November 8th is National STEM/STEAM Day. According to its organizers, science, technology, engineering, art, and math are more important now than ever. Why? Because STEAM is all around us — shaping our world and our everyday experiences in it. And there are even more compelling reasons to raise awareness about STEAM’s importance.
STEAM and the Future of Work
Did you know nearly half of the 10 fastest growing occupations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor are in STEAM fields? But schools aren’t equitably preparing all graduates for these jobs of the future. Young people from low-income families and young people of color face the biggest gaps in opportunities to prepare for the future of work. Facts like these are just a few of the many shared in XQ’s “High School and the Future of Work” Guide.
STEAM education provides an interdisciplinary learning model where students are able to apply content knowledge as well as key skills. Kids who receive high-quality STEAM education will be better prepared to face real-life problems with more creativity, critical thinking, and effectiveness.
Because National STEAM Day is an effort to encourage young people to explore and identify their interests and passions for STEAM, we thought we’d celebrate this day by sharing some examples from XQ Super Schools that are doing just that.
Crosstown High is located in Crosstown Concourse, a 1.5 million square-foot iconic local landmark that’s been redeveloped as a home to arts organizations, health care providers, a YMCA, restaurants, a credit union, a pharmacy, higher education institutions, foundations, and nonprofits. Through projects and daily interactions with Concourse partners, Crosstown students will make connections between academics and their own lives — all while contributing to the revitalization of Memphis.
Through an integrated project-based science and math class, students at Crosstown are investigating the following question: “Should we go to Mars and should we change it?” Throughout this project, students will investigate the human disruption of the Earth’s ecosystem and determine the viability of living on Mars and the ethical dilemma of using space to sustain life on earth. The project will require students to plan for space exploration using math and science concepts. For their final product, students will present their solution to an audience of NASA researchers, business leaders, and the general public.
New Harmony High
At New Harmony High, students are not passive bystanders to the environmental challenges facing the Gulf Coast and the world — they are active researchers, advocates, and problem-solvers. New Harmony offers a flexible learning environment that maximizes the time students spend on lab work and hands-on experiences.
Working side-by-side with researchers, scientists, engineers, and architects along the Mississippi River Delta, students investigate problems such as coastal erosion, land loss, sea level rise, community displacement, and ecosystem damage. These weekly “Leaving to Learn” experiences engage students in addressing the most urgent challenges facing the region while simultaneously creating a workforce equipped to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
Washington Leadership Academy (WLA)
At Washington Leadership Academy in Washington, D.C., all students take four years of computer science, which equips them with skills in coding, web development, information technology, operating systems, and even virtual reality. Students also take enrichment courses that integrate STEM content in their state-of-the-art maker space.
Washington Leadership Academy set records in multiple categories for access to AP Computer Science. Students get access to computer science much sooner than students at most other schools. The 93 Washington Leadership Academy students who took last year’s AP Computer Science exam were all 10th-grade students, while the majority of participants in schools city-wide were 11th and 12th graders. Washington Leadership Academy is also breaking gender barriers. Forty-nine girls took the exam, compared to 37 girls in all schools city-wide. Washington Leadership Academy is also significantly improving access to computer science for students of color.
At PSI High, powerful learning occurs through meaningful community-based problem solving, with students, businesses, or the community coming up with problems that need solutions. This year, PSI High students are working with NASA as part of their design and engineering projects.
In the Blueprint to Blastoff project, students solve a real-world engineering challenge of designing and launching rockets to be more environmentally friendly. After exploring the Kennedy Space Center, collecting data, and building rovers, the students will present their ideas and sketches for “green” rocket designs to Lockheed Martin engineers for feedback and evaluation.
Purdue Polytechnic High School
Purdue Polytechnic High School was created in partnership with Purdue University explicitly to develop a new generation of skilled talent — graduates prepared for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future.
Learning is industry-focused and experiential, with a strong STEAM emphasis. Students learn problem-solving and critical thinking through real-world design challenges with industry partners. This is a really unique and compelling design thinking approach to workforce development.
With creative reuse and entrepreneur development as a goal, the Union-Endicott School District converted an unused elementary school into a school building that could “incubate” start-up businesses by giving them space. The idea was simple: offer local entrepreneurs free rent and utilities and in exchange for integrating their work into the school day so students can experience applied, hands-on learning — often in STEAM disciplines.
STEAM Day is just a start.
Efforts like National STEAM Day are a fun way to raise awareness, but they’re not enough. We have to keep asking important questions. How do we increase and support the participation of underrepresented groups in STEAM fields? How can we create and support a strong pipeline of STEAM teachers, particularly among underrepresented groups? What do graduates need in order to tackle the biggest social, environmental, and political challenges they will face? How can STEAM learning help prepare them for those challenges?
At XQ, we believe that to prepare the workforce of the future, we need high schools that prepare students for the future of work. We hope you’ll join the ReThink High School movement to do just that.