Educating our young people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) is essential these days. Our world is a complex place. To engage fully in society and take advantage of human innovation and technology one must have education and experience in STEM. Many careers require this training, yet also participating in society as a human being, whether it is appreciating nature and natural phenomena, making good health and home decisions, or choosing political candidates based on their views, requires this education. STEM is a frame of reference, a perspective, a way of knowing.
STEM Education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning that removes the traditional barriers separating the four disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and integrates them into real-world, rigorous and relevant learning experiences for students (Vasquez, Sneider & Comer, STEM Lesson Essentials, 2013).
Some are concerned about where the next generation of discoveries in science, and innovations in technology, will come from. Will the US continue its leadership in pursing world problems and engineering solutions? If Americans are to lead in the future we will need to educate our students today—using best practices and even groundbreaking methods—especially in STEM. How are we educating today’s young people and what educational innovations might lead to a greater number of students engaging with STEM and pursuing careers in these fields? An informed and critically thinking citizenry is at stake as well as a healthy US economy in a globally competitive marketplace.
We need new ideas – we need innovation. We need to appeal to young people, to interest and educate them in different ways than we’ve done in the past. Our formal education systems are in the midst of challenges and changes. Informal education organizations play an important role, too.
One goal of this IPRO project is to design and produce STEM education kits or activities that are both compelling and meaningful, using the library and perhaps The 606 urban green space as the “classroom.” The kits should inspire middle-school students to want to engage with, and learn about STEM while they are involved with YOUmedia, an informal education program within The Chicago Public Library system (refer to http://www.chipublib.org/programs-and-partnerships/youmedia/). A second IPRO team goal is to learn about the problem described above by observing it, researching it, discussing it and attempting to create possible (albeit small) solutions.
A research phase will include site visits and interviews, in addition to literature and media searches. Ideas will be developed and tested, with the ultimate goal to create STEM kits/activities (at minimum, prototypes) for young people to use. The students need to access Chicago Public Library users, staff and facilities and The 606 trail. Easily accessible technology tools will be needed for success.