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Educators: Start Early to Keep Students Engaged in STEM

A majority of students ages 12-18 are interested in careers in science, technology, engineering, or math, finds a 2023 survey sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation. But the survey also found that students, parents, and teachers say schools are not doing a good job preparing kids to pursue careers in those fields.

That is a problem, because recent technological advances—especially in the field of artificial intelligence—are poised to bring big changes to future jobs, particularly in the STEM fields. STEM occupations are projected to grow by almost 11 percent by 2031, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many schools—at the elementary, middle, and high school levels—are integrating STEM learning into regular classroom instruction in some creative and relevant ways. Many are simultaneously figuring out how to encourage more girls and students of color to pursue studies in STEM areas, showing the kids how their participation could lead to lucrative careers down the road.

For this special report on STEM, the EdWeek Research Center asked this open-ended question: “How do schools get more students interested in STEM in elementary school and then maintain that interest throughout middle school and high school?” The EdWeek Research Center received nearly 800 responses from teachers, principals, and district leaders, and Education Week identified 25 of those responses that represented the major themes.

One big theme that emerged was that schools need to start earlier—in elementary school—and give young kids opportunities to do safe, hands-on science and solve developmentally appropriate, real-world problems. In other words, encourage children to investigate how the world works and how to fix its problems. Challenges around lack of time and resources, standardized testing, and professional development were common.

Following are the 25 responses, in the alphabetical order of the states where the educators work:

—District-level administrator | Arkansas

—Middle school teacher | Science | California

—High school teacher | Math/computer science/data science | California

—Elementary school teacher | Math/computer science/data science | Colorado

—Elementary school teacher | Florida

—Middle school teacher | Science | Florida

—Elementary school teacher | Georgia

—High school teacher | Math/computer science/data science | Illinois

—High school teacher | Bilingual education/English as a second language | Iowa

—High school teacher | Fine arts | Kentucky

—High school teacher | Louisiana

—Elementary school principal | Maryland

—High school teacher | Bilingual education/English as a second language | Massachusetts

—Middle school teacher | Missouri

—Middle school teacher | Math/computer science/data science | New Hampshire

—High school teacher | Science | New York

—District superintendent | New York

—Elementary school teacher | Bilingual education/English as a second language | Ohio

—High school teacher | Science | Ohio

—Middle school teacher | English-language arts/literacy/reading | Oklahoma

—Elementary school teacher | Pennsylvania

—Elementary school principal | Tennessee

—Elementary school teacher | Utah

—High school teacher | Math/computer science/data science | Virginia

—Elementary school teacher | Math/computer science/data science | Washington

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