Taking off in STEM education

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Schools across the nation continue to grow their STEM subjects in order to meet the high job demands in these fields; a recent report from the U.S. Department of Education reveals STEM jobs to increase from 2010 to 2020. During Barack Obama’s presidency, he initiated an “Educate to Innovate” campaign which provided over $1 billion dollars in financial support for STEM programs. He also announced over $240 million committed to STEM programs at the first White House Science Fair.
“Part of what’s important to do is also to recognize that what you do in math and engineering and science has a purpose to it; that there are huge challenges that we have to solve in how we have clean energy, and how we clean up our environment, and how do we solve crippling diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s,” former U.S. President Barack Obama said.
Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 71% of all new STEM related jobs lie in computing, and computing jobs sit as the number one source of new wages in the United States. As a result, many schools strengthen their STEM programs to encourage more growth.
“The drone class, robot automation, WATC, business and technology programs, as well as all of the rigorous math and science courses offered here at Southside ensure that students have high quality access to STEM programs,” counselor Trisha Neal said.
The push towards more STEM education programs shows up on campus in programs including Mobile Application Development, Computer Science A, Computer Science Principles, Robotics, AP Statistics and in newly introduced programs such as the Unmanned Aerial Systems program.
“STEM fields and student opportunities are exploding. Nothing stays the same for long. Southside has been great about adding new areas of study as the opportunities arise. Just last year at a computer science summit, we learned about the possibility of a new drone program of study; this year, we have it at Southside. We’ve been able to add robotics courses, and we have gone from one computer science subject to a total of six plus two more independent study classes in computer science just in the last two years,” computer science teacher Linda Joplin said.
Joplin stands alone as the only computer science teacher at Southside, illustrating that although students continue to gain increasing exposure to STEM subjects, the world of STEM still evades the school community in certain aspects.
“It is very challenging to teach all of the computer science classes. I move from teaching one subject to another in computer science all day long. Switching from Java to the Swift programming language is like moving from Spanish to French. I find myself ‘speaking’ Java in Swift class. But, it is worth it. I have some of the best students at Southside, and with the new Xcode/Swift language used in iOS app development, my students teach me as much as I teach them. Teachers in any technology field cannot teach the same thing each year. As technology changes, we need to change with it,” Joplin said.
Arkansas demonstrates a push for students to pursue careers in STEM fields such as computer science by offering monetary rewards for passing the AP Computer Science A exam. Students who score a five receive $1000 and $250 for their school. Students who score a four earn $750 and the schools receive $150, while a score of three results in $250 for qualifying students and $50 for the respective school.
Funding for STEM programs in school continues to grow. Robotics Club recently received the Girl Powered VRC Team Grant from the Robotics Education and Competition Foundation as an attempt to increase the number of girls on robotics teams and in STEM fields in general. The grant pays for the $150 registration fees needed to participate in the competitions and ensures the program receives all necessary tools and resources needed to maintain a strong robotics program, but in order to maintain this grant, the club hopes to recruit more females for the team. The robotics team recently competed at the BEST Robotics Tournament at UAFS winning second place in “Most Elegant”. The team plans to attend 3 more competitions in a new tournament called VEX, a competition new to the Southside Robotics team.
“They learn and do skills in engineering, design, brainstorming, problem solving, marketing, trouble shooting, fundraising, electricity, pneumatic systems as well as others,” instructor Mason Pyper said.
Science Bowl serves as another outside of school STEM program; similar to Quiz Bowl, Science Bowl tests student knowledge on science trivia instead of multiple subjects. Introduced to Arkansas in 2002, Science Bowl participates every year. The team earned eight state titles within that time period and this year’s upcoming season begins in January.
“Science Bowl gives students another way to use their knowledge from their science classes. While it isn’t as hands on as Robotics, EAST Lab, or the Drone course, it does let students see how they can use those concepts in the real world,” Science Bowl sponsor Josh Adams said.
STEM programs such as Science Bowl and Robotics remain available for students to sign up for throughout the entirety of the year.

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Taking off in STEM education