STEM Education was first called Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology (SMET). Sadly, American students in STEM classes today are often disengaged because of the quality of instruction. For, those competent individuals who hold degrees in these areas do not usually enter the teaching fields since they can earn higher salaries elsewhere. Also, teaching such subjects is considered very challenging.
Because these are fundamental subjects, the United States needs to increase the number of students who master STEM content to prepare them for careers in these areas. If there are not enough who enter such jobs, the country will fall farther behind in the global economy–a failure that affects all citizens. Unfortunately, effective STEM instruction is the exception in a majority of schools. It is typically facilitated by “extraordinary teachers who overcome various challenges that stand between vision and reality.”
If improvements in STEM education are to be made in districts and schools, transformations must occur so that K-12 STEM instruction can become the norm. In America, schools are focusing on new methods for improving science and math education; they also concentrate on various areas, including teacher ability, school culture and parental support. The focus of these efforts is on a curriculum that must be concentrated, coherent and rigorous. The instructors must be those with thorough knowledge and pedagogical skills and abilities to make the content of their courses understandable and attainable for students. Engaging the students in their learning is essential to their knowledge attainment and retention of what they learn.
For years, developed nations of the world have had uniform national curriculum standards. These standards have established the content that teachers at each grade level should cover to ensure the quality and uniformity of instruction. When followed, the standards also guide curriculum materials, teacher preparation, and training. Studies show that such an aligned and focused curriculum improves student knowledge acquisition in STEM subjects. By ensuring that prior learning is focused and aligned with curricula, mastery of STEM subjects becomes more successful since these disciplines rely on prior knowledge for understanding in the future.
Research suggests that learning in STEM subjects is facilitated by an aligned and focused K-12 curriculum. These subjects are usually based on hierarchical structures that depend on prior learning to determine future understanding. For this reason, without focused and aligned curricula, these hierarchical structures may not occur. Further, research demonstrates a link between what students are expected to learn and what they do learn. More achievement occurs when fewer topics are covered in more depth.
One major drawback for achievement in STEM in the United States is its preference for local control as it has left the creation of standards to the individual states. Unfortunately, the different directions of the various states have led to many variations in the focus, unity and rigor of standards. Some states have too many topics to be covered in each grade, resulting in more basic and less coherent content.