Reveling In STEM Education As An Adult Learner

Image: Getty ID# 750415461 / Man Fixing Drone

Enjoy Building Your Knowledge Base At Any Age

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Practical science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills are crucial in order to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world.

There are many who are working hard to provide our youth with what they need to succeed in STEM careers. This can be difficult, however, for those who didn’t experience a robust education themselves.

There are many reasons why otherwise capable adults feel left behind when it comes to subjects like math and science. If you’ve ever uttered the phrase, “I’m just not a math person,” you’re definitely not alone. You were probably taught only one way to solve math problems, and your science classes may have been chock-full of things to memorize but light on experimentation and real-world problem-solving.

Image: Getty ID# 1035176072 / Engineer Teaching Young Girl How To Code

You can be forgiven if that antiquated form of pedagogy turned you off — or worse if it didn’t help you retain important STEM skills. But you don’t have to settle for a gap in your knowledge if you missed out on a high-quality STEM education the first time around. There are many ways to continue learning as an adult — and to have fun while doing it.

Taking The Leap

It’s never too late to learn something new, but why should an adult with a job and family obligations make time to learn more about STEM subjects?

Image: Getty ID# 508065709 / Adult Learning STEM

Lifelong learning has been shown to reduce cognitive decline that results from aging. While studies are somewhat conflicted over exactly what type of “brain training” can prevent or slow down Alzheimer’s disease, keeping an active mind busy with novel tasks is an important way to stay sharp as you get older. The “use it or lose it” rule means that taking the time to study higher math or dive into a scientific topic that interests you is a great way to keep those neurons firing.

Pumping up your STEM skills also puts you in a position to mentor youth in these fields. Parents and grandparents who continue to explore these subjects will model intellectual curiosity and a willingness to experiment that will have a positive influence on the next generation of learners. Sharing enthusiasm for STEM and feeling comfortable discussing it is an important way to keep young children interested while staying sharp.

Image: Dallas Arboretum / Student Lead walkSTEM Tour June 8th, 2018 (with permission / Koshi Dhingra)

Mentorship can go beyond family. Any adult with an interest in teaching and learning can take their newfound knowledge and start an after-school club, lead a STEM walk or make a cameo appearance to talk about your current or former career at a nearby school. You never know whose imagination you’ll spark when you share your interests with the next generation of thinkers, inventors and entrepreneurs.

How Adults Learn

As you search for opportunities to learn more about STEM, it’s important to remember that adults learn differently than children do. Adult brains have finished developing, so absorbing new information requires a different neurological process. Instead of building new neural pathways, adult brains need to draw connections from the existing schema, or thought patterns, and new ideas. This means that adults will learn best when new information is made relevant to their current experiences and interests. STEM is well-suited to adult learning in this regard, as hands-on experimentation allows you to make scientific ideas practical in everyday life.

Image: Getty ID# 168619592 / Neuron 3D Biomedical Illustration

Adults also need flexibility in their learning to fit new courses into their busy lives. Asynchronous online courses that allow you to log on and study at your convenience are ideal. It’s also important for adult learners to feel respected by their instructors and comfortable trying something new. While children don’t mind falling off a bike as they learn, adults are often uncomfortable with the idea of failure, especially in public. Look for learning opportunities designed for adults so you get an environment that makes you feel good about yourself as you try something new. It’s much easier to keep an open mind for learning when you’re at ease in your surroundings.

Pursuing STEM at Any Age

No matter where you are in life, there are plenty of ways to dive back into STEM. Try these ideas to get started:

  • Keep reading for leisure and knowledge: Sometimes all it takes to get started is access to interesting material. Try subscribing to high-quality publications so you have great resources at your fingertips. You can also use RSS aggregators like Feedspot or to fetch content for you.
  • Face-to-face adult education classes: Many communities offer day and night classes on topics of interest, including coding boot camps. Your local community college is also a good place to start looking for practical classes that will provide legit skills to beef up your STEM knowledge base. These classes are often inexpensive and geared toward making learning fun and social for adults
Image: Getty ID# 1070179830 / Young Woman Working On Her Laptop
  • Open educational resources (OERs): There are thousands of lesson plans, games and videos online that address every imaginable STEM topic. Search for videos on HippoCampus, or look for premade lessons on OER Commons. This is a great way to find enrichment materials for the STEM-curious kids in your life, too.
  • Massive open online courses (MOOCs): These are online courses that cover a wide range of topics. Information may be delivered via text, video or a recorded lecture, and there are often assessments to check your understanding along the way. Some well-known options are EdX, Coursera and Khan Academy. Many are free or are relatively inexpensive, and most can be completed at your own pace.

If you’re looking for a low-key way to dip a toe into STEM learning, this California organization makes butterfly growing kits complete with caterpillars to feed, nurture and watch in amazement as they emerge from their chrysalides. Butterflies are important pollinators, and working with them can boost your mental health.

Image: Getty ID# 177795929 / Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Even the simplest act of experiencing nature is a wonderful way to begin adding a healthy dose of STEM into your daily routine — and it doesn’t require batteries.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on April 19th, 2019.

Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice… Applying STEM to better understand it.”

Originally Published:

Column: STEM Has Deep Roots In Michigan

Image: Calvin College Archive / Vern Ehlers in the physics laboratory

Remembering Congressman Vernon James Ehlers

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Vernon Ehlers, scientist, thinker and representative of his home district in Grand Rapids, Michigan for nearly 20 years, was an extraordinary man. Ehlers was a great champion — and architect — of STEM education in our state and our nation at large. His passing last year marks the loss of a wise politician whose deep foundation in the sciences influenced his nearly 20 years of public service at the state and national level.

I had the pleasure of collaborating with Congressman Ehlers during his time as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. I am one of so many on-the-ground educational leaders working to bring forth the vision that Ehlers himself was so committed to — a robust and dynamic approach to science education in America. I found an ally in Ehlers, and I am grateful to his strategic, well considered leadership and legislation.

Ehlers’ contributions to the field of STEM education were many, and his ability to connect legislators across the aisle earned respect and support for his work. Ehlers’ advocacy around STEM stretches back to the early years of his public service, and Ehlers himself played an important role in creating the now ubiquitous acronym. “STEM” refers to four academic disciplines that serve as the foundation for many innovative global industries: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM education refers to teaching and learning in these fields and includes educational activities across all grade levels — from preschool to post-doctorate — in both formal and informal settings.

Ehlers has been credited as being a force behind one of the first public uses of the STEM acronym when he created the STEM Education Caucus in 2005. Ehlers, along with colleagues in the field including Judith Ramaley of the National Science Foundation, agreed that the initial acronym, SMET, just plain sounded bad. Ehlers was passionate about altering the course of science education in America, and helped mentor organizations locally in Michigan like Initiative Science, that provide hands-on learning activities for disconnected youth. He always did more than just give lip service to STEM; he helped build a platform around the need for better curriculum and pedagogical approaches to mathematics and the sciences.

Image: Initiative Science Archive / The Henry Ford Estate Dearborn, MI USA


In the introduction to a 2000 report on the future of science education, Ehlers was clear-eyed in his assessment of the need for scientific knowledge and the means of getting there via science education: “The majority of jobs in the 21st century will depend on technical and scientific expertise for which our children must be prepared. I believe that science in school must convey excitement. Science curricula should be inquiry-based and involve hands-on experimentation so children can experience the thrill of learning science.”

Today, just 12 years after Ehlers created the caucus, the need for STEM education is recognized globally in schools and professional settings alike. Organizations from General Motors to Microsoft recognize the STEM acronym and have built company-wide initiatives to help prepare students for tomorrow’s workforce. Ehlers, and the bipartisan STEM Education Caucus he founded, has played a significant role in setting the agenda for improving our collective focus on what it means to teach and learn STEM concepts and prepare for meaningful work in STEM industries.

Image: Chuck Kennedy / Detroit Free Press


I’m proud to have worked with and for the same cause as Vern Ehlers, and I feel privileged to continue to bring STEM education to schools across Michigan and beyond. Ehlers worked to debunk tired myths about the capacity of women in STEM, and advocated for diversity in the STEM fields. He wanted to see all American students gain access to rigorous, dynamic education in the STEM fields, and he worked across partisan lines to do so. I consider him one of the founders of “STEM” — quite literally — and I know I am in good company when I offer my respect and gratitude for his many contributions to our community, right here in Michigan and beyond.

