April 19, 2024


Science It Works

STEM, STEAM, rocket science and music | Opinion

There was a time when kindergartners spent their days learning how to color, remember shapes and, perhaps, count and recite the alphabet — you know, the basics.

Not anymore. That’s often taken care of at home and in preschool.

By the time children reach kindergarten today, they’re expected to have the basics, plus. This may include writing their names, letter and number recognition, the fundamentals of reading simple sentences, handling scissors and other motor skills, following directions and playing well with others.

In many cases, kindergartners today can master a smartphone or tablet — and manipulate their parents to download apps for them.

Point is, children are already learning the so-called STEM skills — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — by the time they enter public schools. Some are even versed in STEAM skills — which adds the A for Arts. Music, for instance, is and has been a gateway to enhanced skills in mathematics.

“In an ever-changing, increasingly complex world, it’s more important than ever that our nation’s youth are prepared to bring knowledge and skills to solve problems, make sense of information, and know how to gather and evaluate evidence to make decisions,” the U.S. Department of Education notes in its online briefing about STEM.

“If we want a nation where our future leaders, neighbors and workers can understand and solve some of the complex challenges of today and tomorrow, and to meet the demands of the dynamic and evolving workforce, building students’ skills, content knowledge, and literacy in STEM fields is essential.”

Indeed, that’s a correct assessment.

Here in Victoria, Cuero, Calhoun and other districts across Texas, STEM is being taught with success in classrooms. The Victoria school district also has a program dedicated to the concept at the elementary and middle school levels and students in high school work on advanced principles, such as artificial intelligence, computer programming, robotics and other digital technologies, that would boggle the minds of most adults.

Both East and West high schools have STEM programs and the state notes over 47,000 students at the high school level are in such classes.

The University of Houston-Victoria even offers a summer camp focusing on STEM.

At Smith and Stroman STEM academies, dozens of elementary and middle school students delve into the worlds of numbers, chemicals, DNA, biology, programming and many other STEM areas.

Advocate reporter Cody Baird detailed a week ago how high school students program robotic devices to play music (remember that A in STEAM), sense obstacles before them and even shifts in color.

1958: First Black woman engineer starts at NASA

Mary Winston Jackson became NASA’s first female Black engineer in 1958. To take classes that qualified her for the position, she had to get permission from the city of Hampton, Va., to attend classes at the then-segregated Hampton High School.

The nation’s STEM Education Strategic Plan was crafted toward the end of 2018 and laid out a path for schools to take and “represents an urgent call to action for a nationwide collaboration with learners, families, educators, communities and employers — a North Star for the STEM community as it collectively charts a course for the nation’s success.”

It’s a five-year plan, meaning beyond next year it could be up to politicians to keep it going.

The Department of Education offers school districts a number of STEM programs, many emphasizing STEAM, as well as a STEAM grant-selection program and programs supporting STEAM education. The online publication LiveScience noted that the department in 2020 awarded $141 million in new STEAM grants and $437 million to continue STEAM projects.

By last December, an update on the STEM Education Strategic Plan found many programs had been implemented and were well on their way to success, many ahead of their five-year goal. We hope this program will move beyond its five-year scope and continue to fund programs well into the future. STEM and STEAM programs are taking root across the country, from urban strongholds in the Northeast and far West to smaller cities like Victoria.

The successes could be no clearer than the advanced programs like those at Stroman and Smith, provided by the Victoria Independent School District.

The specialized schools, as well as the advanced courses for high schoolers, working with UHV, are turning out the innovators of tomorrow, the Elon Musks, the Mary Jacksons, the Steve Jobs and Bill Gates of the future.

A Math and Robotics Awareness Day at UHV is planned for April 21. District high school students will be able to show off what they’ve learned.

Critical thinkers, for sure. Advanced designers, certainly. In a state like Texas, with its history of innovation, technology and ties to the space program, one can only wonder if these children one day soon will joke with their parents, “It’s only rocket science.”