STEM: (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)
Children are naturally curious about the world around them, always asking, “Why?” “What is that?” “How does that work?” “Why is that happening?” Their curiosity leads them to explore their environment, problem-solve, invent, and discover new things, which ultimately leads to future learning and development. It is through play that young children are able to engage in this learning process, and it is through play that adults can support and guide children’s natural desire to explore and learn about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
- Learning across contexts. To help a child learn to count, we can give them a paper worksheet or we could give them the opportunity to go outside, collect natural items, and practice counting with those materials. Children gain better understanding of concepts when we provide them with different contexts for learning and different lenses through which to explore.
- Early exposure increases passion. When we expose young children to STEM ideas, we create a foundation for future passion and interest in these concepts, which may lead to continued learning and even a successful career in related fields.
- STEM is important in 21st-century careers. In North America, careers in STEM fields are growing at a greater rate than any other occupation. These careers usually come with higher-than-average incomes and play an important role in sustaining the economy. Science and technology have become very common in many occupations, and in many new careers, the most important skills are being able to quickly gain new knowledge and to innovate.
- STEM is fun. Instead of memorizing facts or having an instructed class, children can play while they are learning. Many educators believe that play equals learning, and STEM skills can be easily developed through fun, engaging activities.
In 2002, CISDR began providing on-site mentorship in STEM while empowering the lives of an extremely vulnerable population of at-risk kids. In the last fifteen years, we have not only been battling the effects of poverty, educational inequity, and student social isolation on children and families but also the achievement gap in STEM left by budget cuts, failing schools, and education policies. Through our unique corporate partnerships and their STEM resources, beginning at a young tender age, we help participants get lab exposure and the skills and knowledge they need to awaken interest.
Our aim is to not only foster children into STEM fields, but also to increase and jump-start careers in historically under-served communities, thus improving their chances to compete for careers or jobs in a 21st century knowledge-based economy. We know that even if the youth that we serve don’t pursue careers in science and related fields, they will still be better prepared academically for the future economy by being well versed in STEM skills. We teach children the first-hand relationships between basic science and practical real-world applications through STEM curriculum in: health, medicine, sports, technology, finance, aerospace, robotics, design, etc. CISDR activities are meant to inspire children and regularly reconfirm their commitment and excitement to STEM-related skills and achievement.
Our goal is to shape and mold disconnected youth, primarily children from families experiencing generational poverty, or who may be the first to complete high school or college, with an array of high quality resources early-on throughout both elementary, middle, and high school grade levels. For example, seventy-four percent of teen girls are interested in STEM subjects and fields of study; eighty-one percent of teen girls see themselves as “smart enough to have a career in STEM,” yet only thirteen percent consider it their number-one career option.
Programs are led by our senior staff, utilizing best practices, STEM consultants, board members, volunteers and a team of professionals in a wide variety of STEM related career fields. One example is our partnership with Empower Through Code, a local group of women who have created a volunteer group of STEM professionals focused on providing hands on curriculum and tutorials on coding, onsite with CISDR students. Our staff are able to reinforce the STEM experience by aligning those activities with TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) requirements.
CISDR’s ultimate goal is to scale-up the program to bring high-quality, informal science, technology and math concepts to children who otherwise would be marginalized to the experience due to life circumstances which prohibit their involvement. For example, many students are unable to stay after school for such clubs, because there is no transportation provided after the normal bus schedule, or many are not able to pay the cost of field trips or supplies for traditional STEM clubs on their school campus. We promote educational opportunities so that youth will be exposed to learning through our social and systemic blend of expert science, faculty, role-model volunteers and STEM mentors. CISDR participants will have an unprecedented opportunity to work in labs with hands-on experience and professional leadership. Although children are shying away from these careers, due to lack of access, through CISDR STEM they are inspired and express continued interest as they meet and interact with adults in the field who look like them or who have had the same childhood experiences as they have. We are honored to do this work and will continue to build on it.
CISDR staff and volunteers take great pride in the work that they do and our classroom workshops on an average day inspire many children. Investing in STEM education is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Let’s commit to expanding it as if our nation’s security and our children’s futures depend on it. As a matter of fact, they do.