This article was originally featured in the Detroit News on September 6th, 2017.

Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

The State of STEM in Michigan: A Partnership Model


Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, incredibly, is not yet as well recognized and understood as it should be; in fact, some people do not even know what the acronym stands for or they may confuse it with “stem” cell research (which is what often comes up when the acronym is entered into search engines).
Fortunately, an aggressive marketing campaign by the government, private organizations and school systems is slowly changing this public perception.

In a world where technology is becoming increasingly important, any educational system that fails to embrace, if not completely succumb to, technology and the subjects needed to make the best use thereof will be in trouble. One need only look at the phenomenal success of electronic mobile devices—more specifically, cell phones. These devices can now be commonly found in the most remote places on earth, as well as the most populated (i.e., China, India, Pakistan, etc.).

That technology is reaching even the poorest, most remote corners of the world is a testament to the power behind this area of science. This is not, by the way, just a matter of money or the huge number of jobs these new technologies are creating (although these things are important), but the new ways of thinking that are being introduced. Electronic devices are, quite literally, changing the world, ostensibly for the better.

With the promise of wonderful things to come, though, great concerns and caveats also abound. Who’s going to fill all these technology/science jobs that may be created in the next 20 years? Will the developing countries surpass the developed countries since, after all, most manufacturing jobs have been heading their way for the past 50 years? Who is going to take over for all those persons who will be leaving (because of sickness, retirement, death, etc.) sophisticated, high-technology jobs?

Clearly, Michigan, like the rest of the states, is looking at some wonderful opportunities to fully prepare for what promises to be a challenging future. Is enough being done, though, to fully develop and successfully proliferate STEM literacy? What will be the result if these programs and initiatives are not fully supported by all stakeholders (students, parents, business professionals, institutions of higher learning, workforce development programs, government agencies, etc.)?

If the state of Michigan does what it has publicly vowed to do (i.e., aggressively support STEM education in all its facets and using all vehicles available), then the state will be prepared for what is coming. One thing to remain sanguine about is the fact that many things in most people’s private, home lives are feeding or naturally setting the stage for STEM education.

For instance, the Internet, social networking sites, online gaming, mobile electronic devices, high definition TV—all these things are the products of STEM education subjects. To put it more bluntly, none of these things would be available had the people who produced them not pursued the subjects so many American students have hitherto only seen as intimidating, obscure, “for geeks only,” and too-time-consuming. In addition to using these things, though, students may someday aspire to develop sleeker versions.

A STEM education is probably one of the most powerful tools students in Michigan should be vying for. Doing something no one did before, making lives easier for everyone, making something better, inventing something totally new—these are the thoughts that occupied some of the greatest inventors/entrepreneurs (Henry Ford, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Steven Jobs, etc.) of American history.

These same types of thoughts may, because of STEM education, once again capture the hearts of Michigan’s most promising young, ambitious minds. In other words, the sky is the limit when it comes to STEM education and what it may lead to in the future!

The State of Michigan: General Facts and Figures

Sometimes called “Water Winter Wonderland,” “Wolverine State,” or “Great Lake State,” the great state of Michigan has much to be proud of. It has a rich, colorful history, is a favorite spot for tourists, and boasts of many valuable resources—including some of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world.
With a population shy of 10,000,000 people and 57,022 square miles of land area, the state is unique in many ways. Some of those unique features include:

i. It’s 9,607 mile State Trunkline System is toll-free

ii. It’s the only state that makes contact with 4 of the 5 Great Lakes.

iii. Although its capital is Lansing, its biggest city is Detroit.

iv. The state has 83 counties, 40 of which make contact with at least one of the Great Lakes.

v. It has in excess of 36,000 miles of streams and 11,000 inland lakes.

vi. While in the state, you are never more than 6 miles from its great bodies of water; you are also never more than 85 miles away from one of the Great Lakes.

The state’s many natural resources, rich wildlife (including some indigenous to the area), and well-diversified flora/fauna make it a unique environment for science studies and research (especially for the life sciences). STEM education puts a heavy emphasis on showing (not just telling) and on hands-on teaching/learning.
Fortunately for Michigan’s approximately 1,582,168+ students, the state is ideally suited for many of the careers a STEM education favors: a plethora of interdisciplinary engineering fields, agricultural technology, aquatic biologist, earth scientist, energy researcher, geologist and even chief microbiologist aka local brewmaster, etc.

State of Michigan: School Systems Basic Facts & Educational Infrastructure

In order to fully appreciate and understand the unique needs of Michigan’s educational system and student body, it is essential to reflect upon a few basic statistics about the state. One important aspect that must be grasped is the rather large size of the state; additionally, the state boasts of great diversity—meaning that one-size-fits-all solutions/initiatives probably will not fare well in Michigan.

Some of the most important statistics applicable to STEM education initiatives include:

There are approximately 1,582,168 total students in Michigan as of 2012—that is, 765,838 females and 816,330 males.To address the needs of these students, the state invests a little over $7,000 per pupil in the form of aid; the federal government provides about $11.1 billion. For their pains, teachers receive about $61,560 annually.2

Within the 83 counties in the state, there are 861 total school districts—i.e., 57 Intermediate School Districts (ISDs), 549 Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and 256 Public School Academies (PSAs).2

In these districts there are about 3,853 public schools overseen by approximately 88,051 K-12 public school teachers; the teacher-to-student ratio is 1-per-23, on average.3

As for student academic performance outcomes and accountability, the following figures reveal important progress:2


Four-year Drop-Out Rate: 11.1% – 10.71%

Four-year Graduation Rate: 74.3% – 76.24%

ACT College Preparedness Benchmarks 17.3% – 17.7%

ACT Composite Scores 19.3% – 19.6%

Michigan Merit Exam Student Proficiency 17.1% 17.9%

Math & Reading 3-8 Student Proficiency 34% – 37.8%

Math & Reading 3-8—Progress Shown by Students 14.5% – 14.4%

3rd Grade Reading Proficiency 62% – 68%

Schools Meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) 79.3% – 81.9%

Michigan’s “STEM Partnership Declaration”

“It would be a life changer and state changer if we can get kids more successful in math and science.”—from Michael P. Flanagan, Michigan’s Superintendent of Public Instruction

According to STEM Connector, the STEM Partnership Declaration is a “statewide collaboration of committed leaders from PK-20 education, as well as business and industry, philanthropy, economic development, government, military, and other organizations dedicated to elevating STEM literacy and proficiencies in a way that increases Michigan’s economic strength to retain and attract desirable jobs.”1

When STEM is properly integrated into a curriculum, students don’t just learn certain subjects better, they develop intellectual skills that not only will help them prepare for the job market but also give them the tools to succeed in all areas of life. These “tools” include problem-solving, observational, analytical, and critical thinking skills.

As students develop these critically-important skills, they help their school systems to become more globally-oriented, place a higher value on life-long learning and create the next generation of superlative leaders (without which no society can prosper). People, in other words, not institution, set bars of achievement for generations that follow; schools have a responsibility to graduate the best role models possible—students who will inspire others and introduce the future’s best innovations.
Whether students succeed, however, cannot depend just on their individual efforts or, for that matter, what schools do or fail to do. What are needed, instead, are well-coordinated, extensive private/public partnerships. Such partnerships can better enable young people to pursue whatever careers they have set their minds/hearts on, develop a better understanding of why the sciences matter tremendously, and, in the long run, build a much stronger future for the state of Michigan.

In short, the Michigan STEM Partnership strives to accomplish its far-reaching, expansive goals by:

• Opening the door widely for the sincere and uninhibited participation of a variety of stakeholders with an extensive spectrum of capacities, interests and expertise

• Working closely with all different areas of Michigan in assessing STEM assets already in place

• Coordinating with all major stakeholders (government agencies, the military, etc.) in the development/passing of laws, policies and initiatives favorable to STEM education

• Working to develop the networks that will be necessary to create/support the jobs needed for future STEM education graduates

• Coordinating with all Michigan communities to create STEM education platforms in keeping with popular student/teacher needs and interests

• Producing evidence-based models of sustainable, innovative and scalable STEM education programs, policies and platforms

Title II, Part B of NCLB-Authorized “Mathematics & Science Partnerships (MSP)” Program

MSP attempts to help students of math and science do better academically by making sure their teachers acquire the teaching skills and enhanced content knowledge essential for STEM subjects. In the past, the prevailing assumption was that just having a degree in a subject was enough to qualify someone to teach; it was also assumed that all subjects could be taught using under the same methodology, platforms and environments.

