There was a time when America was among the leading nations in STEM fields. Sure, it is still a major player in the grand scheme of things, but other countries haven’t been passive.
Math scores have stagnated for well over a decade and continue to be disappointing. Last year, the U.S. came in 25th out of 37 other countries in mathematical literacy in the 15-year-old age bracket. Many believe that the school system is in need of a complete overhaul, and it’s not hard to see why.
Educators are having a hard time engaging students and improving academic performance. While the situation is not without cause, things need to improve, and they need to improve quickly.
In this article, let us explore why students are having such a hard time in STEM subjects and find out how to turn things around.
Before we can explore how to address the situation, we first need to understand the factors contributing to poor STEM performance.
One of the biggest obstacles preventing students from doing well is the complexity of the concepts involved. Science, engineering, technology, and math are not known for being easy to understand. Moreover, helping students understand difficult concepts is inherently difficult.
Diving deep into abstract concepts can foster a better understanding; however, it also runs the risk of further confusing students. If you focus only on the tangible and easy-to-understand, students miss out on the understanding they need for more advanced study.
Students also live in a world where distractions are at their highest. A culture of instant gratification, social media, and short attention spans has made it nearly impossible to keep students engaged. The fact that many of the causal factors happen outside the classroom doesn’t help.
Educators are already limited by restrictive guidelines, and many simply give up trying. This is particularly the case in inner-city schools. It shouldn’t have to come to this. What can educators practically do to help raise engagement levels?
Considering the challenges that educators have to deal with, it is essential that they are equipped as best as possible. A good start would be encouraging educators to actively pursue STEM educator degree programs.
It’s not enough to simply have a postgraduate or even a doctorate in a relevant field.
Educators desperately need pedagogical skills to teach STEM subjects effectively. There’s a difference between knowing a subject and effectively communicating its concepts. Being able to engage students is a serious task, and it begins with impeccable communication, empathy, and other critical soft skills.
Pursuing professional development is also something that cannot be overlooked. STEM educators need to fulfill the roles of both educator and learner. The best educators are honest with themselves and constantly self-reflect. What am I doing correctly? What is going wrong? What can be done to fix it?
Questions like these need to always be on the minds of STEM educators. The goal isn’t to doubt yourself. Instead, it is to find and eliminate as many obstacles to effective learning as possible.
When it comes to the actual strategies, there are several options available. Hands-on approaches often work best for STEM subjects. There is a lot of power in “learning by doing,” and you want to facilitate that in and outside your classroom. This can involve field trips and industry visits, hosting guest talks from STEM professionals, and more.
Incorporating technology is also worthwhile. Gaming is popular among young people, and you can find quite a lot of success by gamifying the subjects. Studies have shown that it can increase motivation and teamwork and lead to a more interactive learning experience.
Mentorship programs can also be highly effective. A common factor that causes poor engagement in learning is the lack of proper role models. STEM subjects are hard, and many educators can come off as unnecessarily cryptic and harsh. Mentors have the ability to transform a student’s life and unlock their untapped potential.
If you are an educator of STEM subjects, you have a unique role to play. You are responsible for guiding the next generation into careers that build up the country. It’s not an easy responsibility. High school and even middle school students can be a handful these days.
Sometimes, you may wonder if your efforts are even getting through. Try not to lose heart. A lot of educators believe that if they can get through to at least one student, it’s a win.