Today, New York will decide whether the state should invest $2 billion into STEAM under the New York Bonds for School Technology Act.
STEAM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. For years, STEAM has been a nebulous word that people cite at school board meetings and PTA gatherings. However, there is a tangible real world application to this concept and many educators believe investing in and promoting STEAM will spark a new era in learning.
The United States ranks an abysmal 52nd in the world in math and science education, trailing Slovakia and Vietnam, according to a report by the World Economic Forum. There are more foreign students studying in America's graduate schools than Americans, so many American students lack the desire to pursue these high-level fields. While our nation invests billions into public infrastructure projects designed to maintain our roads and bridges, we ignore the most important project - intellectual capital.
America is the land of creativity. We invented the car, plane and put a man on the moon, but over the years, we have become complacent. It is no wonder why our children have little to no interest in science and mathematics. The main reason for this lack of enthusiasm is the way in which we introduce the subjects. Our country has solely focused on teaching to the book and has forgotten how creativity can be introduced in the classroom. The STEAM concept has a simple goal; teach children critical subjects in an interactive setting, playing on their strengths, and it will spark their interest and enhance skills that will last a lifetime.
To bring this nebulous acronym to life here are some real world applications of the STEAM initiative that school districts across the country are implementing.
Science: On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in North Dakota students are learning about photosynthesis and plant regeneration by participating in an active greenhouse on campus, supported by Toyota. In a Denville, New Jersey middle school students are developing prototypes using 3D printers in their new STEAM Lab.
Technology: High school students in Brooklyn's under-privileged Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant communities are preparing for the new global economy by using iPads to code and designing and building their own robots.
Engineering: In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, thirteen-year-old junior high students used Google Earth to develop the architectural blueprints for the Green Bay Packers Lambeau Field. The students then reconstructed the famed NFL stadium out of Legos as part of a STEAM competition.
Arts: For years, the Bay Shore School District's music program has received national acclaim for their use of technology in promoting music starting in elementary school. Honored as a signature school by the Grammy Foundation, students use computers to compose music and then listen to their creation come to life.
Mathematics: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting developed the Math by Design interactive online program. This platform puts the student at the helm of an architectural firm whose charge is to design a town. Along the way there are math problems that students must solve in order to properly construct bridges and buildings.
The New York Times reports there will be more than 2.4 million job openings in the STEAM field in next four years. Unfortunately, due to the educational structure of teaching to the test, 90 percent of students have no interest in pursuing those fields. This STEAM bond act will bring the real world application to the student and likely create a new passion within that student to develop a career path. The net result will equip them to become active participants and innovators in the world.
The largest impediment to the STEAM initiative has always been winning over the public. The concept makes sense and gains some acknowledgement from politicians, but it has yet to get the serious attention that it deserves. If the average person were asked about STEAM they would tell you it was some new train the LIRR was rolling out. Fortunately, New Yorkers have the opportunity to refocus the state's educational system and to stop our downward slide.
The Bond Act to be voted on today will assist schools with the purchase of equipment necessary to bring STEAM to life for the student. The Act provides the funds to buy the computers needed to draw the schematics and then the equipment used to build a bridge instead of looking at a picture of one in a book; to purchase the software to compose a symphony instead of just writing notes on a scale; to obtain that mobile laboratory for the inner city school that does not have the funds to teach hands on chemistry or biology -- an approach which has proven to increase science scores.
Governor Cuomo and state legislators should be commended for bringing this initiative to the voters, however, funding alone will not solve the STEAM deficit within our education system. Without more public education about STEAM and its importance in the development and success of our youth we will continue to drop in the world rankings below the likes of Vietnam and Bulgaria.
It's vital that New Yorker's not let the chance to expand our children's horizons and secure our country's future slip by. The New York Bonds for School Technology Act is a creative first step and deserves the voter's attention.