It has now become clear, however, that some subjects—more specifically, math and the sciences—require special methodologies and tools. There is also more of an impetus today to keep up with the latest technology. Students may no longer be properly educated by someone who, in spite of having a degree in a subject, has very little hands-on experience in the field. Theory, in other words, may not be enough, especially for STEM education initiatives.

How then can school systems institute STEM education programs if their staff lack knowledge in needed fields, hands-on experience (rather important in physics, engineering, computer science, etc.), or the extra training needed (as may be needed simply to keep up with the latest developments)? The answer lies in the development of partnerships between training-needy districts and STEM faculty of higher-education institutions, as well as with other stakeholders (businesses, government agencies, etc.).

According to Section 99 of Michigan’s School Aid Act, the partnership must also include of the state’s Science/Math Centers.5 Other partner stakeholders may include teaching degree colleges, public schools (including charter schools), businesses, and organizations (including nonprofits) involved with/concerned about STEM subjects education.5
The Most Important Components of a STEM Education Program

While each state is different, there are some common educational core aspects and topics that every STEM education program should employ, advocate or, in some cases, experiment with. Some of the most basic components include:

Standards-Based Designs: The process, of course, should begin by embracing nationally recognized standards—i.e., NCTM (2000), NRC (1996), ISTE (2007), ITEA (2007), etc. These, simply put, provide frameworks or maps that can lead to the same place. Uniformity and conformity are not necessarily the guideposts but, rather, a “shared vision.”

Understanding by Design or UbD: This visionary way of looking at education is already embraced by many private organizations, government agencies and educational institutions—in other words, it already has an established foundation from which STEM education can draw. The three aspects of UbD are Learning Plan, Assessment Evidence and Desired Results.
Inquiry-Based Learning and Teaching: Inquiry is almost always an alluded to component of education reform. The path of learning that STEM education should follow is diagramed by CurrTech Integrations as going from confirmatory, structured, guided, and, then, “open inquiry.”

Problem-Based Learning (PBL): In this student-centered approach to learning, collaboration is stressed as students ask pertinent questions that lead to practical solutions and, finally, to exchange of mutually conceived ideas.
Performance-Based Learning & Teaching: Students, using this paradigm, are encouraged to work together in solving complex problems. The fruits of their intellectual labor are then assessed using creatively intuitive and revealing assessment tools.
5E Learning, Teaching and Assessing Cycle: At the core of this way of learning/teaching are the 5 cycles: exploration, engagement, elaboration, explanation and evaluation. Many studies have proven the effectiveness of this demanding and rewarding system.

Digital Teaching Technologies Integrated with Digital Curriculum: Clearly, digital technology is the wave of the future; not only is it more efficient, faster, and in many ways less expensive (than paper or analog based technology), it is now more in tune with what students are already heavily immersed in (i.e., using the Internet, electronic mobile devices, social networking sites, etc.).
Summative and Formative Assessments with Non-task and Task-Specific Parameters: Today’s standards are too multi-faceted, sophisticated and comprehensive to be satisfied by old testing/assessment paradigms and tools. Accordingly, alternative forms of assessments are now being used extensively.

The “Flipped” Classroom & Digital Classes; Getting Society to Accept Radically Different Paradigms of Education

The “flipped” classroom is more than just another “place” where education can occur. In fact, it’s what has been called an “inversion” of the traditional classroom. In the traditional, mortar-and-brick classroom, a teacher stood in front of a class, delivered a lesson/lecture (occasionally allowing questions and comments) and then tested students later on using the same types of tests over and over again.

In the “flipped” classroom, however, students may exercise more autonomy, although most of what the traditional classroom offered (contrary to what some people think) can still be accessed through the flipped classroom. At their own pace and in the comfort of home, students can access learning resources, including taped lessons by the teacher. The students can also interact with the teacher and other students completely online using a number of tools (webcams, electronic discussion boards, chat rooms, etc.).

The main advantage of the flipped classroom is that it offers many more educational tools (including access to the biggest research tool in the history of the world: the Internet) than have been present in traditional mortar-and-brick classrooms. It is also more in line with what the future will offer, considering how expensive fuel is becoming, how well virtual classrooms can work, and how much technology will preside over everything (including K-12 education).

The Role Parents Play in How Well Students Accept/Interact with STEM Initiatives

A major study helped to illustrate how important parent influence/participation is in deciding if students will do well or eagerly anticipate STEM education initiatives and programs. The name of the study is “Helping Parents to Motivate Adolescents in Mathematics and Science: An Experimental Test of a Utility-value Intervention.” The study simply involved sending parents brochures and the link to a site extolling the need for STEM education; to make sure parents paid attention, they had to rate the website.

The results of the study revealed that students were motivated by their parents to show more enthusiasm about STEM subjects/careers. Perhaps parents have more power than they realize. Students are more likely to embrace new programs if they feel that parents are behind them 100%. This is a great lesson that needs to be imparted to every parent in Michigan.

Why Schools and Companies in Michigan Need to Support and Invest in K-12 STEM Education

The consensus is that the job market of the future will be much more competitive than ever before. Those graduating from high school and going on to college will be competing for jobs not only with fellow graduates but with what has become a global job-seeking community. The competition will be even more challenging for STEM-related careers.

Other facts which clearly illustrate how important STEM education will be in the future to the US in general include:

The expected number of STEM-related jobs that will need to be filled in Michigan by 2018 is about 274,000.

The average salary for STEM-related occupations in 2005 through 2008 was about $74,958.00.

The US Department of Labor anticipates that jobs/careers requiring technical, engineering or science education will grow by 34% between 2008 thru 2018.

The number of workers (about 5,700,000 million in 2007) Science and engineering (S&E) has expanded by about 6.2% annually ever since 1950; this is about 4 times the 1.6% regular labor force growth rate.

About 91% of United States STEM-related jobs will necessitate a college education by 2018.

Roughly 174,000 S&E Doctoral degrees were given out globally in 2006; 17% or 30,000 of those were awarded in the US. More than ½ of all those degrees given in the same year went to non-US citizens. In comparison, China and the European Union have outpaced the US in this academic area.

Noting that Michigan’s economy in the future will strongly depend on STEM education jobs, ASTRA, furthermore, stresses that:
In the period between 2008 thru 2018, new job opportunities necessitating a post-secondary education will expand by 116,000, while jobs for high school dropouts and graduates will expand only by 22,000.

In the period between 2008 thru 2018, Michigan will produce 1,300,000 job opportunities. 103,000 of these jobs may be suitable for high school dropouts; 388,000 may suit high school graduates; but 836,000 of these jobs will necessitate post-secondary credentials.

Roughly 62% of projected jobs in Michigan or about 2,900,000 jobs will necessitate some post-secondary training after high school for 2018.

Women in Technical Fields—Gross Under-Representation

Women continue to be under-represented in most high-technology industries—healthcare being one of the few exceptions. One of the major goals of STEM, consequently, is to try to close the gap that has somehow persisted for so long.
One of the reasons for the problem is an apparent lack of interest in young girls for engineering, as well as other STEM subjects. Michigan K-12 schools, therefore, will have to find ways to attract and keep more young women into STEM education programs. Maybe if they were to see more female engineer “role model” teachers, girls would be more likely to delve into these fields?

Low-income & Minorities Under-Represented in Technical Fields and Not Meeting STEM Requirements at All Grade Levels—How to “Stem” the Tide

Yet other groups that are grossly under-represented in technical fields are minorities. The state of Michigan has publicly acknowledged that and has vowed to do what it can to change the numbers.
Ironically, though, many of the people who are coming from other countries to fill STEM-related jobs are minorities. This, however, should not be taken to mean that American minorities should not be aggressively prompted to go into STEM-related educational programs and careers.
This problem may be more of an up-hill battle than the gap that exists for females. For some reason, minority students do okay in STEM education subject only up to a certain grade, then, on average, their grades drop continuously and significantly as they head into high school.
Studies may be needed to see why minority students do so poorly in STEM subjects. The numbers are also not impressive for some low-income students, regardless of race, prompting experts to opine that reasons for the educational gaps may include financial hardship.

