One of the top topics at the 2015 National PTA Convention was STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, as several panel discussions and workshops focused or touched on the topic. It is an important issue, as the US is producing fewer engineers and other STEM-related graduates at a time when the number of jobs in those fields are increasing. Here are some of the highlights about STEM education from the convention:

  • STEM turns students into creative problem solvers. This is important even if they are not going into a STEM-related field because real world problems in any field are not neat and tidy like they are in textbooks. Project-based learning in STEM, where students work on an open-ended project to apply what they have learned (e.g., an egg drop, mousetrap cars, catapults), are critical to students building those skills.
  • A child decides by the time they are in the sixth grade whether they are good in math and science or not. Therefore, it is critical that students engage with STEM curriculum early.
  • The children that are going into STEM majors in college are mainly those that have parents working in STEM fields. We need to break this cycle by exposing students to STEM early and to a variety of STEM role models.
  • When talking to your child about STEM, don’t limit your terms for those working in STEM fields to scientists, engineers, and mathematicians; use creators, makers, and innovators.
  • 90% of US schools do not offer any computer science courses.

The discussions on STEM were not limited to the problems and challenges. There are a tremendous number of STEM resources out there STEM_wide_clearfor students, parents, teachers, and schools.

  • Google for Education focuses largely on free resources for both teachers and students. Among these are:
    • Made w/ Code, an interactive coding site aimed at girls;
    • CS First, a set of free, easy-to-use computer science enrichment materials that can be used in the classroom or as an after-school club or program; and
    • Maker Camp, a free online creativity camp that also has over 1,000 real-world camps as well.
  • Discovery Education has a huge collection of STEM resources, including professional development for teachers, materials for a STEM Camp that could be used as an after-school program, and much more.
  • Project Lead the Way is a non-profit organization that creates ready-to-use STEM project-based learning curricula for elementary, middle school, and high school classes. School districts pay a flat fee to use the curriculum, and teachers attend a short, immersive training on how to teach the materials.
  • Hour of Code is a program to expose students to computer programming during Computer Science Education Week (December 7-13, 2015). The program includes complete how-to information for anyone leading an Hour of Code event, even if they have no programming experience (or even no computer!). Khan Academy, the online learning resource, also has an Hour of Code section set up for students to try at any time.
  • Many parents are struggling with helping their children with math under the new Illinois Learning Standards, as students are being taught many different methods to solve problems to increase their understanding. Howard County, Maryland schools have created the HCPSS Family Mathematics Support Center that provides parents with grade-specific and standard-specific help for math from kindergarten through high school algebra 2. Because both Maryland and Illinois have standards based on the Common Core State Standards, the materials developed by Howard County schools align with what your child in Illinois is learning as well.