A new study by the job site Glassdoor adds to the ever-growing list of rankings that identify science, technology, engineering and math as the highest-paying college majors. Computer science comes in on top at $70,000 for entry-level employees, followed closely by four engineering disciplines ranging from $68,000 to $64,000. Indeed, 18 of the top 20 highest-paying entry-level fields are directly related to STEM, including statistics, health care, finance and architecture.
We’ve known for years that STEM subjects provide students with the most job opportunities at the highest pay levels, so the question we must ask ourselves is why aren’t more young people pursuing them?
The answer is that by the time they get to college, many students have already decided, based on their experiences in high school and earlier, that subjects like math and science are either too boring or too difficult for them.
Too often, that’s not because students aren’t capable of getting their heads around complex math or science, but because the methods we’ve used for teaching them have become stale.
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The best way to avoid the doldrums of repeating the same thing you’ve always done is offering students opportunities to solve real-world problems. Whether it’s an entire project or just an activity, mixing things up by providing students the chance to enhance their 21st-century skills and solve a real problem will make them excited about the possibilities STEM offers.
Regardless of age, students long for their learning to be relevant. They want to be able to apply it to their lives. When students can see the value in what they are doing, students are engaged. When they are engaged, learning takes place. Nothing makes a teacher want to work harder than seeing students succeed. That can only start if we provide them with opportunities.
I was visiting a fourth-grade classroom recently when the teacher simply stated that they were going to do an Instant Challenge, fast-paced learning experiences that keep students — and teachers — on their toes.
Immediately, the students whispered, “Yes!” and began pumping their firsts. I that if I stuck around for a little while, I was going to see deep learning take place. Over the next 20 minutes, that was exactly what happened. The engagement never died. The challenge they were given applied to their interests. Students learned. Success for the teacher.
Whether it’s a small STEM activity like an Instant Challenge or a whole Project Lead the Way course designed to provide students with opportunities to develop skills and apply them in solving a real-world problem, students desperately need their teachers to provide them with these opportunities.
A hands-on approach to learning allows students to understand the content in the context of real-world applications. It demonstrates in compelling fashion how they can put the principles of science, technology, math and engineering to use, and gives them a glimpse of what jobs in STEM fields are really like.
It also provides teachers with a pedagogy that lends itself to providing kids with more opportunities to be creative and think critically in the future. It helps teachers change their mindset and see that these opportunities are what their students need to succeed long-term.
Student learning is the reason we do what we do. Anyone who has been in the classroom over the past decade knows that students are different from how they used to be. We need to be different, too. Let’s be bold together and give our students what they truly need.
Brandon Lewis is an innovation and learning coach in Liberty. He taught for 11 years in the classroom and is a Project Lead the Way launch master teacher.