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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

STEM Provides Roots and Growth

 
September 28th, 2017 by Jeff Rowe

A debate continues to rage about America’s general decline in science, engineering, and technology, largely blamed on the first steps of our youngest citizens – math and literacy education.

A couple of years ago I taught math to middle and high school students and witnessed firsthand not only the challenges, but also the opportunities for positive change brought about by a belief and commitment to teaching.

From my perspective, I learned that I taught to overcome two different but related needs – innumeracy (unfamiliarity with mathematical concepts and methods and the inability to use mathematics) as well as illiteracy (the inability to read and write). They both go hand in hand, because as important as getting the numbers right is, the ability to provide a convincing argument and communicate the numerical answer of the “why and how” is just as important.

On any given day I spent as much time on helping students communicate solutions to math problems as I did solving the math problems by saying, “Convince me that your solution is correct,” and by asking other students, “Do you agree or disagree, and why.” In this daily scenario, the math was relatively easy; it was the student discourse that was hard.

To many students, math is a very dry subject, but I undertook a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) approach to teaching math and introduced what opportunities down the road math might provide. I focused on these areas together not only because the skills and knowledge in each discipline are essential for student success, but also because these fields are deeply intertwined in the real world and in how students learn most effectively. STEM is an interdisciplinary and applied approach that is coupled with hands-on, problem-based learning. As soon as the basic math concepts were conveyed, and I felt understood, I jumped into real world word problems where both numeracy and literacy were road tested.

Some of my students were quite aware that if they started with a solid STEM education, they probably had a brighter future ahead. As much as I could, I reinforced this mindset with the fact that they would probably be in very high demand with good salaries and room to grow, regardless of gender or current family financial status.

I’ll be the first to admit that STEM has become an overused buzzword that implies it will solve all educational problems. By itself, it doesn’t. There are those that say that STEM has many negative impacts that are felt by students who don’t get a more well-rounded education. But, in general its hype is justified because students simply need greater scientific and technological literacy than they did before to function and compete in today’s society and economy. I can attest to this.

“Anything that gets this kind of buzzword character tends to lose some of its real meaning in the process,” said Michael Teitelbaum, a senior research associate with the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and author of the new book Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent.

“I think every kid who graduates needs to understand science, math, and technology,” said Teitelbaum, who points out that, “Being competent in STEM fields at the end of secondary school is the modern equivalent of being literate and numerate in the 19th century.” I couldn’t agree more.

Whether we like it or not, virtually all aspects of our daily lives require us to be more tech-savvy and quantitatively focused than past generations, regardless of career. All of us have been able to relate to the dialogue about STEM because of how much our lives have been changed by technology. And guess what is the basis for understanding technology? Literacy and numeracy. It all starts with STEM.

What are your thoughts?

Although I’m not formally teaching at the moment, I have acquired a substitute teaching credential for math and science and might very well return to doing it in the Winter 2018 semester for Denver Public Schools. I have kept my hand in education to an extent, however, as a volunteer for the ideaLAB at the central branch of the Denver Public Library where I help out with 3D design (Onshape), 3D printing (Lulzbots), and desktop CNC machining (Carbide 3D Nomad). It’s a lot of fun for me and I always look forward to (hopefully) making a positive impact on our library patrons with the experience I bring, as well as constantly learning new things myself.

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