We cannot accurately predict what jobs will be available in the future for the students currently in our K-12 schools. What we do know is that today's students will need to be problem solvers and lifelong learners. A strong focus on STEM education is a critical ingredient for meeting this need.
STEM is not a curriculum or a set of resources. STEM is a culture of teaching and learning that gives students the opportunity to engage in solving real-world problems while addressing the Common Core literacy and mathematical practice standards. Our challenge in K-12 education is to maintain, encourage and empower natural human curiosity and creativity while helping students develop the skills they'll need in the workplaces of the future. Students in classes using STEM strategies are more engaged, have higher test scores and are able to build the types of skills they will need for long-term success.
While I was the director of STEM at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, we employed a number of strategies to create an effective STEM program. We used engaging real-world problems, digital content and professional development/coaching to empower our teachers. We connected with local businesses to use regional scenarios in our classrooms and create a vision that would contribute to economic development. Perhaps most important, we changed our district's culture to focus on STEM education.
The results of these efforts speak for themselves. Our fifth and eighth grade science scores rose 44 points in three years, while state achievement scores increased only 7 points. Our third through eighth grade math achievement scores skyrocketed 33 points, compared to the state-score increase of 5 points.
But the greatest accomplishment we attribute to STEM education is instilling in our students a strong spirit of lifelong learning. We are preparing them to change, adapt and problem solve, which will ready them to face a future whose opportunities are not yet clear.
Our national approach to STEM education should not be based on fears that we are doomed to be overtaken technologically by other nations. Rather, our choices as educators should be driven by what we know is right for our children. Students today need authentic learning environments that mirror what's going on outside the classroom. In our increasingly global society, a STEM education and the skills it develops will propel today's students to succeed in college, careers and citizenship. That is why we should spend more time on STEM.
Cindy Moss, director of global STEM initiatives for Discovery Education, is charged with supporting school districts in their work to develop and deploy student initiatives to drive science, technology, engineering and math achievement nationwide.