Last Tuesday, President Obama hosted a science fair at the White House to underline the importance of S
ngineering, and M
athematics learning, or STEM education
. At the fair, the president proposed an $80 million increase in federal funding directed toward math and science education
. A large chunk of that money would be used to train specialized math and science teachers. Some would function to incentivize math education at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. While this proposal, along with the rest of the president’s 2013 budget plan, requires approval by Congress, it acknowledges STEM’s critical importance and potential for growth. In addition, President Obama stressed the positive impact of many educational grants from private sector businesses and organizations.
By taking part in science fairs and other STEM activities aimed at exploring practical problems, students become engaged with the subjects and are more likely to pursue them at a higher level. And since many students find math to be a particularly difficult subject to grasp, focusing funding on teacher training could boost student success markedly. As the Common Core makes its debut in classrooms, U.S. math education is already in a state of evolution. Greater emphasis on STEM and better teaching practices will hopefully increase math’s popularity with students.
The President’s overarching goal of promoting and strengthening STEM education is to encourage students to pursue these subjects at the collegiate level and in their careers. Currently, only 40 percent of math and science majors complete their degree, and projections show that the country will need one million college graduates in the next decade to fill anticipated job openings requiring math and science skills. We need to attract students into these fields, and the government’s commitment to STEM is encouraging. With our country’s rapid technological growth, it’s important to keep math education up-to-date both in its content and how it is taught.
I’ve mentioned in the past that my district has a limited amount of technology. While the administrators understand the value of integrating technology into the curriculum, the funding has not been available for such updates. Despite the minimal amount of technology available, we have been able to implement a few technology-based programs in Language Arts and Mathematics. Just this year, we began using an online program that enables students to practice math skills and play games when they are successful. The program has been well-received by teachers and students because the students enjoy working towards the goal of playing a game, and from the teachers’ perspective, the games are so short that they don’t take away from instructional time.
While this level of technology integration is minimal, it is a step forward for our district. It has helped our staff understand that games and other fun activities can motivate students to willingly practice skills until mastery. As a district, I am hoping we can use the success of such programs to slowly integrate similar programs for a larger breadth of subjects and grade levels. Students are so stimulated by technology in their daily lives, so it seems natural that their education would also be infiltrated with technology. Most students as young as Kindergarten are more comfortable managing technology than some adults. So, it’s important that parents and teachers let go of their fears about technology and recognize the benefits that such tools have for children.
For schools that are low on technology funds, there are options. Programs are available in a range of prices. Because the “printing” cost of web-based programs is lower than print programs, companies are often able to offer them at a low cost to customers. Also, keep in mind that there are some no-fee programs available. Be careful, though, some of these programs inundate users (kids) with ads and pop-ups, so be sure you screen them before permitting students to use them. So go ahead, start looking into educational technology programs. I bet you’ll find some tools that motivate students and inspire teachers to change the way they think about educational games.
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