“Own & Shape Your Planet” Educational Perspective

Another advantage STEM education has going for it is the fact that it ties in well with the “Green Movement.” Many young people today are concerned about the planet and they want to do what they can so that, when they grow up, trees will still be available, the water will be potable, and pollution will have been sufficiently controlled.
By developing a love for the life sciences, students can turn their concern into a well-paying, satisfying career. Again, it is a matter of letting students see a real life-connection between what they learn in the classroom and what they can realistically and beneficially apply to life.

Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP)—Tying Its Mission/Goals to Michigan’s Plans

The Office of Science and Technology Policy was established through a special Act of Congress in 1976. Broadly speaking, the Act was intended to let the President and other government leaders know how technology and science was affecting or should be affecting domestic and international policymaking.

Furthermore, Congress authorized OSTP to “lead interagency efforts to develop and implement sound science and technology policies and budgets, and to work with the private sector, state and local governments, the science and higher education communities, and other nations toward this end.”

The future of STEM education may hinge on how well this and similar laws/initiatives are used and supported since it is clear that states by themselves cannot bear the financial, political and administrative burdens of national implementation.
The goals/objectives of OSTP, in fact, are perfectly aligned with what STEM should strive for/achieve in Michigan:

• Make sure that every penny the government invests in technology and science translates into biggest possible contribution to national security, environmental quality, public health and economic prosperity.

• Nurture and boost the means by which government programs/initiatives in technology and science are coordinated, resourced and evaluated.

• Revive and keep feeding the scientific and professional relationships between academicians, government officials and industry leaders necessary to grasp and appreciate the importance of scientific advances, potentially helpful policy proposals, and the national technical/scientific enterprise.

• Create and regularly tap into a national intellectual consortium of experts best equipped to advise and influence government decision-making in the areas of technology and science.(14)

Project-Based Learning—Adapting It to Michigan’s Plans

One of the most interesting and, of course, entertaining aspects of STEM education are the exhibitions, presentations and hands-on experiments that have become the hallmark of a campaign to market STEM education. Whether it’s planting miniature trees in an indoor garden, growing organisms in special tanks, making elaborate structures using LEGO blocks, watching robots perform special tricks, etc., young people get a kick out of such presentations.
The idea behind these presentations, though, is not to entertain but to show students the connection between what they must do in class (the hated math homework) and what they can one day do with that knowledge. Project-based learning allows students to participate in their own hands-on events, often becoming captains of their educational experience, as opposed to mere spectators.

Colleges/Universities’ Role in STEM Education Development

Although some people get trapped in the notion that K-12 STEM education resides in a public school vacuum, nothing could be further from the truth. STEM education may take place at K-12 schools but the sophisticated technology that is often necessary to fully illustrate (if not access) STEM education can only be found in local companies, government agencies and schools of higher learning (colleges, universities and technical schools).

For this and other reasons, strong partnerships have to be developed between schools and these other stakeholders. Some of the college-connected/geared programs and initiatives that are apt to have a big impact on STEM education in Michigan include:

The Future Faculty Fellowship (FFF): supports under-represented individuals wishing to pursue post-secondary teaching careers.

The State of Michigan-funded College Day (CD) Program: merged with the US Department of Education’s GEAR UP! Program, it supports low-income students wanting to get into post-secondary education.

The Select Student Support Services (4S) Program: provides competitive grants for disadvantaged students wanting to attend 4-year institutions; emphasis may be given in the future to students pursuing STEM education programs.

The Michigan College/University Partnership (MICUP) Program: provides funding to schools, especially in reference to financially disadvantaged students.

The Visiting Professor (VP) Program: provides funding to Michigan’s public colleges that move to hire more instructors from under-represented groups.

The Morris Hood Educator Development (MHED) Program: provides funding for schools with Teacher Education (TE) programs.

The Benefits of STEM Education

While the benefits that can be derived from STEM education are too numerous to list in a relatively concise report, the ones that stand out most impressively include:

a. It lets students use the same tools (the Internet, electronic mobile devices, etc.) at school that they are voraciously and enthusiastically using at home.

b. It can lead to substantial savings as schools become more efficient by using the latest technologies.

c. It will make Michigan and the US more competitive nationally and globally by better preparing students for the jobs of the future.

d. It encourages important partnerships between different community stakeholders (businesses, civic organizations, federal agencies, nonprofits, etc.).

e. It creates an environment of collaboration and cooperation.

f. It encourages students who might not otherwise think of STEM educational programs and careers.

g. It helps students (through exhibitions and experiments led by visiting experts) to see the connection between what they learn in class and practical uses for “theory.”

h. It encourages preparation of teachers who will be thus be better qualified to teach traditionally-feared subjects.

i. It helps to dispel the many myths and misconceptions that have kept students from seriously considering STEM careers.

j. In time, it may help bring manufacturing jobs back to the US.

k. It can help the US regain some of the dominance it once had in several industries.

l. It may once again establish the US as a Mecca for inventors.

m. It may help students develop love and respect for science—instead of the fear too many students have of mathematics, science and engineering.

n. It can help school districts to become more diversified, open-minded and better-prepared for the future.

o. It can help school districts to more quickly and efficiently embrace virtual education which, incidentally, goes hand-in-hand with STEM education.

p. It may motivate businesses to more eagerly support local schools—if they start seeing these places of learning as rich sources/pools of potential future employees.

q. It may stave off the need to import labor in technical fields because there have not been enough US-born Americans to meet the demands.

r. It should encourage more students with a science, math or engineering background to go into teaching.

s. It may help motivate the government to be more generous with funds for local school systems—if government officials see STEM education as a valuable national interests/security investment.

t. It may provide much-needed candidates for important private industries (manufacturing engineering, healthcare equipment/device maintenance, etc) and government agencies (the military, research labs, etc.) whose job vacancies will increase as baby boomers retire.


When discussing STEM education, it is essential that homeschooling not be forgotten since many of Michigan’s parents/guardians choose to home school their children. While each state has its own guidelines regarding homeschooling, pandemic requirements include making it mandatory for all children to receive a formal education.

This requirement may be met by having children attend public schools, go to alternate parochial or private schools, or, the most controversial/complicated of the three, prepare, submit and implemented (once approved) a homeschooling plan to the state.
In preparing and implementing a homeschooling program, there are a number of things to take into consideration, including eligibility requirements, standardized testing guidelines, school hours, record-keeping, core subjects, and a formal/written curriculum. In order to meet the specific requirements, some people choose to use the services of an umbrella school.

Umbrella Schools

Umbrella schools are a special type of school. In addition to helping with the previous topics, these accredited (albeit somewhat different than the traditional mortar-and-brick institution) schools help parents or guardians meet all legal, administrative and activities-related requirements. Those activities can include resources, field trips, team sports activities, and, most importantly, tutoring.

At the core of these services, though, is the impetus to help parents/guardians get their homeschooling approved; secondly, practical and constructive assistance is provided to implement the plan, as well as to meet on-going local and state requirements.

Umbrella schools not only help to add legitimacy to homeschooling plans but they can also put out report cards, officially keep track of attendance, and even provide official student IDs (useful, among other ways, for getting discounts from local merchants).

Parents/guardians who choose to home school their children might also consider specialized services (e.g., and programs that can help the process easier and, in some cases, meet educational requirements. Some such programs offered by organizations like Initiative Science include:

• Urban Gardening/Farming: Lets students experience what’s like to grow things, create gardens and experience (not just read about) what it means to go “green!”

• Distance Learning: Based on the most recent Common Core (CCSS) and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), these cloud-based learning activities are fun, colorful and kid-friendly; they are open to individual parents (as well as to school districts) and do not require special software.

• Extended Day: These are over 500 topics delved into through over 150 before/after-school programs in STEM and beyond (including reading and ESL).

