Editorial: Focusing on ‘STEM’ education

Mar. 12, 2013 @ 04:31 PM

With increased attention to preparing students for the workplace of today – and tomorrow – a frequent buzzword in education circles is the acronym, STEM.

It stands for science, technology, engineering and math – subjects that, in recent years, too few students have been taking and skills for which there is growing demand.

This week, hundreds of teachers gathered for two days at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel and Convention Center in Durham to talk about ways to attract more students to those subjects and to engage them with effective teaching strategies.

“The reality is that there are unfilled jobs that are just in areas that require degrees that students aren’t choosing,” Robin Marcus, senior director of STEM education for N. C. New Schools, told The Herald-Sun’s Laura Oleniacz at the conference.

Getting more students to pursue those fields will require “finding kids who are legitimately turned off by school in math and science and engaging them in real math and science,” she said.

Durham is a fitting place to host such a conference, in a community rich both in jobs that demand those skills and in schools, both at the university and K-12 level, that are keenly focused on them.

We’ve long been home, for example, to the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics, a unique residential school for high school juniors and seniors focused on STEM subjects. Three of its students presented work done through a physics research program at the Sheraton conference.

Durham Public Schools have developed specialty schools such as the City of Medicine Academy and the cluster of small schools-within-a-school at Southern High School. The school, renamed Southern School of Energy and Sustainability, now encompasses schools of engineering, infrastructure engineering, business management sustainability and biomedical technology.

Coincidentally, some good news about students’ performance in STEM subjects emerged in a Meredith University study, released Monday, on the “Status of Girls in North Carolina.”

“Girls throughout the state are overcoming the stereotype that they are either not interested or not skilled in science or math,” the report said. “Three out of four girls in North Carolina's high schools passed End of Course examinations in Biology and Algebra I, and young women make up nearly half of the students enrolled in the state's science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-focused high schools.”

We’re moving in the right direction in emphasizing and emerging instruction in the STEM fields – but as the conference made clear, there’s still much to be done.