By Nora Heston

The inception of Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards, a set of expectations aimed at producing college- and/or job-ready individuals in the K-12 education system, has led Arizona schools to reformat education. STEM is a part of these expectations and stands for four subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Education professionals in Arizona have come to the realization that STEM should be an integral part of any education and that proper introduction into STEM will help students excel in college, the job market and their community.
What is STEM?

STEM education is made up of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM instruction combines all four areas of study and uses real world problems to show students how they can apply STEM education to the world around them. This approach will help children become better prepared to take on the jobs of the future, using STEM to first identify and then to solve problems in their communities.

“By helping students understand and apply their math and science content, STEM education establishes the foundation for success in college and career,” says Pearl Chang Esau, CEO of Expect More Arizona

Why STEM?

To ensure Arizona has a successful future, its students must first be successful. STEM helps teachers and parents prepare children for the job market that will exist when they graduate.
Technology in America is rapidly changing, directly affecting the job force. Think about this – the top ten most in-demand jobs in 2010 didn’t even exist in 2004, Esau says.
The need for STEM professionals already exists. In Arizona, the number of unemployed residents exceeds the number of job openings. However, according to Vital Signs, which reports on STEM learning in the U.S., there are two jobs for every unemployed person in STEM career fields.

“It is important for students to build a well-rounded skill set to effectively approach problems throughout life and society,” says Jeremy Babendure, executive director of Arizona SciTech Festival. “The ability to adapt and utilize STEM skills interchangeability will become more essential.”

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts there will be 1.2 million job openings in STEM related fields by 2018, but not enough graduates to fill them. Not only are needs in new fields growing, but also other fields are beginning to incorporate more science and technology.

“Science and technology are increasingly part of who we are as a culture,” Babendure says. “Most jobs are increasingly becoming more high tech. For example, skilled manufacturing and mining now require a highly skilled and well-rounded STEM professional.”

“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented in order to solve problems we don’t yet know are problems,” Esau says. “In the 21st century workplace, we can’t just know facts and knowledge, we need to apply our knowledge to solve new problems.”
Linda Coyle, STEM Consultant for Science Foundation Arizona, says STEM education helps show children why they need to know the information they are being given by asking them to find a problem within the community and brainstorm ways to solve it.

It makes learning relevant and applicable to kids. “They get it, it’s a part of their world,” she says.

Who should study STEM?

STEM is part of Arizona curriculum and will benefit everyone. In 2013, the Census found that women, Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented in STEM career fields. Esau says low-income students are also underrepresented.

“Many studies show that the gender gap in STEM professions/college students has nothing to do with ability and more to do with interest in these fields of study,” Esau says. “A great deal of progress is being made at the K-12 level to bridge this gap and provide more STEM opportunities for all children.”

It is important for parents and teachers to inspire curiosity in students about the world around them, and create environments that encourage STEM learning. Ensuring all students have equal opportunity to pursue careers in STEM is key, Esau says.

Babendure has a different approach. He suggests showing students who are underrepresented in STEM fields that people like them are thriving in STEM careers. “A lot can be accomplished through positive role models… It is important for students to see these are real people and these careers can be for them, too.”
Parents – Get Involved!
By Expect More Arizona

Here are five steps to help parents and families create a STEM environment outside of school:
View science programming with your child. Engage in discussions about what you viewed afterward. For example, PBS has many science and nature programming, including: NOVA, Nature and Sid the Science Kid. And, they have great online tools to help parents and teachers find content to share with students. In addition, the Discovery Channel show called Mythbusters provides a fun look at science and often incorporates elements of physics, chemistry and mathematics as part of the experiments.
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Try a science experiment at home.
Pick up a bag of French fries from your favorite fast food restaurant. Put them in a jar and close the lid. Observe how long it takes for the fries to develop mold. This is an indication of how many preservatives are in the food. (This can also help to start a discussion on healthy eating habits!)
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Visit the Arizona Science Center, Challenger Learning Center, Biosphere II or the Lowell Observatory with your family. Explore each and keep tabs on future exhibits that might be of interest to your child.
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Use building blocks, puzzles, cards and board games for family activities. Games help develop logic and critical thinking skills, which are components of STEM education.
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Engage in conversations about science-related topics with children in a way that pertains to everyday life experiences. The annual Arizona SciTech Festival has lots of information and resources on year-round science activities.

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