the value of these fields but is afraid they won’t measure up, I’m left to wonder if it’s because we’re failing as parents?  Or, is it that our education system is failing somehow?

My son is in second grade now.  He does very well in school, but getting him to do homework is a real chore.  He has this perception that somehow learning outside of the classroom is infringing on some other entitled play time.  Of course, he ultimately doesn’t have a choice but I’m left wondering what’s up?  He’ll play scientist, surgeon and frontline infantry with his buddies, but worksheets elicit the same reaction as immunizations.

I recall having homework and thinking it sucked as well.  Math was my downfall. I can remember the math teachers standing there talking about numbers in a monotone voice for such long periods of time.  It was so hard to stay awake, much less engaged at some beneficial level.  And, it wasn’t that I thought it was too hard.  It just wasn’t interesting.  I hate to say the same goes for other STEM subjects as well.  The courses in college renewed my interest simply by offering better instructors, although I was and remain a liberal arts kind of girl!  I’ve been interested ever since, but from afar.  Math and I still have issues and are not the best of friends… we tolerate each other at best.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we need to hit the battle on both sides.  We know that these jobs are going to be in high demand, and we must figure out a way to prepare the workforce of the future.  But, how do we do it?

Education 

With the public/private education debate off the table here, we need to start making sure our teachers are using engaging methods throughout the K-12 experience.  From what I’ve seen, elementary students are open books and they suck up knowledge at an amazing rate.  Their teachers sing silly songs and they do arts and crafts… Can we logically conclude that this type of engagement should continue throughout middle school and high school (obviously in a way that evolves with maturity)? For my community college students,  I absolutely make sure that there are engaging discussions and activities.  There’s no doubt that people respond to learning in this way. As an instructor, it keeps things interesting for me as well.

For teachers, I would eliminate tenure and make employment based on performance.  It works in business… it would work in education.  If we must keep unions, they should make a better effort to work towards the greater goal.

I’m not against the use of aptitude tests for career placement.  I really do think we should foster natural talents.  It just might make students pursue fields they otherwise would have shied away from.   And, the incentive of a good career would likely foster higher success throughout childhood.  I believe both Poland and Taiwan use this method for making sure demand is met with supply where human resources are concerned.

What would happen if we provided post secondary education for people who meet certain performance criteria?  Would it cost more or less than the current funding for re-training through unemployment or other related programs? If such post secondary education was made available , there would be an associated incentive to perform well.  Right?  It also helps insure we meet growing industry demands.

Parents

We seem to let our kids off the hook when they get to middle school.  As parents, we need to be committed to their education.  The responsibility is ultimately on us and not the education system.  Paul Borawski, in the latest View from the Q post, talks about making math fun with his family.  Our household is the same in this way, and I can see how the kids love doing science experiments and solving problems.  The minute it becomes homework, they’re done.  It’s our responsibility to keep them on track. I learn new things in STEM fields all the time whenever we follow their natural curiosity. Our jobs much later in life should reflect this as well!

Sidenote: I just wanted to send out a special welcome to all of the new ASQ Influential Voices that have joined this year! I look forward to reading the posts and “raising the voice” with you!

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Dallas Dunlap  •  Feb 20, 2012 @4:39 pm

    Jennifer – Maybe it would help if we stopped talking about STEM and “STEM workers.” People go into science and engineering because they are interested in those fields. The fields are difficult. Engineering in particular shows no tolerance for mistakes. Screw up and your bridge falls down. Engineering requires hard work and a lot of bonehead math.
    In science you need people who are smart, imaginative, and are able to master math as well as their field of concentration. Good scientists are inquisitive, inventive, and willing to endure hardship.
    There is no magic wand that you can wave to produce more scientists.
    The big stumbling block is math. Math is interesting in the same way that solving puzzles is interesting. But to be good at math you have to memorize a lot. Most Americans don’t want to do that and so rely on calculators to do computation.
    So my recommendations would be: 1.) Respect scientists, offer lots of financial incentives to become scientists, and then get out of their way. 2.) Improve the teaching of math at all levels of school. 3.) The next time an MBA starts talking about “STEM workers,” give him a wedgie.
    I hope you don’t mind me crashing your site.

  2. jenn  •  Feb 20, 2012 @4:43 pm

    <3 your comments Dallas… Thanks for keeping it real. I absolutely agree, but I think you’ve failed to recognize how awesome MBAs are… We’re problem solvers, ya know. 🙂