• Beta Projects: These special programs help enhance/expand learning experience and curricula through science events, science fair, the “F@cilit@tion” program (bringing experts to your site), educational consulting, and program assessment/data collection.

• Sapere Aude: Allows students to participate in special activity in the summer.

• Test Preparation: Helps students prepare for a number of important tests: MEAP, NAEP, GED, PLAN, ACT, PSAT, NMSQT, SAT, STAR, TOEFL, etc.

• MEAP Cram: Helps identify and address key weaknesses before taking the MEAP.

• SOIL: This Scientific Offsite Interactive Learning set of over 100 activities/programs based on Next Generation Science Standards helps students to better identify/understand intricate scientific topics/concepts.

• STEM Certification: This is a quality assurance training program for both formal & informal educators that establishes benchmarks for quality STEM educational instruction

• STEM Accreditation: This is a quality assurance training program for schools, districts & organizations that establishes benchmarks for quality STEM educational programs

Core Performance Indicator (CPI) Trends (by Region) Reports

Because of the Perkins Act of 2006, states are required to create and implement academic performance accountability systems that can accurately evaluate the effectiveness of local and state recipients of funding in the area of Career and Technical Education (CTE).

The state-constructed performance tools are to consist of recommended core indicators, state-specific/adjusted performance levels for said indicators, and any special indicators the state may wish to utilize. Eight of the Core Performance Indicators (CPIs) in Michigan are:

• Nontraditional Completion

• Nontraditional Participation

• Placement

• Student Graduation Rate

• School Completion

• Technical Skill Attainment

• Academic Attainment in Mathematics

• Academic Attainment in Reading

These CPIs may help Career and Technical Education administrators in Michigan to ascertain what CPI initiatives and programs are working (or not) within Career Education Planning Districts (CEPDs) and designated Regions.

Michigan’s K-12 STEM Education Report Card

This report is meant to be an integral part of Michigan’s STEM education assessment paraphernalia. Some of the important facts the latest Report Card revealed, for example, included population-related trends, job market statistics, and, of course, how well schools in Michigan are doing in terms of reaching common STEM education goals and objectives.

Michigan District & School Proficiency Targets

Also known as “Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs), proficiency targets will be a means by which the state will measure the progress/success of all schools and districts. The data thus collected will be used for the MEAP-Access, MEAP, MI-Access, and MME assessments criteria.

These targets will be determined for each school and district in specific content areas: reading, mathematics, social studies, science, and writing. The results thereof will provide subject-level proficiency rates to be used by each school and district as unique, individualized measuring rods; in essence, they are arbitrary score cards. The rates will be expected to increase steadily, consistently and noticeably, with a goal of 85% by the school year 2021-2022.4

Michigan State Board of Education & Department of Education “Goal & Reform Priorities” (2012-2013 Annual Report)

Noting that Michigan must maintain an equitable/effective performance-based education system, the State Board of Education has committed to the following four STEM-education-supportive, reform priority areas:

I. Student achievement amelioration through innovation

• Support “any time, any place,” personalized school instruction

• Increase early post-secondary learning options for students: early college and dual enrollment, career/technical learning, advanced placement, etc.

• Increase blended and distance education options

• Launch studies on education innovation/finance best practices

• Come up with and implement creative interventions on behalf of poorly performing schools

• Aggressively address academic performance/achievement gaps, especially in regards to African-American students

• Follow Career & College Ready Standards

II. Student performance-based School Systems

• Support rewards for high-performance schools

• Institute policies that provide incentives for high performance by schools, including reduction for academic remediation

• Institute one main state-wide academic performance accountability system

III. Training and preparation for effective teachers

• Re-program teacher certification that accommodates ability to focus on Career & College Ready Standards

• Raise the bar on teacher certification, including training and student teaching requirements

• Develop and institute fair and accurate teacher and administrator evaluation procedures/plan using multifaceted measuring tools and based on performance

• Provide alternative methods for certification

• Support performance-based career credentials for teachers (e.g., the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

• Increase support for the professional development, induction and mentoring of new teachers

IV. Early Childhood Education & Care

• Work to consolidate early childhood education and care programs

• Support use of the Great Start to Quality, which provides standards for early learning/development facilities

• Implement proactive Kindergarten student evaluation systems

• Increase early learning programs for children with highest needs preceding Kindergarten admittance

Major Hurdles STEM Faces in the State of Michigan

The biggest obstacles standing in the way of full STEM education incorporation and support are the same hurdles this new way of looking at education confronts in the rest of the country, notwithstanding the unique needs and demands of Michigan. These common barriers, furthermore, come in the form of myths and misconceptions. They can include:

A. STEM education is too heavily concerned with mathematics and science.

B. Engineering and technology are merely peripherally important subjects, unobtrusively floating under mathematics and science.

C. Engineers are not qualified to teach math and science.

D. Technology education instructors are not best suited to teach math and science.

E. Engineering and technology education are remotely-important subjects that may be too difficult for most students.

F. STEM education concentrates exclusively on workforce matters.

G. Math education is not a science category subject.

H. Every STEM education student will be coerced into technical careers/industries because they will lack a liberal arts foundation.

I. The scientific method and laboratory work is not included in STEM education.

J. Inquiry and hands-on learning are synonymous.

K. Inquiry is always open-ended.

L. Being able to apply spreadsheets, word processors, and PowerPoint is what we mean by “technology.”

M. All technology programs are primarily concerned with giving students and schools access to computers and other fancy electronics.

N. STEM high school course credits will not be acceptable to most colleges.

O. STEM education will probably drift away eventually, like every other transient fad.(20)

10 Most Important Things Michigan Must Do to Make STEM Education Thrive

Although the state of Michigan is already doing much to support STEM education, the fact is that more can be done. More importantly, whatever is done needs to be done in a way that will elicit maximum support from all stakeholders, especially students, parents and teachers. The following ten actions should receive top priority:

1. Re-arrange how funding takes place for educational programs, making sure that the proceeds received are distributed fairly, equitably and efficiently. Some people still see STEM and virtual education as experimental and, therefore, not worthy of 100% support. These people need to be motivated to change their minds.

2. Frantically work to recruit more people from the sciences, engineering and math into teaching; institute proactive teacher training programs in STEM education.

3. Continue to educate the community about the realities of STEM education, making sure to regularly and aggressively address myths and misconceptions still surfing up.

4. Develop even stronger partnerships with community stakeholders in order to solidify support for STEM education.
5. Continue to look for or create means by which more funding for STEM education will be provided. The more money is invested, the more can be done.

6. Continue to invite experts (especially from local colleges) to come do special exhibitions, presentations and experiments. These presentations help illustrate what STEM is all about—in other words, it is not just about boring theory.

7. Partner with the federal government and other states in order to put on more presentations, seminars, training sessions, and exhibition.

8. Find and implement proactive initiatives that will help close education gaps for girls, low-income, the disabled, and minorities.

9. Work harder to provide virtual, blended and STEM education classes and programs; the best way to take advantage of technology is by using it in classrooms and in presentations.

10. Work to better integrate STEM and virtual education; the two complement each other and both are of extreme importance to the great state of Michigan.

Final Thoughts

STEM education may well be the tool that may put the US back on the map as the leader in manufacturing, new inventions, food production, research, and educational excellence. This will only happen, however, if this new teaching/learning ecosystem is carefully nurtured and allowed to reach its full potential.
The state of K-12 STEM education in the state of Michigan is, fortunately, in very good shape. In fact, in some ways Michigan is setting the pace for other, less-committed and interested states. While no one wants to invest more money into something relatively new, this is one time when the state cannot possibly lose by putting more money into STEM education. In fact, STEM education may be the single most important area of investment Michigan has seen in the last 50 years.

