The employment forecasts from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal the majority of future jobs will be primarily in integrated fields like computer science, materials science, energy engineering, and biomedical engineering. The number of jobs in classical STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathmatics) fields, such as mathematics, chemistry, biology, and physics, are expected to be minute in comparison—yet, this is the nature of current STEM curriculum. An in-depth assessment of “STEM-integrated” careers reveals needs substantially different from the current K–12 curriculum. Changing STEM curriculum and instruction to align with the needs of business and industry will require a major shift in K–12 education.
The disconnect between the nature of STEM taught and STEM implemented in business and industry suggests STEM education needs adjustments. The misalignment between the traditional STEM K–12 curriculum and the integrated STEM curriculum in business and industry motivated us to form the collaboration that led to the creation and support of the i-STEM (Idaho-Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) project. i-STEM focuses on providing teachers with integrated STEM education professional development to increase their contribution to the STEM workforce pipeline.
Anne L. Seifert
Education and business/industry typically have very different goals and as a rule have been separated in action and motivation. Education goals typically are based on the desire to increase learners’ awareness, knowledge, understanding, and abilities. On the other hand, the goals of business may focus on developing and marketing products, and gaining or maintaining market share. Businesses are motivated to employ people who can maximize outcomes, support creative and unique approaches to product development, and optimize profitability. This divide poses a significant challenge to working collaboratively.
One of i-STEM’s greatest challenges has been identifying a means to address and bridge the different paradigms of education and business. We often encounter educators who view their primary mission as increasing student knowledge. Our research indicates educators may have limited knowledge of the connections between content and context, limiting their efforts to find examples in business and industry. Business and industry are perceived as wanting education to be more responsive and engaged in a culture of change. A common view held in business is that education may not reliably respond to their needs, so companies pursue other solutions for workforce development.
Through i-STEM, we have created and grown productive, innovative, and exciting collaborations between education and business partners based on an awareness of the joint responsibility for STEM workforce development. We promote the shared responsibility of businesses to communicate expectations of workforce and employees’ skills, while educators strive to assure the curriculum is relevant to those needs, talents, and the conditions of the 21st-century workforce.
i-STEM project partners collaborate to offer professional development to enhance educators’ capacity to engage in STEM workforce preparation to ready our youth for the integrated STEM careers of the future. Our partnership reflects education’s responsibility in workforce development and brings understanding to the underlying drivers for preparing students for integrated STEM careers, modeling necessary changes to traditional teaching approaches to align with 21st-century skills.
A Productive Relationship
Through the i-STEM project, we have led the way for renewed creativity and innovation for approaching STEM teachers’ professional development. Starting from two very different perspectives, i-STEM has developed an effective model for delivering and researching STEM-focused continuing education for teachers and administrators, while improving alignment with the needs of business and industry. The i-STEM project focuses on preparing educators to teach the curriculum needed in the workforce today and in the future, while recognizing the challenges educators face and their need for resources. The combination of these differing paradigms has led to development and refinement of new tools with participating teachers. These tools enhanced our communication with both educators and business leaders to promote workforce development aligned with the goals of an educated citizenry and the human capital and talent required in tomorrow’s workforce.
Multiple i-STEM tools guide educators as they develop STEM-focused curriculum, encourage the integrated uses of STEM skills to support industry’s human capital needs, and share our work. These tools include
- a model for defining and classifying STEM on a continuum, considering the similarities and differences in perceptions of STEM between education and business and industry;
- a framework for dissecting projects to expose how the context seamlessly integrates STEM;
- a methodology for supporting professional development by business and industry and implemented by teachers;
- a rubric for analyzing the level of 21st-century skills used in STEM learning activities; and
- a project-based learning matrix for checking alignment between the necessary level of content knowledge and the complexity of the context.
i-STEM embraced the challenges of the paradigm divide and used them to guide our project, creating common ground between education and business and industry. Both sides have benefitted tremendously as our productivity, creativity, and knowledge have expanded to create new opportunities to address the nature of STEM education and STEM workforce development. i-STEM has witnessed business and industry becoming more engaged and supportive and education reaching out to business and industry for assistance and direction.
More information on i-STEM can be found here.
Louis Nadelson and Anne Seifert are co-principal investigators on the Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) grant supporting i-STEM teacher professional development. Nadelson is i-STEM’s lead researcher. Seifert is the chief executive officer of i-STEM and lead industry partner.