In a 2018 review by the National Science Board, on international assessment tests, 15-year-olds in the US scored below the global average in mathematics but have science scores at or slightly above the worldwide average. And according to Girls who code, 74% of middle school girls express an interest in engineering, science, and math. Still, only 0.3% choose computer science as a major in college.
In May 2020, twenty semifinalist teams with students aged four to 16, participated in a digital version of First LEGO League’s Global Innovation Awards. This year’s challenge was to identify a problem in the students’ community and identify a unique solution using Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) skills to make their community a better place to live.
A team of high-school students from Indiana applied their STEM skills to find a solution to help clean hospital equipment. Their invention – the Sporalizer helps identify hospital-acquired infections using terbium chloride wipes, a UV light and a 3D camera.
For a post-Covid-19 world, a team of students in Israel developed the Great Leg Lock, which would reduce the need to touch communal surfaces in public restrooms.
The Great Leg Lock and The Sporalizer were a part of First Robotics, an educational program founded 30 years ago by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway.
“STEM, and specifically mathematics, is foundational to many of the most important and high-paying careers in this country,” said Ethan Fieldman, CEO of StudyEdge. “COVID-19 has increased the need for qualified STEM graduates, especially in software engineering. If you can’t write a basic math equation, you can’t write code for a website, a mobile app, or a machine on the factory floor. If we don’t graduate scientists now, we won’t have vaccines for viruses that appear in 10-20 years.”
The winner of the 2020 Global Innovation Award was a group of students from Spain’s Canary Islands who created E=Wall, a low cost, lightweight, eco-friendly building block made from recycled cardboard and Fountain grass, which is an invasive species on the Islands. Environmentally friendly, E=Wall replaces conventional blocks and insulation to provide regulate temperature and reduce noise.
The team received $20,000 and will receive assistance to further develop their solution.
Both runner-ups in the STEM competition were teams from Ohio. One team created a solution that reduces injuries by cooling outdoor equipment called Polar Play. The other Ohio team created a Roof Evaluating Strain Tool that uses fiber optic sensors to detect loads on flat roofs, such as snow, ice, or construction defects. It notifies owners and sounding an alarm if the load becomes dangerous.
“The importance of STEM education for kids goes way beyond the fields of math and science. It teaches creativity and encourages curiosity,” said Pramad Jandhyala, co-founder and director at LatentView Analytics. “This roll-up-your-sleeve, hands-on mentality can be applied in any area of life or future careers.”
“We in the tech industry too often over-index on the analytics, data and math side of things, and forget that people, more than machines, algorithms, or anything else, are a company’s greatest strength,” said Jandhyala.
Fieldman says we need STEM graduates more than ever, and therefore we need STEM teachers more than ever.
“This comes when more and more qualified STEM teachers are retiring early or otherwise leaving the classroom due to COVID-19,” added Fieldman.
Nefertiti Dukes, Educator Growth Lead of Screencastify, believes that STEM/STEAM teachers often face hurdles in achieving and maintaining student engagement.
“For many students, subjects like physics and geometry feel completely divorced from their everyday lives, said Dukes. “For many of the teachers we work with, the key to achieving student engagement has been making the curriculum more relevant to their everyday experience.”
“The key to getting kids excited about these subjects (or any subject) is to make it real,” said Dukes.