From millions in White House grants to private tech companies’ awareness programs, the push is on to engage students in the critically important fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) career possibilities.
It’s a hot button issue. The demand for well-educated students, especially in the STEM fields is growing with no signs of slowing down. Still, according to the National Math & Science Initiative, 54 percent of high school graduates are not ready for college math, while an astounding 70 percent are unprepared for college-level science.
A main issue that prevents students from becoming engaged in STEM is a lack of access to the courses, the content and the right teachers they need to succeed. Many schools lack the resources to fully push STEM to all students. The good news is that students don’t need to be in a brick-and-mortar school to effectively learn STEM concepts.
Online learning is a critical tool because it gives more students access to STEM education courses and resources that might otherwise be unavailable to them. Students who don’t have access to STEM offerings at their schools can access high-quality courses online. It also serves as an outlet for schools and districts to augment their STEM offerings, which are often only offered as electives.
A 2013 report from STEMConnector said close to 60 percent of the nation’s students who begin high school interested in STEM change their minds by graduation. Schedule flexibility and the ability to work at your own pace can take away some of the intimidation factor that many students face in a STEM curriculum – a factor that often leads to a loss of interest.
STEM Should Be Hands-On
Studies show that STEM education is most successful when there’s a multi-prong approach, including coursework, applied activities and career connections. In addition to quality courses, a good online STEM program will offer hands-on opportunities for students to apply what they learn.
Online schools with year-round enrollment have a more flexible academic calendar, so online educators can better incorporate hands-on experiences, assignments and even internships into the curriculum.
Such activities are important learning tools, but are also critical in inspiring kids to think about STEM careers. Participation in internships, job-shadowing experiences and other hands-on experiences in research labs, zoos and museums are critical in helping students determine their interest and increasing their knowledge.
Personalized instruction is recognized as a priority in STEM education. Teachers with online schools are often able to offer more personalized instruction based on the student’s needs. The online format allows teachers to work one-on-one with students in a way that typically is not possible in a traditional school.
Also, students are able to work at their own pace, taking the time needed to master the information, as opposed to moving on to a new topic before they are ready. For example, a student who is highly motivated and wants to master Algebra as fast as possible in order to tackle the next level of math does not have to wait for those students who might need to take extra time in mastering concepts.
Students also have more choices in how they demonstrate what they’ve learned in a medium that best fits their style of learning. Using technology, they may choose to create projects beyond writing a paper, such as creating videos, audio recordings, websites and more – whatever medium best fits their style of learning.
6 Things To Consider
- As with any education choice, do your homework! Here are some items to take under consideration when looking at online STEM offerings:
- Is the program a recognized educational institution? What credentials do teachers hold? How many teachers hold graduate or post-graduate degrees? Is the school accredited?
- What kind of approach to STEM does the program take? Are students exposed to STEM merely through school courses or are STEM-related extra-curricular clubs and assignment activities available.
- Does the program require students to apply STEM content knowledge beyond tests? Students should have an opportunity to apply their lesson concepts to develop projects.
- Is there a focus on interpersonal skills? The more successful and inclusive STEM programs encourage problem-solving and interpersonal skills, which help students be more adaptable and successful in the real world.
- Where does computer programming fit in? Computer science is often overlooked as a common denominator in STEM, but FLVS Global School is seeing mounting evidence that interest in computer science is a gateway to a wide variety of STEM careers. An understanding of computer science helps connect the dots among science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Results also indicate that CP1 students who transition to the AP Computer Science (APCS) course have a higher average score and are less likely to withdraw than students who begin APCS with no prior programming experience.
The most important thing for parents and students to keep in mind is that choosing online learning is not taking the easy way out. Despite the flexibility they offer, online courses often require more work than what may be necessary in a traditional classroom. However, when the work is engaging and connects with students’ individual learning styles, students are less likely to get discouraged, more inclined to enjoy what they learn and more likely to stick with STEM.
About The Author: Matt Vangalis is principal of FLVS Global School. FLVS Global School is the premier online school for students in grades 6-12. It is the national and international arm of Florida Virtual School®, an award-winning, public school district and international leader in online learning that serves Kindergarten through grade 12.