To the Editor:
We are encouraged that so many recipients of federal funding through the Race to the Top competition have included science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, initiatives in their plans (“STEM Plans Embedded in Winning Proposals for the Race to the Top,” Sept. 15, 2010). The members of the National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science, and Technology recognize that an education deeply anchored in STEM coursework has impact well beyond the classroom.
Our organization has helped develop a variety of innovative STEM programs and practices, and, while we are supportive of the Race to the Top recipients, all stakeholders must be mindful of several important considerations.
First, creating meaningful STEM opportunities for adolescents rests on the efficacy of STEM experiences in childhood. Thus, elementary and middle school teachers must have an improved grounding in these subject areas. We recommend that all stakeholders include in their planning ways to enhance the experiences and understanding of new and veteran teachers in STEM fields.
Second, stakeholders must create ways for teachers and students to do STEM. Authentic experiences in which learners ask their own questions and pursue their own answers have deeper impact than generic experiences, inside the classroom or out.
Third, we believe fully that STEM habits of mind enhance a truly interdisciplinary education. While an understanding of STEM subject matter is foundational, and integral to ensuring the continuity of the STEM pipeline, we encourage educators to explore ways in which STEM is deeply connected to all academic disciplines.
STEM education, we believe, develops the habits of mind our society values—problem-solving, critical thinking, creative and divergent thinking—and we encourage the Race to the Top recipients to recognize its power as part of the larger challenge of systemic education reform.
Bringing the United States back to a leadership position in education, research, and development depends on our joint efforts to develop and nurture future leaders in the STEM fields.
Karen Pikula, Janet Hugo, Ron Laugen, Cheryl Lindeman, Dennis Lundgren, Martin Shapiro, and Jerald Thomas
Karen Pikula is the current president of the National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science, and Technology. The remaining signers of this letter are former presidents of the consortium (www.ncsssmst.org).
A version of this article appeared in the September 22, 2010 edition of Education Week as STEM ‘Habits of Mind': Vital to Reform, Nation