In a previous post, I discussed the results of the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) which compares reading, math, and science literacy around the world. In this study of 65 countries and education systems, the United States ranked 26th in the area of mathematics and 21st in science. Additional international assessments such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) consistently show the United States lagging behind other countries. And in yet another related statistic, the non-profit organization, ACT, Inc., reported that last year, only 44% of high school graduates were ready for college-level math classes, and 36% ready for college-level science.
So, while the statistics may not reflect positively on the U.S. educational system as a whole, you’re probably wondering what connection these numbers have with the curriculum and instruction taking place at Posnack. The answer to that question can be found in a simple acronym …. STEM. The emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) is evident across all three divisions of our school. With dedicated science rooms and hands-on STEM labs, our students are exposed to these crucial subject areas in ways that extend across the curriculum and are relevant to the world in which they live. Teachers understand that in order to engage students in the learning process, they must provide instruction which stimulates the students’ interests, builds upon their prior knowledge, and promotes an inquisitive learning environment.
This initiative cannot wait until students have entered the upper grades. Before a student can demonstrate grade-level proficiency in the STEM subject areas, he/she must have already achieved a minimum level of proficiency in the skill upon which the scaffolding begins. This approach is evident in our Singapore Math program where, for example, the study of measurement begins in Kindergarten (length, weight, capacity) and continues through fifth grade with the conversion of measures and the volume of rectangular prisms.
Another example highlighting the importance of focusing on STEM subjects at an early age was evident during a recent first grade science lesson. Students participated in an activity focusing on nutrition in which they identified the hidden sugar found in many foods and drinks. They were introduced to food labels and read the ingredients labels to locate the number of sugar grams. They then learned to identify the various “hidden” names for sugar such as sucrose and fructose. An introduction to the metric system and the relative weight of a gram was explored. Different sizes and shapes of food and drink containers were used as the students estimated capacity and volume, and then compared their estimates with the actual measurement. The data was collected, graphed and the results analyzed. This simple elementary school lesson developed into a cross-curricular exercise integrating math and science. Similar lessons are found across the campus as teachers pave the way for young students to make the connection from classroom lessons to real-world application.
It may be hard to believe that early exposure to these skills is going to encourage students to pursue a career in a STEM related field. However with almost 6 million STEM-related job openings just last year alone, now IS the time to give our students the foundational knowledge and analytical skills they need for future success. And just maybe….with a foundation like this, Posnack alumni may one day be responsible for boosting the U.S. rankings to the very top.