Glossary of Technical Terms

Academic Vocabulary: Terminology creating communication bridges across different areas of curricula.
Adult Learning Principles: A set of innovative learning/teaching principles that respect student autonomy, invite life-experience learning, and make learning more personally relevant.
Benchmarks: Standards or means by which performance can be evaluated using comparative paradigms.
Close Read: Deliberately reading complex text closely and repeatedly in order to better glean from it.
Competencies: Measurable abilities/skills that connect to specific STEM education subjects.
Complex Question: The type of open-ended questions that leads to higher-order thinking and analysis.
Computational Thinking: A problem analysis system that uses generalizations, option trials, algorithmic automated solution thinking, abstract data models, data analysis/organization, and problem formulation easily lending itself to the use of modern day technology.
Computer Literacy: Having the basic skills necessary to interact productively with computers and related hardware.
Convergent Thinking: Bringing about all available thought to bear on a specific problem.
Critical Thinking: The use of reasoning skills and logic to arrive at solutions.
Digital Citizen: People who use Cyberspace responsibly.
Digital Etiquette: The set of sometimes unwritten rules of proper behavior users of Cyberspace are expected to abide by.
Divergent Thinking: Thinking that is open enough to consider tangential and perhaps explosively different ideas.
Domain-Specific Vocabulary: Terminology specific to particular areas of study.
Educational Technology: The use of audiovisual aids and multimedia to enhance the learning experience.
Higher Order Thinking Skills: Creative, meta-cognitive, reflective, logical and critical thinking skills; they are called into question when students are confronted with unusually complex problems.
Indicators: Numbers or some other means by which to gauge progress or the lack thereof—a measuring tool.
Informational Text: written material that includes functional, procedural, technical expository, and non-fiction text.
Integrated Curriculum: An interdisciplinary teaching/learning paradigm that helps both students and teachers see how all the rubrics in a complex educational system are integrally connected.
Iterative: A set of procedures, steps or message that continue to be transmitted/exchanged until a specific resolution is reached.
Lesson Seed: Lesson-building ideas.
Meta Cognition: Deliberate keen awareness of the process of knowing/learning.
Open-Ended Questions: Questions requiring more full or meaningful answers than simple yes, no, or very limited response parameters.
Opportunity Cost: What may have been gained with an alternative option.
Primary Source: A direct or original source for obtained information/data.
Prior Knowledge: What students bring with them to learning environments.
Process-Oriented Experiences: Activities for students that require participatory, collaborative and highly inquisitive learning processes.
Professional Learning Communities (PLC): Groups of educators committed to innovative, effective and shared-vision learning/teaching paradigms.
Prototype: A workable, smaller version or model of a new idea/design.
Qualitative: Subjective or subject-to-opinion analysis not involving mathematics.
Quantitative: Means by which to analyze things using numbers/math.
Secondary Source: Information source not originally produced/experienced by that person.
Self-directed: Self-monitoring and not in need of supervision.
Spatial Thinking: The finding of solutions for unique problems using space properties.
Technical Audience: Persons in technical fields, including business.
Technology Literacy: The capacity to understand and utilize technology comfortably and beneficially.
Unit Seed: Basic thoughts and concepts that can be used to gauge student understanding.


CCSS: Common Core State Standards
MDE: Michigan Department of Education
MEAP: Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP)
MSP: Mathematics & Science Partnership
MVU: Michigan Virtual University
NCLB: No Child Left Behind
PBGE: Partnership for Biotech and Genomics Education
STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Works Cited

1. American Association of Higher Education (AAHE). (1997). Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning. Retrieved June 1, 2007, from DePaul University Academic Affairs Office of Faculty Development & Research:

2. Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques, 2nd Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

3. Atkin, J. M., Black, P., & Coffey, J. (. (2001). The Relationship Between Formative and Summative Assessment–In the Classroom and Beyond. Retrieved June 24, 2007, from Classroom Assessment and the National Science Education Standards:

4. Bogue, E. G., & Aper, J. (2000). Exploring the heritage of American higher education: The evolution of philosophy and policy. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press.

5. Brualdi, A. (1998). Implementing performance assessment in the classroom. Retrieved June 25, 2007, from Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 6(2):

6. Clough, M. P., & Kauffman, K. J. (1999, October). Improving Engineering Education: A Research- Based Framework for Teaching. Journal of Engineering Education , pp. 527-534.

7. Cohen, A. M. (1998). The shaping of American higher education: Emergence and growth of the contemporary system. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

8. Ewell, P. T. (1998, April). National Trends in Assessing Student Learning. Journal of Engineering Education , pp. 107-113.

9. Felder, R. M., & Brent, R. (2003, January). Designing and teaching Courses to Satisfy the BET Engineering Criteria. Journal of Engineering Education , pp. 7-25.

10. Fitzpatrick, J. L., Sanders, J. R., & Worthen, B. R. (2004). Program Evaluation: Alternative Approaches and Practical Guidelines, 3rd ed. Boston: Pearson.

11. Foundation Coalition. (2007, January 24). Assessment and Evaluation. Retrieved January 24, 2007, from

12. Hartman, H. J. (2001). Teaching metacognitively. In R. M. Joshi (Series Ed.), & H. J. Hartman (Vol. Ed.), Neuropsychology and cognition, Vol. 19: Metacognition in learning and instruction (pp. 149- 172). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

13. Huba, M. E., & Freed, J. E. (2000). Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

14. Kimball, B. A. (2004, Summer). Christopher Langdell: The case of an “Abomination” in teaching practice. Thought & Action , pp. 23-28.

15. Lattuca, L. R., Terenzini, P. T., & Volkwein, J. F. (2006). Engineering Change: A study of the Impact of EC2000. Baltimore: ABET.

16. Lucas, C. J. (1994). American higher education. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

17. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1995). Executive Summary: Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Retrieved June 6, 2007, from Principles and Standards for School Mathematics:

18. Popham, W. J. (1993). Educational evaluation. Needham Heights: Allyn & Bacon.

19. Rogers, G. M. (2002). The Language of Assessment: Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall. Retrieved June 1, 2007, from ABET: UPDATE/Assessment/Assessment%20Tips3.pdf

20. Rogers, G. M. (2006a, August). Direct and Indirect Assessments: What are they good for? Retrieved June 16, 2007, from ABET Community Matters: Assessment 101- Assessment Tips with Gloria Rogers, Ph.D.:

21. Rogers, G. M. (2006b, October). Got Porfolios? Retrieved June 16, 2007, from Assessment 101: Assessment Tips with Gloria Rogers, PhD: UPDATE/Newsletters/07-04-CM.pdf

22. Rogers, G. M. (2006c, December). Using Course or test Grades for Program Assessment. Retrieved June 16, 2007, from ABET Community Matters: Assessment 101 – Assessment Tip with Gloria Rogers, PhD:

What Is STEM? A Basic Primer, Science Camp, STEM Program, STEM Programs, Michigan STEM, STEM Accreditation, STEM Certification, Andrew B. Raupp™ summer programming in Dearborn, MI USA


In the past decade, the “STEM” acronym has gained traction in the fields of education, industry and even politics, but the concepts underlying this movement are nothing new. STEM simply refers to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: four areas that educators and industry leaders agree are key to building America toward a brighter future. These four areas have also been historically neglected in the nation’s curricula. Today, America’s collective success requires a collaborative approach between schools, families, governments, industries, and educational allies to bring quality STEM programming to the nation’s rising workforce.

Vital Signs,” a recent report created by Change the Equation with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has identified the individual strengths and weaknesses of each state in an attempt to meet the need for more qualified workers trained in STEM fields. The report takes note of national trends as well, stating that “the number of college certificates and degrees Americans earn has grown more slowly in STEM than in most other fields, especially among women and African Americans” (2012). But with greater awareness comes greater action, and many states are rising to the challenge to create strategic alliances among schools, industries and educational allies, like™. In 2009, a national survey of high school transcripts revealed that 84 percent of graduates took advanced mathematics, up from just 57 percent in 1990. Similarly, 86 percent of graduate transcripts surveyed showed students who took an advanced science course, up from 61 percent in 1990 (Nord et al., 2009).

The tide appears to be rising, but there is still much work to be done to ensure that all students receive access to high-quality education to prepare a diverse crop of students to take their places in an innovative and ever-changing global workplace. Recent data suggests that the stringent requirements of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation may be responsible in part for the flatlining performance of those students who score in the top 10 percent of standardized math and science assessments (Loveless et al., 2008). While the growth of the lowest-performing students is laudable, America also must invest in the education of higher-performing students and push them to greater heights in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in order to create the industry leadership the nation requires.

While there are numerous obstacles to developing an effective national policy devoted to developing STEM talent, including difficulties with program accessibility and teacher preparation (Subotnik et al., 2007), understanding the origins of the STEM movement, the future of this work, and the opportunities for many different stakeholders to come together can help guide the nation toward a comprehensive solution that bridges the existing gaps between schools, industry, and educational allies.

