Feb 14, 2012

ASQ Influential Voices - Attracting to kids to STEM - an Australian Parent ASQ Voice speaks

Intriguing comments from @ASQ Paul Borawski - on an ASQ study revealing teenagers turning from STEM - Science Technology Engineering & Math (or "Maths" as we say in downunder Australia).

In particular that many students fear Maths. Is it teaching style or student preferences or a bit of both ? So what can be the causes behind all this ?

Teaching styles, Technology related disasters giving STEM bad press, Globalization - Offshoring - Downsizing - Limited Career opportunities previously innovative arenas, eg Manufacturing ? Perceived high costs of study versus likely insufficiently attractive salary levels ? I guess that the list could be endless ?

My own teen is keen to pursue a career in Engineering - but like Aimee Siegler in her blog posting I have felt the frustration. At a school in her earlier years there was no real push into learning Maths times tables, so students didn't try to learn them.

A subsequent change of schools, where there were different expectations, meant that she had learned them all within 2 weeks. We squeezed every practice minute we could  -  even practice in the car daily, driving to and from school etc. Just consider the time saved in future maths exams if you can do times tables mentally ? Immediately your test scores must increase.

A few years later and my Teen's then High School Maths teacher, (a brilliant mathematician) was infamous for her "death by powerpoint" classroom lessons. Unfortunately the teacher failed to show many key steps from one powerpoint slide to the next, to enable students to grasp the logic. A change of teacher who returned to the blackboard (aka chalkboard in the USA ?) teaching technology - showing the logic, in smaller stages, enormously facilitated students' understanding.

In Australia we do have many programs & activities for kids promoting STEM. Here's some that I or my daughter have participated in :
  • QUESTACON, a hands-on science facility for kids in our national capital Canberra
  • The UOW Science Centre at my local University - smaller scale than QUESTACON
  • UOW's Community Engagement Program which includes the UOW Science Fair sponsored by BHP Billiton's Illawarra Coal & other competitions for High School Students
  • UOW's Women in Engineering Summer Summit - "So You Think You Can Engineer" to attract Girls into Engineering Summer School - sponsored by Industry & Government corporations - I was a speaker at the first school back in 1993
  • Institution of Engineers of Australia's Autumn Engineering School (nb - in Oz we call "Fall"  "Autumn") Engineering Vacation School sponsored by Abigroup
  • Uni of Newcastle's National Science and Engineering Challenge for High School Students - also sponsored by Abigroup
  • Careers Fairs & Workplace visits which include STEM focus areas
  • NSW Minerals Council "Careers in Mining" Dinners for interested students and parents - (my Teen insisted this morning that I attend the next one with her on Feb 29 2012 !) 
  • on the "downside" I recall the threat to cull the School of Physics at the local uni when I was on the governing Council - we voted to retain it, but managed with an Engineering Phyics flavour. Although "The Big Bang Theory" is reportedly one factor in growing physics enrolments ?
  • High School Student Work Experience programs
  • Cadetship and Graduate programs aka Internships
Of course, it's also important for students to be trained in other focus areas such as teams, management, leadership, international studies in our increasingly globalized world, and unlike Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory", to adopt an inclusive style, ie not "my brain is bigger than your brain". Otherwise we'll be consigning them to only backroom roles.

There actually seems to be a plethora of information out there for students to explore possible STEM careers. Currently my teen is logging all these STEM Career activities into her diary, to make sure she doesn't miss any key activities in her busy final year at high school.

So, what I've learned is that it is important to get information out to the kids via a range of Channels - from the Careers Advisory Teachers, Websites including Facebook, Professional Association's newsletters, to "Role Models" participating in Careers Day Fairs which feature real Techo's and their stories, not just the Human Resources folks.