In response to my last post, I've gotten tons of positive feedback and agreement that we still aren't seeing the increase we want in number of STEM professionals finishing a STEM degree and moving into the field. Even more specifically, we aren't seeing a huge increase in diversity of STEM professionals. We are failing and I suspect I know why... two words. FOLLOW UP.
I came to this realization when I was talking to a teacher friend about her attending an ROV camp for the second year in a row. She is allowed to take 3 girls from challenging circumstances with her that attend the school she works at. Here's the problem, the girls are 15 and under and she teaches IB HL Biology juniors and seniors only (ages 16-18 and elect to take HL Bio). She was chosen based on her love of marine science and her success as a teacher (she is incredible and loves her job so much). Last year, the girls who attended were not in the IB program. So... what's my point? The point is after the 3-day camp, the experience was over for these girls. They returned to their own science classes with their own teachers and that was it. Candle burnt out. The teacher kept the ROVs and is planning to utilize them in the future, but she doesn't really have access to the girls as they 1. aren't in the IB program 2. will never have her as a teacher and 3. there's no after-school program at her school that would give the girls access to the ROVs. I am sure the girl's had a fabulous experience, but memories fade and I bet we lose them. Those girls are probably going to pursue college majors and careers that are fresh in their minds and that they are actively a part of. The teacher would gladly follow up if a program existed, but there is not one. She tutors after school and leads a number of organizations, so she does not really have the time or resources to continue to nourish these girls' interest in STEM. This is one of many examples of its kind. A one time experience isn't enough. (Just found out they decided to bring back some of the girls as mentors! Way to follow up ROV camp!)
Second example: STEM elementary school, STEM middle school program, traditional high school. Do you see the problem?
Kids are being challenged with STEM projects up until a critical age- right before they enter college. Senior year of high school or summer after is when our kids choose a college major. Some high schools are STEM and some offer Robotics which will keep STEM interests going, but those schools are few are far between compared to total number of schools. WE ARE LOSING THESE FUTURE STEM PROFESSIONALS. When kids stop seeing and doing STEM, they latch onto other career ideas. I don't blame them; I usually pursue options that are tangible in the moment. Don't we all?
Third example: Student pursues a career in engineering after student was inspired by a 5th-grade project. Student attended a traditional high school. This student, now a college freshmen sitting in first engineering class is tasked with using SolidWorks to design a tool to solve a problem. Student is in a study group with 4 other kids who learned how to use SolidWorks in high school through a STEM program. Student leaves group to learn how to use SolidWorks. Student returns to group to find everyone else has finished the project and are making plans for their weekend. Student feels behind and makes plans to work on the project all weekend. Which students do you think are more likely to finish a degree in Engineering? EXACTLY. I know I would have been tempted to pursue a degree that I felt I was equal to my classmates in. STEM majors are already difficult enough for students without being overwhelmed by lack of experience compared to classmates. Again, we lose some potential STEM professionals.
Fourth example: Student majors in Biology with the goal of becoming a physician. Student's friend designs and launches an app that is making money. Student decides to change major from Biology to Computer Science. Student fails first Computer Science class and returns back to Bio. Why? Because this student did not learn the beauty of failing and redesigning and trying again using a variety of resources in a STEM class. Ask any high school Robotics kid how many times they had to reprogram their bot and how many lines of code they have edited dozens of times… These STEM kids look at failure as a problem to solve not as a defeat. The Biology major probably experienced failure for the first time and walked away instead of finding resources to help him conquer the class on the next go round. He lacked the experience with failure in a more controlled environment. STEM professionals have a different mindset concerning failure. We need to help our students solve more problems instead of walking away from them to pursue a different option that they are more prepared for.
My point is, you can't plant a seed and neglect to water it. You also can't neglect to groom a unique, gorgeous plant once it grows. These STEM kids need more attention and more nurture. They need mentors, projects, exposure, and encouragement. They need to experience that feeling of success when they solve a problem. They need to celebrate with their classmates and revel in their accomplishments year after year. We have to keep "watering and grooming" these STEM kids or the STEM interest is going to shrivel and die inside of them. (Do I sound crazy right now?)
Now let's address the elephant in the room: who's job is it to follow up with these kids? Are teachers responsible? Administrators? STEM Directors? STEM Companies? Who the heck is going to see through with the follow-up?
Teachers need resources and supplies. I am in the middle of developing several STEM projects for grades K-12 that are designed for ANY teacher to use. The projects range from history content to science content to writing challenges. Hopefully, I can be part of the follow up by providing STEM to kids in ANY classroom. What else can we do? Who is going to take on some of the responsibility with me? WE HAVE TO WORK TOGETHER.