stem electives

STEM Electives: What We Wish Educators Knew

Rebecca Gray Courses, Education, Homeschooling, Teachers, Tech

How Can Your School Think Outside The Box When It Comes to Taking Full Advantage of STEM Electives?

STEM learning has exploded to the forefront of education as the reality sets in that our nation’s workforce has a STEM gap.  There aren’t enough STEM graduates to fill the number of open positions that require a STEM degree.  In an increasingly digital economy, skills that weren’t in the spotlight a decade ago are now in high demand.  Even the U.S. Federal Government is pushing states to focus on STEM Education.

How can we kick our average science and math classes up a notch, without compromising the required state and national standards?  Spoiler Alert: The answer is electives.

The Pros and Cons of Standards in Education

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At Thimble, we appreciate the standards that create the framework for school curriculum across the country.  Standards promote consistency across the board.  They are designed to ensure every child in America is exposed to the same quality of education from Florida to Washington.  With that being said, standards can also be viewed as a necessary evil- and we say evil because from standards comes the ever-controversial standardized testing. 

So while we recognize the need for a comprehensive set of learning standards, we also know from conversations with hundreds of teachers nationwide, that standards can keep them locked into a scope and sequence that only serves standardized testing.  Standards can become stifling in STEM. (Say that five times fast!)  

Educators get stuck with a mandated curriculum that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for students to explore interests, get hands-on, or deepen their understanding of a specialized STEM skill or topic.

We know that the digital economy needs graduates with modern skills and interests that go beyond the basic math and science courses our kids are getting.  Let’s look at how electives can and should open doors for kids and employers alike.

Using Electives to Inspire and Excite STEM Students

Elementary focuses so much on the fundamentals as students learn basic math concepts, reading fluency and comprehension.  In some districts there are entire years where science and social studies are afterthoughts during the school day.  How is this possible?  Because in many states, those subjects aren’t formally tested by education departments until upper elementary.  Pennsylvania, for example, doesn’t administer a standardized measurement of science learning (PSSA) until 3rd grade.

So much time is spent trying to get every student to grade level proficiency in reading and math. With those priorities front and center, science and history are the first things on the chopping block when time runs short during the school day. What if we could bring science back into the daily learning schedule, and in a big way?  Thimble challenges administrators and teachers everywhere to ask themselves an even bigger “What if?”  Here it is:

What if We Offer STEM Electives to Elementary
and Middle School Students?

We know.  It sounds crazy.  But if truth be told, setting aside a dedicated time for an elective makes it harder to push it back, reschedule it, or cut it short.  So if we offer one STEM elective per year to elementary students, and one to two electives per year to middle school students, we can give them dedicated time to explore academic subjects that interest them.  We can broaden our curriculum, without really taking away from the core fundamentals necessary to keep students at grade level in math and language arts.  We can create a richer learning experience and change the trajectory of our student’s lives.

Imagine your elementary student taking an age appropriate robotics, graphic design, global warming theory, or engineering course.  Imagine your middle schooler being able to choose 3-D printing 101, genetic studies, or introductory coding in addition to their required science and math classes.

These students could gain exposure and experience in STEM subjects and specialties that they otherwise wouldn’t experience until high school.  This would give them the clarity to really hyper focus their elective choices when they DO get to high school and start formulating career plans.

Need Help With Elective Planning?  Make STEM Classes Easy for Instructors!

The idea of creating a curriculum for a STEM elective might feel overwhelming.  Planning lessons, sourcing materials, developing assessments and rubrics seems like a lot.  It doesn’t need to be difficult if you rely on experts who have done the leg work.  We’ve helped dozens of school districts offer STEM electives, clubs, and afterschool programming with ready-to-implement lessons for students in 5th – 12th grade. Let us help you bring a series of quality STEM electives to your school.

Help Us Bring Inspiring STEM Electives to Every School

Thimble is working to reach out to school districts across America to offer quality STEM programming, and encourage STEM elective courses in every school.  We’re also poised to create programming suitable for younger learners (K-4th).  To learn more about how our organization launches STEM experiences for thousands of students already – and to find out how you can help – visit our Republic Campaign Page.  Your confident investment can help us develop additional programming at the elementary level, and supercharge our outreach efforts to schools nationwide.