Pennsylvania has always stood out for its rich history. It produced five of the founding fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence and was the second state to ratify the United States Constitution. Philadelphia also served as our nation’s capital until 1800. As an industrial state Pennsylvania played a pivotal role during the Civil War, playing host to the deciding battle at Gettysburg, while keeping its railroads and waterways open to provide a steady supply of food, iron, steel, and the ironclad ship to ensure a Union victory.
In recent years Pennsylvania has emerged from the shadow of its rich contributions to America’s past to become one of the country’s foremost states to lead in the fields of technology, education, medicine and science. Decades ago Pennsylvania recognized the importance of these fields as a key to continued growth and prosperity for generations to come. As a result, the Pennsylvania Department of Education initiated a strong response in its focus on STEM education.
What Is STEM?
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, all subjects in which US children were lagging behind compared to other developed nations. In the early 2000s when American education was being assessed due to the No Child Left Behind initiative, it was recognized that children were not being trained adequately for the jobs of the future. The attention on reading and writing had to be accompanied by a renewed focus on mathematics and science if our children were to become successful adults navigating an unknown technological landscape, and the American economy was to maintain a competitive advantage in the world arena.
Pennsylvania recognized the importance of STEM education early on and has emerged as a leader in the field. The state took a top down approach knowing that the best way to successfully educate students in math, science, and computer technology, was to educate teachers to become cutting edge STEM experts. Pennsylvania initiated fellowships throughout its university system to attract the best and the brightest teachers in the state to pursue a masters program in a STEM related field. Qualifying teachers who successfully completed the fellowship program were then put into low socioeconomic underserved schools. The results have been dramatic with these well trained professionals reaching primary students by creating fun, exploratory, hands-on classes, and secondary teachers designing STEM curriculum that is rigorous, meaningful, and resulting in increased interest in the math and science fields. Students who pursue multiple STEM classes with rigorous content in secondary school have been far better equipped to face the increased demands required of a post secondary education.
Pennsylvania has gone further to ensure their students’ success at the university level by offering quality preparatory courses for entrance exams as well as pre-college preparatory courses for high school juniors and seniors. These STEM focused courses have done well to increase student interest in math, science, and technology, and encourage them to choose a STEM related major at the university level.
Staying the Course
Of course pursuing a diploma in a math or science related field can be overwhelming to students working hard to achieve their degrees causing many to drop out or switch to another major. To ensure student success and retention at the college level, Pennsylvania has initiated numerous tutoring and coaching programs throughout its university system. These tutoring programs center on the STEM subjects and are helping students to succeed, encouraging the continuation of their intended course of study instead of switching majors. The emergence of online instruction, with video courses created for math topics in calculus and statistics (like this one for Stat 414 PSU), or science topics in physics, engineering, and computer programming, has become increasingly popular as a way for students to enhance or review what they have learned in the physical classroom. Online instruction has also helped students who have missed classes to stay on top of their studies.
The Future is Bright
Pennsylvania has made STEM education a number one priority for the future success of its students. The government has recognized the importance of math, science, and technology as stepping stones to the jobs of tomorrow, and has poured millions of dollars into its STEM education programs for its primary through college level students. The continuity of a leadership that has been in place since 2015, with a clear focus on excellence in STEM education, has done much to ensure continued economic growth and prosperity for the Keystone State. Pennsylvania has shown it is leading the STEM revolution.
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