By Matt Vangalis
From millions in White House grants to private tech companies’ awareness programs, the push is on to engage students in the critically important fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) career possibilities.
It’s a hot button issue. The demand for well-educated students, especially in the STEM fields is growing with no signs of slowing down. Still, according to the National Math & Science Initiative, 54 percent of high school graduates are not ready for college math, while an astounding 70 percent are unprepared for college-level science.
A main issue that prevents students from becoming engaged in STEM is a lack of access to the courses, the content and the right teachers they need to succeed. Many schools lack the resources to fully push STEM to all students. The good news is that students don’t need to be in a brick-and-mortar school to effectively learn STEM concepts.
Online learning is a critical tool because it gives more students access to STEM education coursesand resources that might otherwise be unavailable to them. Students who don’t have access to STEM offerings at their schools can access high-quality courses online. It also serves as an outlet for schools and districts to augment their STEM offerings, which are often only offered as electives.
A 2013 report from STEMConnector said close to 60 percent of the nation’s students who begin high school interested in STEM change their minds by graduation. Schedule flexibility and the ability to work at your own pace can take away some of the intimidation factor that many students face in a STEM curriculum – a factor that often leads to a loss of interest.
STEM Should Be Hands-On
Studies show that STEM education is most successful when there’s a multi-prong approach, including coursework, applied activities and career connections. In addition to quality courses, a good online STEM program will offer hands-on opportunities for students to apply what they learn.
Online schools with year-round enrollment have a more flexible academic calendar, so online educators can better incorporate hands-on experiences, assignments and even internships into the curriculum.
Such activities are important learning tools, but are also critical in inspiring kids to think about STEM careers. Participation in internships, job-shadowing experiences and other hands-on experiences in research labs, zoos and museums are critical in helping students determine their interest and increasing their knowledge.
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