In order to successfully teach or implement STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum and ultimately create more graduates with STEM skills, quality STEM professional development initiatives are needed. How to we approach these challenges in the STEM field?

Challenges for STEM

One of the best ways to ensure  students’ success  in life is to expose them to STEM subjects, according to Vince Bertram, President and CEO of Project Lead The Way, Inc. Being exposed to real-world problem solving and other relevant subjects is crucial for students. Additionally, it is essential to have qualified  educators  in these fields. No matter what career  path students choose later in life, STEM  will teach them vital skills such as critical thinking or problem solving.

The “No Child Left Behind Act” mandated that teachers be “highly qualified” in each subject taught.  In other words, this  means teachers  must be certified and “demonstrate proficiency in his or her subject matter” and teach within their own field  Earning a degree in International Relations would not qualify someone to teach physics. However, the definition of  “highly qualified” and   is vague  and can be interpreted in different ways. As a results, recent research shows that “just 36 percent of new secondary science teachers are teaching only in their specialization. . New teachers often have no choice –  if they want the job  they must teach other science subjects. Many  schools can’t find qualified STEM teachers at all.

Solutions for Students and Teachers

The challenge is how to inspire students to get into the STEM field and, at the same time,  attract inspiring teachers to teach them. A good example of a free, open to public event was organized by Google in the fall of 2016. It was called “NYC Geek Street Fair” and to goal was to bring together children and S TEM, along with technology companies, community-based organizations, museums, and content creators. It attracted more than 3,000 children and young adults in the hopes of getting  them excited about STEM.

Google has also started a digital storytelling platform called Voyager in collaboration with BBC so that students can virtually explore the world around them. It also made it easier for teachers to use Google Earth, adding educational tools. The goal is to make students  “critical thinkers and responsible digital citizens.The new Girl Scouts CEO, Sylvia Acevedo, has added 23 new STEM achievement badges this week to encourage girls to pursue careers in science and technology and the outdoors. Girl Scouts can earn these badges  through various activities, such as programming robots or writing code. This move was followed only weeks after they announced debuting cybersecurity badges where girls  master coding, becoming an ethical hacker or building firewalls in partnership with Palo Alto Networks, a Silicon Valley cybersecurity firm.

Because of the lack of interest in teaching STEM subjects, it is essential to help and mentor not only  new teachers, but also those professionals making a career change. One solution might be welcoming “citizen teachers” – professionals committing to teach once a week for a few hours. Other professional development for STEM educators offer programs and learning initiatives, online webinars, or workshops. On top of that, schools and universities should successfully integrate STEM into the wider curriculum.