Encouraging Science and Technology Education at the Community Level –Beyond Lego League

According to the Alliance for Science & Technology Research in America (ASTRA), interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Education is declining, and ASTRA feel students are not adequately prepared to succeed in college-level coursework in these areas.

The ACT Educational Planning & Assessment System (ACT EPAS), found that “the students most likely to major in STEM fields in college (and persist to earn their degrees) are those who develop interest in STEM careers through early career planning and take challenging classes that prepare them for college-level science and math coursework.”

But ASTRA notes:

* Over the past ten years, the percentage of ACT-tested students who said they were interested in majoring in engineering has dropped steadily from 7.6 percent to 4.9 percent.
* Over the past five years, the percentage of ACT-tested students who said they were interested in majoring in computer and information science has dropped steadily from 4.5 percent to 2.9 percent.

In Florida, in 2007, less than 30% of 8th graders tested at or above proficiency in math; average ACT math and science scores were below the national average; and less than 40% of high school graduates were prepared for college level algebra.

This, despite the fact that of the 30 fastest-growing occupations projected through 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, more than half will require substantial Mathematics or Science preparation.

And yet there are few outlets to support or encourage an interest in science, math and technology in area high schools or in our communities. In Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties, with nearly 100,000 high school students between them, there are two magnet technology programs: in Hillsborough, at Hillsborough and Middleton High Schools and an exemplary robotics program at East Lake High School in Palm Harbor. That’s it.

There are no local robotics clubs, no affordable higher level computer and science classes or groups outside of public schools, no accessible technology programs or activities for high schoolers in our community. And without exposure or access to these programs, without community level resources supporting science, math and technology making it cool and exciting, it’s difficult to generate interest and enthusiasm in the youth who would most benefit.

Raising a scientifically and technologically literate generation should be of utmost importance in our society at all levels. Our future and that of our children depends on it.

And then, perhaps, as FIRST founder Dean Kamen hopes, we can “transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology heroes.”

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