What Is STEM?

Since the problem of finding qualified applicants to America’s most innovative fields is a complicated and nuanced situation requiring the effort of many, it’s good to keep in mind that understanding STEM means understanding that this term means different things to different stakeholders.

Federal and state governments have a role to play in developing, funding, and promoting STEM programs both in and out of schools. The new Common Core Standards, which emphasize a more rigorous approach to mathematical reasoning, have already been approved by 46 states (“STEM Vital Signs, 2012). This move signifies the need for collaboration and coordination between state and federal governments to set the tone for the teachers and administrators responsible for implementing the Common Core each day in classrooms around the country. In addition, the U.S. government has maintained for years that investment in STEM is vital to remaining competitive in a growing world market, so solutions are constantly being sought beyond the walls of the traditional classroom.

For teachers and administrators, the focus on STEM programming can be a source of stress, but it also offers a chance to provide more practical, rigorous instruction that focuses on real-world outcomes as opposed to test preparation. Although complex challenges of teacher preparation remain, several teacher organizations have come forward to endorse the new focus on advanced mathematics, indicating a willingness to innovate and adapt to the growing demand for STEM curriculum (“Common Core Standards Joint Statement,” 2010).

It’s also important to examine the impact of STEM programming on students and families. Some families are skeptical about STEM, or at least unclear on the possible impact of additional opportunities in the sciences and mathematics fields (Kadlec & Friedman 2007). Viewing STEM opportunities from this perspective illuminates the potential to create and publicize non-traditional educational experiences, including internships, co-op experiences, and other forms of experiential learning in order to engage students who stand to benefit the most from STEM enrichment.

Finally, it’s clear that educational allies can play a role in creating alliances between schools and industries by offering experiential STEM programs that bridge the gap between traditionally assessed academic skills and the complex problem-solving and critical thinking required by the scientists, mathematicians, engineers and innovators of tomorrow.

What Is STEM? A Global Marketplace

Driven by the emergence of high-quality electronics and technologies from Japanese markets in the 1980s, U.S. policymakers have been interested in assessing America’s current capacity for innovation and advocating for improvement for several decades now (National Research Council, 2007). Policy experts studying the impact of teacher shortages on STEM outcomes have concluded that the predominance of unqualified or uncertified teachers, in combination with a narrow focus on literacy and basic numeracy skills as a result of NCLB legislation, has contributed to an educational climate that does not adequately prepare students for demanding careers in the sciences (Farkas, et al., 2008).

A 2007 report by the National Research Council recommended that the U.S. government focus on recruiting science and math teachers through scholarships and retain them through targeted professional development opportunities, such as summer institutes where teachers are compensated through federally funded stipends. This investment of time, training and federal money, according to the report, would provide teachers with the education to enter the classroom adequately prepared and the incentive to remain in the profession long enough to make a noticeable impact.

These recommendations are reflected in a 2012 policy announcement by President Barack Obama, who called for a number of initiatives at the federal level, including “new policies to recruit, support, retain and reward excellent STEM teachers” (Slack, 2012). Obama also called for commitments from private industries as well as from coalitions and organizations such as™, a Michigan-based organization devoted to increasing STEM literacy through strategic alliances domestically & abroad.

A 2011 report released by the U.S. Department of Commerce provides data that suggest that the success of Obama’s STEM initiatives may play a major role in the future of America’s economic outlook. Analysts predict that occupations in the STEM field will rise by 17 percent from 2008 to 2018 (Langdon et al., 2011). The findings of this report also suggest that an increase in qualified STEM workers has the potential to shift the way that the American public views higher education, noting that while the majority of employees in the STEM industry hold college degrees (9 out of 10), all STEM workers earn, on average, higher salaries than their counterparts in other industries. Tellingly, “the STEM earnings differential is greatest for those with a high school diploma or less in comparison to their counterparts in a non-STEM field” (Langdon et al., 2011). This suggests that quality STEM educational opportunities at the K-12 level can open up opportunities not only for gifted students, but also for students for whom a traditional college path is less appropriate.

Finally, the Department of Commerce report shows that STEM workers, on average, experience consistently lower unemployment rates than their non-STEM counterparts. The potential to impact educational outcomes and the economy is clear to policymakers at the federal level, and their commitment to investing in the future of STEM bodes well for teachers, students, industry leaders and the educational allies working to connect these stakeholders through alliances and outreach programming.

What Is STEM? Changing Classrooms

The movement at the federal level to fund STEM programs in the schools means major changes for teachers and administrators across the country. In addition to the widespread adoption of the Common Core Standards for mathematics, 26 states have agreed to consider adopting the newly released Next Generation Science Standards (“STEM Vital Signs,” 2012). This changing focus from literacy and basic numeracy heralds a shift for teachers who have long taught according to the guidelines and benchmarks of NCLB legislation. Some STEM advocates argue that this narrow focus weakened STEM curricula nationwide, and they look forward to a renewed commitment to the sciences and technology in the K-12 classroom (Sands, 2012).

But these “shifts” are not just theoretical. The creators of the Common Core Standards describe six distinct instructional shifts that must occur in mathematics classrooms, including narrowed focus, greater coherence across the curriculum, an expectation that students will develop both fluency and deep understandings, regular application of mathematical concepts, and a sort of “dual intensity” between practicing and understanding new concepts as they are taught (“Pedagogical Shifts,” 2012).

In addition, teachers may have to shift their focus to better meet the needs of those students who demonstrate talent, aptitude and interest in the sciences, engineering, technology and mathematics. As reported by researchers Farkas and Duffet, a national survey revealed that only 23 percent of the 900 teachers surveyed cited high performing students as their “top priority” (Farkas & Duffet, 2008). While teachers across the board reported deprioritizing talented students, particularly telling is the difference between teachers at affluent and low-income schools. Only 18 percent of teachers at low-income schools cited gifted students as their top priority, while 31 percent of their counterparts at affluent schools prioritized talented students. The discrepancy is understandable; with limited resources, strict evaluative criteria and a preponderance of high-needs students, teachers must make challenging instructional decisions every day. Researchers noted that more than 70 percent of teachers agreed that “too often, the brightest students are bored and under-challenged in school—we’re not giving them a sufficient chance to thrive” (Farkas & Duffet, 2008).

With greater resources and more opportunities to partner with educational allies, these teachers perhaps can begin to meet the needs of all students and help grow promising leaders in one of the growing STEM fields.

What Is STEM? Family Engagement, Student Success

For students and families, STEM programs can be a chance to gain greater skills, higher-paying jobs, and increased social and financial mobility. Not all families are clear on what exactly STEM means, however, and this lack of understanding may be a contributing obstacle to getting more students involved in STEM outreach programs.

A 2007 report by Public Agenda indicated that, while parents are generally aware of the need for more highly trained individuals to enter the STEM pipeline on a national level, they don’t always connect this lack of qualified workers to the quality or content of the education children are currently receiving (Kadlec & Friedman 2007). Seventy percent of the parents surveyed reported that they were “fine” with the science and math curriculum at their local schools, with only 23 percent stating that advanced math and science courses are “absolutely essential.” Conversely, over 90 percent of the parents surveyed deemed basic literacy and math skills “absolutely essential,” a finding that seems to align with previously stated concerns that the current educational climate prioritizes basic literacy and numeracy over more rigorous, scientific and technology-driven curricula. The picture that emerges seems to be one of complacency. However, fully 65 percent of parents surveyed stated that they “fully agree” that “students with advanced math and science skills will have a big advantage when it comes to work and college opportunities” (Kadlec & Friedman 2007). It seems that parents know that STEM programs have the potential to benefit their children, but they’re not quite sure exactly how, nor do they know how to demand better STEM enrichment in their children’s schools or via outreach programming.

More data is becoming available on the outcomes for students who pursue an undergraduate degree in one of the STEM fields, and the results are promising. A 2009 report by the U.S. Department of Education found that students studying in a STEM degree program were generally more likely to complete their bachelor’s degree within six years than their non-STEM counterparts (Chen, 2009). Communicating this data to students and families who are serious about post-secondary success may increase demand for more STEM programs at the K-12 level. As demand for high-quality science and math curricula increases, families will likely feel more empowered to seek greater access to real-world STEM experiences, like the pipeline programs and experiences coordinated by Michigan’s™.

