Schools in Iowa are embracing the platonic way of teaching STEM – starting early and integrating tightly with other subject areas – because they believe that this is the best way to encourage future innovators. Therefore, starting in fourth grade, science, technology, mathematics and engineering students learn the rudiments of kinematics and can begin to apply their new knowledge to solve problems they encounter in the world around them.
According to the Center for Education at the National Research Council, this kind of approach ensures that students not only learn better, but are also more likely to embrace STEM in school. They are also more likely to take up a STEM-related major in college and carry on that passion into post-graduation career.
That is why more than 800 schools throughout the state are taking part in the Scale-Up initiative, which was the creation of the Governor's STEM Advisory Council. The initiative comprises about a dozen different STEM teaching programs that are now in the process of being implemented and tested.
There are computer programming contests, agricultural experiments, wind turbine modeling, family STEM festivals, robotics clubs and more. They are happening more often than not in the most STEM-deprived areas of Iowa, thanks to the mission of the Governor's STEM Advisory Council to level the field of opportunity for all Iowa youth.
Iowa's rapid rise back to leadership in math and science education, with applications to engineering and technology, is an economic and social imperative. Once a leader on national tests, Iowa kids are closer to the middle of the pack these days.
Scale-Up aims to change that. It is widely recognized that the state's future economic potential can only be fulfilled if it produces enough STEM professionals to meet business demand. The state that can produce a reliable stream of such professionals will be uniquely well positioned to attract industries that depend on that talent — fields such as information technology, bioscience, and advanced manufacturing.
What makes investment in that area easier is the fact that Iowa residents appear to be fully on board. A recent survey found that even though the majority of respondents weren't familiar with the STEM acronym, they still supported efforts aimed at improving mathematics and science instruction in the state's schools.
The council's model, a public-private partnership of regional networks growing proven programs, has earned national recognition. Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, based on her leadership as co-chair of the council, was recently honored as one of 2012's Women Leaders in STEM, alongside Sally Ride, DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman, Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler, Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell and others, by STEM Connector. And Iowa is one of four states chosen by the Smithsonian's National Science Resource Center for piloting a project to connect talent pipelines to career opportunities based on promising STEM practices.