By Terry Miller
700 educators gathered in Pasadena last week to address ways to introduce science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – STEM education, to preschoolers.
The Early Childhood STEM Conference, held from last Thursday, Feb. 4, to Saturday, Feb. 6, at the Hilton, aimed to show educators from across the state that it is possible to teach young children about science and technology at an early age.
It is all part of an effort to reduce the nation’s shortage of qualified candidates for math and science-based fields.
STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.
At last week’s Early Childhood STEM conference educators learned more about the importance of STEM education via workshops and a plethora of knowledge from experts in the field, one of who was Dr. Russell Shilling.
Russell Shilling is the executive director of STEM at the U.S. Department of Education, overseeing the Department’s policies to drive innovation in STEM education and enhance interagency coordination.
Previously, Shilling served as a Navy Captain, retiring after 22 years of service as a Navy Aerospace Experimental Psychologist focusing on education, training, and psychological health. Shilling held a variety of leadership positions including program management positions at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). He has served as an associate professor at both the United States Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School.
Shilling was an early pioneer in the “serious” games movement and was responsible for award winning games for STEM education, medical training, and psychological health. He pioneered research to treat post-traumatic stress with virtual reality and graphic novel storytelling tools, and developed programs with Sesame Street Workshop that have helped military children adapt to traumas caused by deployments, injury, and grief. These programs have won numerous awards including Emmy nominations and Parents Choice Awards. Shilling also advocates for improved resources for autistic students and adults.
The Children’s Center at Caltech in collaboration with THINK Together are hosting the Early Childhood Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (ECSTEM) Conference to promote and increase awareness of the importance of introducing STEM education in early childhood (birth through eight years).
To prepare today’s children for the challenges of tomorrow, it is increasingly important that they have developmentally appropriate, inclusive and culturally sensitive approaches in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Yet, meeting the needs of an economically, ethically, and socially diverse student population – especially for the youngest of learners – is challenging. And so, the Early Childhood Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (ECSTEM) Conference was born.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 16 percent of high school students are interested in a STEM career and have proven a proficiency in mathematics. Currently, nearly 28 percent of high school freshmen declare an interest in a STEM-related field, a department website says, but 57 percent of these students will lose interest by the time they graduate from high school.
As a result, the Obama administration announced the 2009 “Educate to Innovate” campaign to motivate and inspire students to excel in STEM subjects. This campaign also addresses the inadequate number of teachers skilled to educate in these subjects. The goal is to get American students from the middle of the pack in science and math to the top of the pack in the international arena.
The United States has developed as a global leader, in large part, through the genius and hard work of its scientists, engineers, and innovators. In a world that is becoming increasingly complex, where success is driven not only by what you know, but by what you can do with what you know, it is more important than ever for our youth to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information. These are the types of skills that students learn by studying science, technology, engineering, and math.
Yet today, few American students pursue expertise in STEM fields – and we have an inadequate pipeline of teachers skilled in those subjects. That is why President Obama has set a priority of increasing the number of students and teachers who are proficient in these vital fields.
Because we know that learning happens everywhere – both inside and outside of formal school settings – the Department’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers program is collaborating with NASA, the National Park Service, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services to bring high-quality STEM content and experiences to students from low-income, high-need schools. This initiative has made a commitment to Native-American students, providing about 350 young people at 11 sites across six states with out-of-school STEM courses focused on science and the environment.
And in higher education, the Hispanic-Serving Institutions-STEM program is helping to increase the number of Hispanic students attaining degrees in STEM subjects.
This sampling of programs represents some of the ways in which federal resources are helping to assist educators in implementing effective approaches for improving STEM teaching and learning; facilitating the dissemination and adoption of effective STEM instructional practices nationwide; and promoting STEM education experiences that prioritize hands-on learning to increase student engagement and achievement.