We often hear about STEM, and the need for more people to study the STEM subjects in school. But, what exactly do the letters in the acronym stand for? The S stands for science, the T for technology, the E for engineering, and the M for mathematics. These areas are often ignored because of lack of confidence or desire in students. Some of this lack of confidence comes from people, teachers included, who proclaim these subjects difficult. This is wrong, what subjects are difficult is an individual thing. Discouragement does no one any good. Students should be allowed to determine for themselves whether these subjects are of interest, or not. They do require a different study method, which is the reason so many have difficulty, but to spread fear and anxiety makes the next generation apprehensive, and increases self-doubt.
STEM Subjects and Education
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. There are needs in STEM fields, but to qualify one needs appropriate education.
Mathematics Is at the Root of STEM Disciplines
Mathematics is needed for the sciences and engineering. But, not all of science depends on mathematic equally. And, even those fields that do usually have little interaction with arithmetic.
The problem lies in too many people have difficulty with calculations. Calculations are not at the core of mathematics, a calculator can serve to overcome any calculation weakness. In fact, symbolic calculators can eliminate many difficulties in algebra, and even in calculus. What is necessary is a thought process that allows an individual to properly formulate a problem, and to manipulate the equation into a form a computer can address. Most equations in science are so complex no one would be able to solve them without a computer, for even if the skill is there the time needed would be so long that the person might never finish.
Scientists use the tools available to them. And why not? Would a writer use only stone and chisel? Tools are for use. In school we sometimes overuse the tools, so the thought process does not develop, but working in a scientific field us the time to use whatever is available.
Why Choose a STEM Field?
When I entered college in the sixties, the space program was going at full speed. Many students wanted to cash in on the opportunities. I still remember sitting through freshman orientation and hearing one speaker tell us that ninety-five percent of those intending on being engineers would not make it. The reason that was so was described as money. Going into any STEM field for money is a bad idea. One has to have an interest in the subject. That might come from enjoyment of the field, or in making an impact on the world where it is needed. Greed will not motivate one enough to master a STEM field, or any other field.
While some people go into STEM fields for the wrong reason, others avoid these disciplines for the wrong reasons. One wrong reason is that well-meaning people give advice that is faulty. Never assume a person cannot succeed just because you might struggle in a field. Allow he person to find a good fit with ability and desire.
Allow children to generate interests themselves by making STEM toys available, then standing back. Pushing a child into a STEM field too early and too deeply will result in resentment. And discouraging words will be taken seriously, destroying a child’s confidence. Just provide age appropriate toys and let the child develop an interest, or not. Then accept the results.
STEM toys come are abundant. Some examples are inexpensive telescopes and microscopes that open views to new and exciting areas. Often a child will have a passing interest in something. There is time for more expensive instruments later, start with those that will allow an interest to flourish without a large financial commitment. Then there are alternative energy toys, such as small operating windmills. Weather is another option, and inexpensive weather stations can open a child’s mind to an exciting field.
STEM Toy Kits
Kits are also good, such as an age appropriate chemistry kit, an electricity kit, or even a rock collection with all of the rocks identified. For a real thrill get a fossil collection. Ten, for a future engineer there are building kits with motors. Kits are good because they allow the child to be creative and use it in a variety of ways.
STEM Topic Books
Another way to open STEM fields to a child is with age appropriate reading. Many subjects, including STEM topics, are written in books in an interesting manner at a level a child can read and understand. The understanding is critical. Reading words as a reading exercise is not going to expose a child to a STEM field. An interesting book on weather, rocks, astronomy, animals, or insects can easily be found. Choose those with many pictures, and let the child absorb the images as well as the words.
Poster Charts Are Great Learning Aids
Posters can be viewed all at once, or in parts. A cloud chart, a rock identification poster, or even a solar system poster can open a young mind. These can be opened as needed or put up on a wall as decorative items in a room.
College Is Late to Start, but Not too Late
When a person suddenly proclaims an interest in a STEM field at the college level the person needs the critical thinking mathematics background. Biology and geology can be started with less mathematics than physics or engineering, but soon the mathematics will be needed. Opting for courses that are less challenging in high school is typical of students who want to free up time, but choosing algebra and trigonometry place a student in a good starting place for college. Geometry hones a logical thought process that is important in STEM fields. Calculus is a plus, but not an important. One thing often misunderstood is the idea that if there is no apparent application of a branch of mathematics to a field it is not needed. The real need for mathematics is the development of a thought process, that is needed for any STEM field, so putting off mathematics before college is to have a major disadvantage.
Using homeschooling material even for students who attend school is a way to argument mathematics training, and can be used as an aid during periods when schools are closed in the area. This works for those with a genuine interest in a STEM field, but should not be forced on a person who has not the time or the interest.
After Education Is Complete
After education is complete there must be positions available, and those positions must be acceptable. Problems with some fields are treated below, and it is important to understand what comes next before embarking on an education in a STEM field.
Some STEM Fields Have More Limited Opportunities
As hard as this is to believe, some fields are harder to find openings. The two more difficult fields to enter are mathematics and biology.
I have four STEM degrees, Bachelor of Science degrees in mathematics and in physics, and Master of Science degrees in mathematics and in applied physics. I have seen the problem in mathematics, both as a student and later. Students who find physics and engineering too difficult and need to change fields will likely go into mathematics because they will have had to take a number of mathematics courses that can be used towards a mathematics degree. Graduation becomes closer, and they are in an area they still like. Biology has many who hoped to become doctors and dentists, and who needed another field when the going got too tough. Biology might still be of interest, and the courses taken prior to changing direction will, for the most part, count toward graduation. Other fields do not have this problem. Physics and chemistry, in particular, are not fields people go to when another subject does not work out.
I personally have found that more mathematics teaching positions exist because mathematics is a necessary subject for all disciplines, but when an opening in physics occurs there is less competition for the position.
If one is determined to make a difference, and solve important problems, STEM opportunities exist in medicine, ecology, and alternative energy. These are but a few. It is possible to do noble work.
Many biologists are confronted with morality issues, sometimes coming from research in areas challenging morality like human cloning.
Physicist and engineers can also be challenged. When I was in college some of my friends struggled with the morality of working in a weapons laboratory. The positions were available, but they would be developing weapons that might be used against people. Some of us do not ascribe to the idea that business is business when dismissing immoral behavior because employment demands it.
If a STEM field is right for an individual it will be fun, or it will be satisfying at a higher level than riches ever could be.
I recall a time when I was in high school and the science club went to a seminar. A college professor put on a demonstration, and he seemed to really enjoy it. Then he said that he was a scientist because he got to play with toys. This made an impact.
The intro image is one of our Zazzle products, and the flag in it is from WPClipart. The Nova ia a NASA image and is in public domain.