Your STEM Back to School Reading List

As the school year gets underway, there is growing attention on the importance of STEM learning for our students and our economy. Here are (at least) seven readings to get you up to speed.

We thought it’d be a good time to revisit some of the recent pieces we’ve written about those much-in-demand fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), and arts too (STEAM).

Here’s some of our favorites. What were yours?

  1. Apparently you can never start teaching STEM too early. Many may think preschoolers are too young to learn any “real math.” Not so. Early childhood experts say high-quality and challenging math education for 3- to 6-year-olds can build on kids’ natural inclination to explore, tinker, and ask questions. And, research shows math knowledge in prekindergarten is actually the highest predictor of later academic success. But you have to know how to teach math, something that’s not always a given among preschool teachers.That’s why in July, the first group of Head Start educators in Allegheny County began a training program that will eventually train all Head Start teachers in the county.
  1. Employers just can’t get enough STEM majors. In “STEM-ing the Tide of Long-Term Unemployment,” we cover the gap between supply and demand of STEM skills. “Even though the job market for STEM positions is white hot, there is still a dearth of new graduates in these fields relative to other fields like business and humanities.” Get thee to a science class.
  1. Continuing our bad puns in headlines, in “STEAM-ing up STEM, in Congress and the Classroom,” we take issue with the idea that those “other fields” aren’t important. Adding A(rts) to the STEM mix creates important synergy. STEAM learning, said Congressional STEAM Caucus Cochair Aaron Schock, will help “produce graduates with the skills industry identifies as vital in new hires, including collaboration, trial and error, divergent thinking skills, and dynamic problem solving.” (I’ve indeed known several English majors who are divergent thinkers.)
  1. Don’t take only Schock’s word for it—Silicon Valley thinks so too (phew). No, the humanities aren’t dead in the digital age. In fact, they power it. The English, arts, and history majors help us understand our digital age. And they’re what let young people hone their creative edge and succeed in it. As we wrote, in Silicon Valley, employers are on the hunt for humanities majors for one key reason: storytelling. “English majors are exactly the people I’m looking for,” one employer said. To create a successful tech startup today, he explained, you must above all be able to sell the idea to investors, partners, employees, and customers. “And how do you do that? You tell stories.” According to him, good storytellers are much harder to find than good engineers. “That’s why I want to meet your English majors.”
  1. Another hot topic in Silicon Valley is the lack of women in the STEM fields. In “Are ‘Bossy’ Girls Future STEM Leaders?” we discuss how to encourage girls to take the lead in STEM fields. Sheryl Sandberg, for one, suggested banning the word “bossy.” However, as University of Delaware psychology professor Chad Forbes’ research suggests, fear of failure may be the greatest deterrent to success in STEM fields, not concern over being perceived as bossy or aggressive.
  1. But it’s not just in school where STEAM is on the march. In “Helping STEM Learning Take Root Outside the Classroom,” we show how afterschool programs are helping schools fill in the gaps in computer programming and engineering when resources are tight.
  1. Learning about science and math is one thing. But actually applying those abstract concepts is quite another. That’s where NASA is lending a hand. Students in NASA HUNCH (High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware) build real-world hardware and prototypes for NASA astronauts and engineers. So cool. In addition, scientists from Johnson Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, and Langley Research Center team with middle and high school students to work on innovative projects. Students from Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg public schools use NASA climate data in a science game led by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and other science educators in the area. Finally, participants in the NASA Data in My Field Trip project pore over global satellite data to answer questions and explore themes related to climate change and Earth’s biomes.


Photo/ Enokson

Published September 18, 2014