The future of Michigan depends on its ability to boost student performance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, according to the Michigan STEM Vital Signs report.
"Young people in Michigan will increasingly face stiff competition for jobs from people across the world, and to be able to succeed in the global economy, students will need a much stronger foundation in STEM subject areas," the report says.
It's a tall order, and while the state has made strides in the past few years, it's still not enough.
The same report two years later shows that while Michigan students are improving on the national standardized tests, most eighth graders are still not proficient in math. It's a concern shared by lawmakers, schools and parents.
An article in The New York Times says American students have been bad at math for more than a century. The problem isn't new, but some of the approaches to it are.
Magnet school solution
By the time kids get to college, or even high school, many of them have lost their interest in science — or at least given up on the idea they can pursue a tech or science career.
To excite kids about studying science and technology, many districts are introducing these concepts at earlier ages. The Lansing District, for example, has dedicated magnet schools — some starting as young as pre-K — focusing on specialized technology and science tracks and continuing with the program into high school.
The district also has a magnet school with a Spanish Immersion/Global Studies program, which responds to a different work need. Here are several schools setting the stage for innovative education:
- Fairview Elementary, Pre-K-3rd grade, STEM
- Sheridan Road Elementary, 4th-6th grades, STEM
- Cavanaugh Elementary, Pre-K-3rd grade, STEAM
- Mt. Hope Elementary, 4th-6th grades, STEAM
- Lewton Elementary, 4th-5th grades, Spanish immersion/global studies
- Everett New Tech High, 7th-10th grades, project-based technology program
STEM vs. STEAM
While the STEM movement has been on the go for years, the STEAM movement (adding arts to the equation) is relatively new. The argument is students need the arts to be able to interpret the sciences, and vice versa.
In a Huffington Post column, Vince Bertram of Project Lead the Way explains the difference is not so much in what subjects are taught but the way they are taught. It's about integrating the subjects with each other and helping students see how they interact with each other.
"It’s not about adding to the acronym, but instead adding to the relevancy of learning," he said.
Think like a scientist
While the tech/science fields continue to grow, not everyone will end up being a scientist. However, having scientific training is an excellent exercise for all career paths. Perhaps the best attribute of a scientific mind is being curious. Psychology Today points out several other ways thinking like a scientist is beneficial, including learning to examine the full body of evidence with new eyes and not depending on other people to supply you with conclusions.
STEM or STEAM training opens the doors for future scientists and opens the minds of other people to think scientifically.