Starting in 2019, teachers in Washington state will have to document professional development in STEM disciplines.

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Job readiness and transferable skills are things you don’t typically associate with elementary students. Yet to pursue careers as mechanical engineers or computer scientists as adults, children need to develop their interests in and aptitudes for such fields at an early age. Sparking interest in science, technology, engineering and math is critical because to continue innovation and remain competitive in the global economy, the U.S. needs more workers with those skills. Classroom teachers will need to become more effective at cultivating that interest and developing students’ skills in STEM.

The pressure that schools and teachers face to increase STEM education is real. Starting in 2019, elementary and secondary teachers in Washington state will have to document professional development in STEM in order to renew their teaching certificates.

Dr. Rachel Osborn (City University of Seattle)
Dr. Rachel Osborn (City University of Seattle)

“In the next decade, many STEM-related jobs will be hard to fill, and that will be even more and more so as years go by,” says Dr. Rachel Osborn, director of the Master of Education for Teachers program at City University of Seattle. “There are extreme shortages in vocational and four-year college tracks of STEM careers. Schools need to teach these skills so kids will be prepared for the future.”

For students to have the skills to excel in calculus or advanced biology in high school, it’s necessary for them to become familiar with the foundations of these subjects early on.

“There are activities or careers that middle and high school students express interest in, and when they realize how much math is required they don’t want to pursue them because they don’t think they’re ‘good at math,’ ” Dr. Osborn says. “The goal of STEM education is that they’d have the comfort level, confidence and interest to pursue it as a vocation or college degree.”

To get students familiar with these subjects, teachers today are tasked with applying them in the classroom.

“Beyond teaching the topics, teachers need to know how to integrate the topics and show students how what they’re learning applies across disciplines and in careers,” Dr. Osborn says. “For example, a teacher might have a lesson about a real-life scientific event or phenomenon where students learn to explain through writing how and why it happened, and they may draw a graph or model that shows data or the process of how and why it happened. That one lesson example ties in science, language arts and math.”

“It’s important to provide teaching strategies across areas and to provide resources so teachers realize they don’t have to be science experts to teach STEM,” Dr. Osborn says. “We can show them tools they can use to teach these topics effectively. Our emphasis is empowering teachers to be teacher leaders in their school communities by making them aware of tools and resources.”

City University of Seattle offers a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with a specialized study in STEM Education. Teachers will learn more about STEM legislation, curriculum integration, and grants and community partnerships to benefit STEM programs. Visit www.cityu.edu or call 888-422-4898.