Success isn’t just about what you know. It’s about what you can do with what you know. It's important to give young people a chance to problem-solve, observe, dissect, and make sense of information. We can help them develop these skills by exposing them to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education at an early age.
The US is ranked in the middle of the pack for STEM education, and the current administration has made it a priority for American schools to improve on this in the next decade. The task is to develop and recruit 100,000 STEM teachers and graduate an additional 1 million STEM students so that we can better compete in fields from biotech and climate change to technology.
It’s high time: in Washington State alone, by 2017, it’s projected that 45,000 STEM jobs will go unfilled.
In 2014, the US Census Bureau reported that 74 percent of those who have a bachelor's degree in a STEM major are not employed in STEM occupations.
That’s where Concur, the Bellevue Schools Foundation (BSF), and the Bellevue School District (BSD) come in. We believe that students need and deserve a foundation in STEM to thrive in the 21st century. We also believe that this foundation is best laid in their early years.
As such, we’re donating $150,000 over a three-year period to teach STEM subjects across all 17 BSD elementary schools. The funds are being used for STEM curriculum development, STEM professional development for teachers (both training sessions and in-class coaching), and support for classroom teacher-led after-school STEM enrichment, provided at no cost for students.
The Bellevue STEM initiative includes a new engineering curriculum, computer science, free after-school STEM enrichment, and extensive professional development for P–5 classroom teachers in the BSD. Four Title 1 schools are included in the group. (Title 1 schools have high concentrations of low-income families.) The initiative started as a pilot program in three schools in the 2013-2014 school year. The following year, it spread to 10 elementary schools, and then in 2015-2016, it spread to all 17 elementary schools.
Students are receiving instruction in the engineering design process, and the program includes engineering design challenges that complement their science curriculum. Some additional pilot work is also being done in middle school. As an example, to complement the third-grade science unit on the human body, students are challenged to design and build a knee brace. Students learn to make claims and reason based on evidence. These critical-thinking skills are extended into non-STEM instruction as well—specifically, language arts and social studies.
While the overall evaluation of the initiative will be conducted after the five-year program is complete in 2018, it’s already clear that the program is having a significant impact. Parents, administrators, and teachers are already noticing the profound benefits of this initiative. One third-grade teacher said of STEM, “My students are systematically, holistically approaching a variety of problems throughout the day… and they successfully overcome challenges with little guidance from me.”
Concur is proud to partner with BSF and BSD to give local youth the opportunity to embrace STEM. We look forward to sharing the outcomes of this program at the conclusion of the STEM initiative.