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Low national math scores highlight the need for STEM learning in schools

Posted at 12:00 PM, Feb 05, 2024

Government data shows about a quarter of the U.S. workforce is employed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers.

Here's a potential problem for those students who want to get into these fields – the results of thelatest PISA(Program for International Student Assessment) exam, which show more than one-third of American 15-year-olds are low performers in math.

"One piece of that is making sure that students are getting access to STEM coursework. We know that students who get, you know, four or five opportunities to access advanced coursework in the STEM fields are way, way more likely to go into the field," said Shannah Varon, Executive Director of Teach For America Massachusetts.

Varon says schools can also promote internship opportunities in STEM fields, something computer science teacher, Yanepsi Alvarado does. Her goal has been to make STEM learning more accessible.

"One size doesn't fit all. Like being intentional about differentiating the work for our students to make a course accessible."

Alvarado has connected with tech companies like Microsoft, that offer hands-on support with computer science programs in high schools. She also helped start a club at her Boston school called "Girls Who Code."

"I was really intentional about reminding them that it's about us becoming inclusive because of the lack of representation of females and also diverse students within the field of technology. And so our club grew."

Eleventh grader Yousra Ali says her teacher's enthusiasm has made a difference.

"I really love science, but I'm not the best at math. So, using the things I learned in science really helped become a better coder," Ali said.

"I would say it's a growing field and if you have a chance, you should jump in."

Teach for America is hoping schools use federal funds available through the American Rescue Plan to support STEM learning whether that's with instructional materials or tutoring, so students get exposed to these careers early on.

"We have to find a way to get them the knowledge and the skills and the mindset, the ability to see themselves in the future," said Varon.