It’s fair to say the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) are getting a lot of love and money these days. The Obama administration has made STEM a centerpiece of its education policy, including it as a priority for applicants competing for federal funds in the Race to the Top competition, for instance.
In his State of the Union address in January, Obama said he wants to hire 100,000 teachers in STEM fields over the next decade, and pointed out the particular emphasis on math and science in countries like China and India.
“We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair,” Obama said.
That goal was seemingly achieved earlier this month when three American girls won the inaugural Google Science Fair with their research on ovarian cancer (Grand Prize winner Shree Bose, 17;) air pollution and asthma (Naomi Shah, 16;) and chicken marinades and carcinogens (Lauren Hodge, 14.)
But those three female Doogie Howsers aside, the president has good reason to be concerned about our STEM skills. On the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (a.k.a “The Nation’s Report Card”) only 26 percent of high school seniors scored proficient at math. Only 21 percent of them were proficient in science.
A Commerce Department study released earlier this month reported that over the last decade, jobs in STEM fields grew three times faster than jobs in other fields, and workers in STEM fields earned 26 percent more than their counterparts.
So, like them or not, STEM subjects are set to be a major part of the curriculum in the years to come. Which begs one question: How can we make STEM cool? (Incidentally, here’s one answer from our Emmy Award winning friends at NBC Learn.)
This week on The Learning Curve, we will put this question (and a few others) to Sean Belka, a vice president with Fidelity Investments who volunteers his time teaching web design in a Boston classroom; Dr. Arthur Benjamin, a math professor at Harvey Mudd who moonlights as a “mathemagician;” and Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway and founder of FIRST, an organization dedicated to making STEM fun for kids.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.