Future STEM Careers Begin in the Primary Grades

  •  The Future Our Children Will Face

    Advanced skills for the “Knowledge Economy” will be required for most well-paying jobs, and for navigating one's life. Engineering and health sciences will drive technological development. Accelerating globalization demands a mobile, high-tech workforce – one which is internally highly competitive. By 2020, cross-disciplinary STEM skill sets will require broad training and positive attitudes toward technology. This will obsolete prior criteria for K-12 education. From R&D to Manufacturing to Service Industries, new tools and emphasis on the process of acquiring/understanding knowledge quickly may be more vital than specific knowledge. Collaborative and virtual design will become the new standard.

    According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, in order to achieve a measure of success in their future endeavors, students will need to be fluent in the four “C”s - Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and innovation [1]. These themes resonate throughout the scope and sequence of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum.


    Attitudes Developed in K-12 are Critical to Building Future High-Tech Workforce

    Primary Grades should instill positive attitudes with curricula that include age appropriate project and team based learning. Children should be exposed to futures they will experience and be inspired by the possibilities. Pupils should be challenged, but not overwhelmed, and parents must be kept informed and involved.


    Best Practices for Successful Outcomes in a STEM Classroom

    The nationally recognized STEM curriculum known as Project Lead The Way (PLTW) has been adopted by the Red Bank Middle School, with full implementation of the program beginning in September 2010. Its success to date is due to many factors. Teachers facilitate inquiry and exploration by serving as “guides on the side,” not “sages on the stage.” STEM teachers must realize they don’t have to be the “expert” in the room at all times (which may be a difficult transition for some traditionalists). Additionally, teacher/facilitators often model the work, collaborating on projects with students, which impresses upon young learners that even when adults face the challenges of a given design project, the results may be imperfect.

    Design Process and the concept of iterative innovation must become hard-wired in our students. This holistic, systemic approach to problem-solving is exemplified in the “Skimmer” project, an updated, low-cost version of the “Pinewood Derby.” In this case, rather than using pine wood for construction, students use manila folders and recycled cereal boxes to craft their vehicles, while gaining an understanding of the Metric and Standard systems of measurement, AutoCAD, mechanics and aerodynamic flow, and the math of dimensioning.


    Rapport with local STEM experts is equally important, as they may serve as guest speakers on occasion, offering career insight, as well as valuable instructional resources. Student success is measured in a STEM classroom in a variety of ways: adherence to project timelines and specifications, assessment matrices (known as rubrics), a “projects completed” percentage, anecdotal observations, assessment reflections, self/team assessments, and traditional content knowledge tests, to name a few. Correlations to standardized test results may be inferred as well.


    Student Attitude Towards STEM Careers


    Students have overwhelmingly indicated an interest in pursuing STEM careers due to their positive experiences in Project Lead the Way. It is evident that students genuinely appreciate the “hard fun” nature of the challenges they face while working on classroom projects. 

    The Project Lead The Way (PLTW) curriculum spans grades 4-8 and includes two units of study which are divided up among the grade levels. The PLTW scope and sequence is as follows:

    • Design & Modeling – Grade 4

    • Design & Modeling  – Grade 5

    • Design & Modeling – Grade 6

    • Design & Modeling I & Automation & Robotics I – Grade 7

    • Design & Modeling II & Automation & Robotics II – Grade 8

    • Students in Grades 4-8 receive 1 marking period (46 days) of STEM instruction per year

    I.  Design & Modeling

    • Students will use solid modeling software (a sophisticated technique for representing solid objects) to effect the design process.

    • Students understand how design influences their lives, using this design process.  

    • Students learn sketching techniques and use descriptive geometry as a component of design, measurement, and computer modeling.

    • Students, in teams, brainstorm, research, develop ideas, create models, evaluate design ideas, and communicate solutions.

    • Students trace the history, development, and influence of automation and robotics.

    II. Automation & Robotics

    • Students trace the history, development, and influence of automation and robotics.

    • Students learn about mechanical systems, energy transfer, machine automation, and computer control systems.

    • Students acquire knowledge and skills through team problem solving, collaboration, and innovation.