Schools Work to Make STEM Learning Central to Education

STEM is a hot topic in education these days, largely because it is an area where industries and jobs are growing.

But people also talk about science, technology, engineering and mathematics as a way to reform education and grow better citizens — if you can find enough teachers.

“We do know clearly we are talking about the economy when we talk about STEM today,” said Sam Houston, president and CEO of the N.C. Science, Mathematics and Technology Education Center in Raleigh. “It’s not the only place you can find work, but it’s where a lot of the better-paying work will be.”

Houston’s organization just recognized Blessed Sacrament School for its STEM program, called STREAM because it incorporates religion and art.

The school held an open house last week to celebrate being one of only 13 schools in North Carolina to get that kind of recognition. Students got to show off projects like a small submarine, a compressed-air rocket launcher and an exploration of science in the kitchen.

Projects, in many ways, are the foundation of STEM because they take science out of books — getting kids “doing science instead of reading science,” Houston said.

“You sort of derive the laws of nature from the experience,” said James McPherson, director of business development at Carolina Biological Supply, “so (you’re) going from the specific to the universal.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the economy will add another million STEM jobs by 2022. The range of jobs considered STEM is wide, going from the obvious, like medicine, to machining, which is now largely based in computing. The Alamance-Burlington School System is looking for high school students who want to take machining classes at Alamance Community College and is recruiting in both shop and math classes.

There are also a lot of entry-level positions, Houston said. Nurse assistant and lab technician are STEM jobs people can get with two-year degrees. While not all those jobs pay big money, they pay better than most retail, there are often benefits, and many of them are hard to export.

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