STEM—or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math—is the acronym buzzing around education circles these days. In 2009, President Obama introduced the “Educate to Innovate” initiative, designed to fund and promote STEM topics in American schools.
“Reaffirming and strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation is essential to meeting the challenges of this century. That’s why I am committed to making the improvement of STEM education over the next decade a national priority.” — President Obama
Is such an initiative important? Let me tell you about my relationship to math and other STEM topics and you be the judge. When I was in school (shortly after the dinosaurs roamed the earth, but definitely after science had been invented), education was a much more loosey-goosey affair. Don’t get me wrong, my parents were strong believers in public education and moved us several times to ensure that we lived in communities that supported it. But, it was the ’70s. Freedom of choice took precedence over core curricula, and I was happy as a clam about that.
In high school, I took six years of English classes, and audited another English course during what should have been a study hall. The last math class I took in high school was geometry. I did OK, but knew that I did not understand enough about key math concepts to continue further (although a made a feeble attempt at taking Trig in college—twice. I still have no idea what trig is about, let alone the meaning of sine and cosine).
My high school science consisted of one semester of earth science, one semester of chemstry, biology and photography (which I was allowed to take as a science because I learned the names of the chemicals in the developing solutions). With that measly background in math and science, I graduated high school with honors and went on to attend the University of Michigan, where I avoided math and science like the plague and graduated as a communications major.
Thanks to distribution requirements of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, however, I was exposed to some really cool science classes (not counting chemistry, which was a mistake and almost killed me). I took a biological anthropology class, as well as the physiology of sexuality, which was both less prurient and more interesting than I could have imagined. I liked that so much that I took another physiology and anatomy class. When I found out that I had to take statistics (a thought that terrified me), I was fortunate enough to be able to take a stat class for social sciences. This meant that the examples used actually made sense and were meaningful to me in a way that no other math class ever had been.
It really wasn’t until I started reading great magazines like The New Yorker and The Atlantic, and started following public radio that I truly began to understand that science is everywhere and everything. Gifted writers and passionate researchers were given forums to explain STEM topics in interesting ways to a hungry audience, and I was shocked to be among them. Like most things in my life, I came to loving science through lovingly crafted words.
“Somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known.” — Carl Sagan
My story is just one example of why we need to emphasize STEM in school, especially for girls, who seem to opt out of these classes much earlier than their male counterparts. As a writer and a late-blooming science lover, I know that communication is key. Making science interesting, even fun, is critical for engaging our best and brightest (even late-blooming) minds. How you say it is every bit as important as what you say.
So I was thrilled when STEM advocate and Kim Moldofsky recently featured the Animal Store Alphabet Book on TheMakerMom.com (Arduino and maker fun for moms, dads, kids and families plus STEM education, gifted education, science and technology and STEM for girls). Each Friday, Kim features a STEM Girl post and recently had this to say about our book:
“It’s a winner … From Amphibian to Zebra Finch, the book introduces a variety of animals, through colorful images and informative rhymes. Each illustration is surrounded by bonus facts. For example, the bump on the head of an Oranda (fish) is called a wen.” — Kim Moldofsky
Who would ever have thought that this STEM-phobic writer would have paddled so happily into STEM-filled waters? I learned a lot writing this book, and love the idea that children (and maybe their parents) will learn from it too. Science really can be fun.