On Thursday, Superintendent Winfred Roberson laid out a bold view of the future. The mission of DJUSD “is that we would be a leading center of educational innovation.” It is a bold vision, but for the first time in some time, there is a sense of a vision for the future of education that is not the same as we have had it.
We have seen the work that small groups of students have done in the fields of agriculture and robotics and, as Winfred Roberson put it, “we already have great offerings, but we can do more.”
“We want to integrate STEAM thinking into the school curriculum,” he continued. “We want to increase student interest in participation in the STEAM courses. We want to design and expand C-STEAM pathways in the DJUSD. We want to build a C-STEAM community support network for our students as well as our teachers. At the same time, we want to seek STEAM related intern opportunities for our students.”
Whether it is STEAM or STEM and whether STEAM integrates arts or agricultural technology (a more localized feature), it may well be the future of education.
As one publication puts it, “The future of the US economy rests on its ability to be a leader in the innovation that will be essential in creating the new industries and jobs that will be the heart of our new economy.”
Another writes, “STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications.”
They continue, “Though the United States has historically been a leader in these fields, fewer students have been focusing on these topics recently.”
They later write, “What separates STEM from the traditional science and math education is the blended learning environment and showing students how the scientific method can be applied to everyday life. It teaches students computational thinking and focuses on the real world applications of problem solving.”
According to the U.S. Department of Education, “only 16 percent of high school students are interested in a STEM career and have proven a proficiency in mathematics. Currently, nearly 28 percent of high school freshmen declare an interest in a STEM-related field, a department website says, but 57 percent of these students will lose interest by the time they graduate from high school.”
As the STEAM website suggests, the educational system in the US is not so much broken as it “is totally outdated.”
They write, “The US education system does what it was designed to do – the problem is that it was formed over 100 years ago in a different time – for a different need – in a different world economy – to satisfy a different life style – using the then available technology.” They add, “The US education system has not changed significantly in over 100 years but the world has.”
If you are like me, it is easy to get excited about new ways of integrating multiple disciplines into a single approach. And the superintendent is correct, there is no reason DJUSD and Davis High cannot become leading center of innovation.
He is putting together a team of experts to be on his advisory team, and it so happens that some of the leaders in the field happen to be at UC Davis. Bringing in the expertise from UC Davis gives a school like Davis a huge step up in creating a world class program.
For too long, whether it has been due to lack of funding and the need to shore up emergency funds to keep existing programs, it has seemed that, while Davis was a good school district, it was sitting back on its laurels.
That said, there is a puzzle that has me confused. The push for STEM seems at odds with the simultaneous push to reform the GATE program. There is a push to reform GATE in a way to make it more focused on those students who are under-achieving but extremely intelligent. However, my inquiries about the need to provide resources to high-achieving students have not yielded a lot of discussion.
There is certainly no reason that high-achieving students need to be in GATE or AIM, but part of the appeal of GATE/AIM, as it currently is, is its accelerated math program. A long time ago, when I was in elementary school, we had in San Luis Obispo an alternative elementary program which prepared sixth graders to begin algebra by the start of seventh grade and take calculus in 11th Grade.
That kind of program currently exists where high school students who are in AIM can take calculus in 11th and 12th Grade. I have been told, but have not seen the studies, that one of the keys to a successful STEAM education is that college requires an advanced math course during high school.
Regardless of this more technical point, it would seem odd that the school district pushes some special programs but not others. We see the district pushing the envelope with programs like Montessori, Dual Immersion, and now STEM/STEAM, while at the same time it seems to be pushing back on GATE/AIM.
I understand that many believe that we have simply over-identified kids entering the GATE/AIM program. I understand concerns about private testing and concerns about the TONI.
On the other hand, if we wish for AIM to simply be about under-achieving kids or those who struggle socially in the mainstream classroom, we ought to look into providing a place for the high-achieving kids to be able to excel and accelerate according to their ability and skills.
I don’t have answers here and I don’t have an ultimate position on GATE/AIM. But I will say that if we wish to push STEM/STEAM, and I think we should, then we need to look at the best way to prepare students to succeed in STEM/STEAM programs.
This is, in fact, the future. According to a report by the website STEMconnector.org, by 2018, projections estimate the need for 8.65 million workers in STEM-related jobs.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that, by 2018, the bulk of STEM careers will be:
- Computing – 71 percent
- Traditional Engineering – 16 percent
- Physical sciences – 7 percent
- Life sciences – 4 percent
- Mathematics – 2 percent
It seems to me that if STEM/STEAM is the future of education, we need to go all in. And if we are creating a STEAM center at the high school, then we need to start thinking about the best ways to prepare elementary school kids to succeed.
—David M. Greenwald reporting