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Why is STEM Education Important?

 

An education in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields doesn't only prepare an individual for a career in STEM. It prepares them for life in the 21st century. Curiosity, creativity, tolerance of ambiguity, resilience and the ability to work effectively with people who have different perspectives are vital life skills. These are the same skills that are fostered by STEM education(1) and that have the power to shape a community and prepare an individual for a career in the science fields.

However, as a nation, the US is not effectively presenting the STEM fields in a way that encourages an engagement with, and pursuit of, STEM. In fact, by the time US students reach 12th grade, only 26% are proficient or higher in math, and only 21% are proficient or higher in science.(2) This lack of preparedness in science and math extends beyond the classroom. According to economic projections, over the next decade the US could need as many as 1 million more STEM professionals than the educational system is currently producing.(3) 

The struggles with STEM education are manifesting on a local level as well. Lucas County has fantastic educators, parents and students, and it is improving on the educational front, but it still has room to grow in order to prepare students for a work environment that is growing fastest in the STEM fields.(4) According to the State of Ohio’s Department of Education, 75% or more of students need to be proficient or higher in order for a school to "meet" a performance indicator. In 2013, of the 8th grade students in the eight public school districts within Lucas County, an average of only 73.2% were proficient or higher in mathematics and only 63.8% were proficient or higher in science.(5) These numbers are particularly troubling because engaging students in math and science early is critical to their long term success in STEM.(6) However, these struggles are not insurmountable.

How Imagination Station Serves Our Community

While there are many resources for STEM education within the Toledo region, Imagination Station fills a vital need that is not met anywhere else within the Toledo area. With an 80,000 square foot exhibit space and hundreds of exhibits, educational programming and activities, the science center provides interactive opportunities on a large scale that allows visitors to engage with STEM concepts on a visceral level that is simply not possible in the classroom, at home or online.

In fact, the science center's form of informal science education can have a strong impact on STEM education throughout the community. Learners who engage in STEM education through "active learning," like the interactive opportunities offered at Imagination Station, are able to better retain information and improve their critical thinking skills.(7) Furthermore, students who are exposed to real-world STEM experiences that are not possible within the classroom are more likely to have significant, long-term increases in their achievement and attitudes towards the sciences.(8) 

(1) The Committee on STEM education. May 2013. Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education 5-Year Strategic Plan pg 27.

(2 )U.S. Department of Commerce. January, 2012. The Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity of the United States: 4-12.

(3) The Committee on STEM education. May 2013. Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education 5-Year Strategic Plan: p. 10.

(4) U.S. Department of Commerce. January, 2012. The Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity of the United States: 4-3

(5) State of Ohio Department of Education. 2012-2013 Report Card.

(6) Robert H. Tai, Christine Qi Liu, Adam V. Maltese, Xitao Fan. May 2006. “Planning Early for Careers in Science.” Science Vol. 312: p. 1143 – 1144.

(7) Committee on Learning Science in Informal Environments. 2009. Learning Science in Informal Environments: p. 58 (8)The Committee on STEM education. May 2013. Federal Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education 5-Year Strategic Plan: p. 22.