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Op-Ed: Project Lead The Way provides U.S. students with math and science opportunities

Sunday, November 30, 2014 by Nayeli Selkis

There was once a time when the United States was revered as one of the leading countries in math and science. Sadly, that is not the case anymore. The Program for International Student Assessment is responsible for collecting tests every three years from 65 countries in order to establish rankings. The latest results, from 2012, show that the proficiency levels of 15-year-olds from the United States are drastically behind in the fields of math, science and reading compared to other countries. This lack of children able to compete nationally in these fields leads to a deficit of American engineers. Without engineers, the U.S. isn’t as innovative in comparison to places like China and Singapore who have the leading scores in math and science.

Along with the U.S. not having high test scores in areas that help lead to engineering fields, many students don’t take classes that integrate math and science. According to the United States Department of Education, only 28% of high school freshman declare an interest in a science or math related field. Many jobs available today, though, require some sort of degree in math or science. This lack of interest in high school students for math and science majors leaves many jobs unfilled. A study done by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that graduates in computer sciences, mathematics and engineering had unemployment rates below 9 percent. Conversely, graduates in architecture and the arts had unemployment rates of 13.9 and 11.1 percent, respectively. As shown, there are more job opportunities for people knowledgeable in math and science fields.

There are many opinions on how to encourage and inspire kids to take classes that involve math and science, one of them being the implementation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) based education. STEM is a curriculum based off of the idea of integrating science, technology, engineering, and math in an applied approach. Instead of teaching students four discrete subjects, STEM works to create a cohesive learning environment based on real-world applications. The importance of STEM education is to meet the projected need for STEM related jobs. Unlike traditional math and science education, STEM focuses on computational thinking and real world applications. In classrooms students often wonder what the purpose is of everything they’re learning. STEM shows how a path in math and science is actually useful and can lead to a successful career.

Saratoga Springs High School is fortunate to have a STEM-based program called Project Lead the Way (PLTW). PLTW is a non-profit organization that has programs in more than 6,500 elementary, middle, and high schools. It’s implemented in all 50 states and the District of Columbia as well as covering all income levels in public, private, and charter schools. Colleges, universities, Fortune 500 businesses, and national organizations have recognized PLTW’s success. Coinciding with the goal of STEM education, PLTW offers students a chance to have a hands on education. Students are able to identify a problem, discover unique solutions, and take charge of their own learning. Rather than having a teacher spout seemingly useless information for kids to write down, students are able to work through the problem in front of them independently and learn from their mistakes.

This type of integrated and hands on education through STEM and PLTW allows a student to discover the worldly applications of math and science. This realization can inspire a student to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, or math, which would in turn help our country compete globally and fill essential and numerous jobs.


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