Does Elementary School STEM Career Day Make a Difference?
Stem Career Day at Manchester Elementary in Manchester, Maryland was a day that held excitement and anticipation. The idea was conceptualized in the early part of December. How do we find a variety of STEM Careers to show students the wave of the future? We surveyed parents about their jobs and their willingness to take a day off of work to share their careers', education, day-to-day requirements, and successes and failures within their lives. We received an eclectic response which included: Hazardous Waste Management, Financial Analyst, Global Production Executive, Software Licensing Manager and IT Program Manager and Nurse to name a few. With these parents willing to come in for the day, the schedule for third, fourth and fifth graders was created and set in place for a February Date.
In December we wanted to get an idea how the students felt about Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics before the day of the event. We sent a pre-survey to all 3rd, 4th and 5th grade teachers to be read aloud to the students, but completed with only the students' prior knowledge regarding STEM Careers. We also sent a post-survey immediately after the day was completed. In some cases the teacher gave the post-survey the same day as the day of the event.
Our Day was a high-light on the county's CETV Spotlight on Youth and there were positive comments from students, teachers and parents after the event.
Issues and Trends
The need for STEM careers in 2020 will increase from today's needs by approximately 50% (Department, 2015). Issues, Trends and Need for community involvement in schools is an issue for today's school agendas. There are numerous businesses, companies and associations in the areas surrounding schools that have an aspect of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in their day to day processes. But are the elementary schools benefiting from these community connections?
Early exposure to STEM careers does make a difference (Dejarnette, 2012). Many programs are provided at the middle school and high school level, but exposure at the elementary level is necessary to impact students' perceptions and dispositions. In middle school there is a direct link between perceptions and career interest. By exposing students at an early age their positive perceptions increase (Buldu, 2006). Studies continue to show an increase in positive perception to STEM careers when students are introduced and exposed to 21st century careers. When students in sixth grade are exposed to STEM Professionals a measurable improvement was recorded towards these types of jobs. Pre and post surveys showed a 10% positive increased to the question, "When I grow up I want to be an engineer." (Bouvier, 2001). Interest must increase in all students including students from groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM-students of color, women, and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds (National, 2011). The President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology assert that improving the interest and attitude toward these careers among young students is as important as increasing the overall level of academic proficiency and attitude in STEM academics. (PCAST, 2010).
The survey was designed to be anonymous. We emphasized to students we wanted their unbiased answers to the questions. The survey began with, "When I grow up I would like to be:" Students wrote down their top 5 choices. Pre-STEM Career Day 24% of students wrote down Careers. (STEM Careers tallied were any job that had correlations to engineering, computer science (technology), or additional science careers.) Post-surveys revealed that percentage was at 33%. As trends and issues would suggest we need to make sure there is particular interest in educating girls at the elementary level in a variety of STEM Careers. The pre-survey showed that 24% of girls and boys listed these Careers. Post-survey results differed from overall results showing that girls listing STEM Careers increased to 33%, boys increased to 39%.
"When I want to grow up …" Overall – 24% Girls – 24% Boys – 24%
Post-Survey Results: Overall – 33% Girls – 33% Boys – 39%
• All percentages have been round to the nearest whole percentage.
Students were also given a rating scale for questions that would determine how they felt about these Careers.
1. I think I could have a STEM Career.
2. I see how STEM careers effect the world today.
3. I think I could be successful in my STEM education.
4. I see how technology is used in STEM careers and I think, "I could do that!"
5. I think I would like to be a Scientist / Engineer when I grow up.
6. I think I could create something important for the world.
The results of two of these question show an interesting result. Although only 24% of girls chose Disagree or Strongly Disagree to having a STEM Career, 49% chose Disagree or Strongly Disagree to becoming a Scientist or Engineer. The boys had a different result. Only 15% chose Disagree or Strongly Disagree to having a STEM Career, but a much larger portion, 52% chose Disagree or Strongly Disagree to becoming a Scientist or an Engineer. This may be due to specific choices for STEM Careers in technology fields exclusive of science or engineering. Part of the education we should be sharing in the classroom is how much technology there is in both science and engineering. Diversifying these careers so that students see the "big picture" in science and engineering is a next step in our educational process.
What can be done at Manchester Elementary School to increase STEM Career awareness? We will continue to provide a STEM Career Day for our school. Next year we will prepare to take on the entire school. The initial planning is to include primary classes with a half-day event with the theme being a "hands-on" day. Intermediate students would have the discussion groups delivered last year, but also include an additional hands-on aspect to the day. When the teachers were surveyed regarding STEM Career Connections they made with their curriculum lessons many teachers limited the number of careers discussed that very closely aligned to the lesson they were teaching. Ex. Teaching Weather – Career Connection, Meteorologist. When in truth teachers could explore Climatologist, Environmentalist, Hydrologist, Information Technology, and Electronic Maintenance. As teachers it is our job not only to teach the lesson, but provide real world connections. Real world connections lead us directly to the world around us and the careers that will be available to the graduates in the 21st century.
Buldu, M. (2006). Young children's perceptions of scientists: A preliminary study Educational Research, v48 n1, 121-132.
DeJarnette, N. (2012). America's children: Providing early exposure to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiatives. Education, 133 (1), 77-84.
Department of Education. (2015). Science, technology, engineering and math: education for global leadership. US Department of Education. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/STEM%20%20 .
Hawkins, D. (2015, October 15). Biases and stereotypes at school sideline girls in stem. NEA Today, 60-61.
National Research Council. (2011). Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Board on Science Education and Board on Testing and Assessment, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
PCAST, President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. (2010). Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America's Future. Washington, DC: Executive Office of the President.