What Is STEM? Educational Allies

STEM is not only a concern of government and industry leaders, teachers and students. The need for STEM enrichment requires a multifaceted approach combining non-traditional, experiential modes of learning in addition to a more rigorous set of science and math standards in K-12 schools. Educational allies, including nonprofit organizations, research institutions and outreach programs, have an important role to play in helping America develop a new generation of thinkers and innovators.

Organizations such as the STEM Education Coalition have been formed in response to the need to connect and support the various stakeholders responsible for bringing STEM enrichment to the forefront of American education. The coalition is made up of educators, scientists, engineers, and those working in the technology field, effectively representing a cross-section of interested parties who share the mission to support research-based initiatives designed for student success. The coalition has put forth several policy principles, including a call to support private and public efforts to engage and invest business leaders in education efforts, as well as a “strong emphasis on hands-on, inquiry-based learning activities, such as learning about the engineering design process, working directly with STEM professionals through internships, and participating in field experiences and STEM-related competitions” (“Core Policy Principles,” 2011)., an organization devoted to promoting STEM literacy now active in several states across the U.S., develops STEM outreach programming aligned with the coalition’s recommendations for research-based, experiential learning in mathematics, the sciences and technology and engineering fields. In a 2009 commissioned assessment study on informal learning, researchers compiled data suggesting that involvement in informal experiential science and technology enrichment can not only stimulate interest and capacity in these subjects, but also create a foundation for civic responsibility and engagement on science-related issues for years to come (Bell et al., 2009).

Organizations that offer rigorous STEM enrichment in informal outreach settings will in all likelihood play a major role in the holistic effort to strengthen America’s burgeoning STEM pipeline. Since™’s creation in 2001, the organization has engaged over 100,000 students, teacher parents and administrators in over 20 countries with innovative STEM learning programs that serve to stimulate student interest in the STEM fields and foster meaningful alliances among stakeholders. As funding opportunities and new research-based insights emerge, educational allies such as™ will be able to make an even greater impact by partnering with students, families, educators, and government and industry leaders.

Origins of STEM

Pinning down the exact origin of the STEM movement can be tricky. Some analysts identify the period in the 1980s and 1990s when Japan’s dominance in the electronics market began (National Research Council, 2007). Others claim that efforts to identify students interested in STEM programs started as early as the 1970s, but that the targeting of students raised concerns that the talent development programs were “elitist” and failed to capture the political imagination of the time (Subotnik et al., 2007).

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, the call for alarm was clearly sounded within the halls of America’s STEM industries. Several private industry scientists and STEM workers began working with public research organizations to investigate the problem of STEM education and came up with results that confirmed their greatest fears.

In a review of a national survey of nearly 6,000 mathematics and science teachers conducted in 2000, analysts found that teachers generally felt less than adequately prepared to teach technology and advanced science courses, citing lack of preparation and resources as the main causes of concern. Only 25 percent of elementary teachers surveyed stated that they felt prepared to teach science, and though middle and high school teachers reported more confidence, there was an overall disparity between the readiness of science teachers and that of teachers of basic mathematics or literacy courses (Weiss, et al., 2001). The teachers surveyed were aware of their shortcomings: “Topping the list of reported needs is learning how to use technology for instruction. Among science teachers in grades K–8, deepening their content knowledge ranked a close second.” Researchers also found lack of leadership to be an issue; only 25 to 30 percent of elementary, middle, and high schools reported having designated lead teachers in place for science/mathematics departments.

A few years later, in a report debating the veracity of teacher shortage claims, Dr. Richard Ingersoll investigated the underlying causes of teacher shortages and found that teacher turnover rates were higher among math and science teachers than among their social studies and English counterparts. The data also suggests that teachers who perform better on standardized assessments, such as the SAT and teacher licensure tests, may be more likely to leave the teaching profession (Ingersoll, 2003). These findings painted a picture of a “revolving door” of skilled math and science teachers and encouraged school administrators to invest more heavily in adequate professional development, mentorship and greater engagement in building-level decision-making to keep teachers engaged, supported and present in the math and science classrooms.

As more information began to emerge about the challenges faced in STEM education efforts, industry leaders started to release reports on the state of STEM from a business standpoint. A 2002 report from Building Engineering and Science Talent (BEST), a public-private partnership, argued that the STEM fields have an outsized impact on the American economy, with more than half of America’s growth over the last 50 years coming directly from the 5 percent of the workforce that works in the innovative fields of STEM research and development (“The Talent Imperative,” 2002). The report went on to claim that nearly 25 percent of the nation’s STEM workers would be reaching retirement age by 2010, and called for an increase in our domestic capacity to produce talented, capable STEM workers lest these innovative positions be filled by workers overseas.

A 2003 report by the National Science Board echoed these findings and called for federal investment in STEM education efforts at the K-12 and post-secondary level, additional support for research into best practices for developing the STEM pipeline, and an increase in support for outreach efforts that stimulate interest in STEM as part of informal educational experiences during internships, afterschool programs, and summer institutes (“The Science and Engineering Workforce,” 2003).

By the middle of the decade, urgency around STEM education began to reach a critical point, and the movement has continued to grow in the ensuing years. As more STEM enrichment programs emerge, both in and out of traditional school settings, more data continues to be available about the future of the STEM pipeline. While the problem is certainly complicated and complex, it appears that America’s industrial and government leaders, researchers, scientists and educators are beginning to reach consensus about the growing body of data that shows that investment in research-based STEM education is the key to growing American prosperity and maintaining a strong foothold in the global marketplace.

The Future of STEM

What does the future of STEM in America look like? This question is one of great urgency for the many stakeholders involved in creating STEM enrichment for America’s youth. Already, projections indicate that STEM jobs will increase by as much as 17 percent by 2018 (Langdon et al., 2011). By creating sustainable, effective partnerships among schools, businesses and organizations that bridge the gap between the two with internships, co-ops and other experiential learning opportunities, the United States stands to retain many of those jobs within its workforce. Without a national commitment to developing a STEM pipeline, analysts fear that these vital jobs may be outsourced to other countries, causing America to lose its innovative edge and suffer an economic blow.

Private industries appear more than willing to step up to the plate to help identify and develop the 1.2 employees they’ll need in the coming years. Microsoft is one of many companies that have pledged their support to STEM enrichment, and announced a slew of programs in late 2011 geared to increase access for STEM programming, especially for segments of the population that have been historically underrepresented in STEM fields, including high-school-age girls (“Microsoft,” 2011).

These industries won’t be alone in their efforts. Obama’s 2009 pledge to train an additional 100,000 teachers and to invest $20 million in research efforts by 2020 is fully under way (“State of the Union Fact Sheet,” 2011). According to a summary from his 2014 budget, Obama has already earmarked $180 million to increase access to STEM opportunities at the K-12 level and an additional $265 million to “support networks of school districts, universities, science agencies, museums, businesses and other educational entities focused on STEM education” (Southall, 2013). These figures include the $80 million devoted to adding to his master core of 100,000 well-prepared science and math teachers, but the federal approach is clearly to recognize and support efforts happening beyond the walls of the traditional classroom, as well.

If America is to reach the ambitious goals set by the Obama administration, a collaborative effort among schools, employers, and educational allies is required to successfully engage the students, teachers, researchers and organization leaders who can make the vision of a fortified STEM pipeline a reality in the years to come.


It is clear that lack of an adequate STEM workforce is a problem worthy of collaboration by American’s greatest minds. The challenges at the school level include inadequate teacher preparation and retention, lack of empowerment from parents, and a lingering administrative focus on literacy and basic numeracy that deprioritizes both advanced courses of study as well as the needs of those students who show great aptitude in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The research shows that the best STEM programs involve experiential learning to deeply engage student interest and excitement. As more funding is funneled to prepare teachers to bring these exciting opportunities and knowledge to their students in traditional classroom settings, America can look to educational allies and industry leaders to partner with schools and families to bridge the gap by creating powerful alliances between the public and private spheres to benefit students and companies alike.

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