STEM in high schools needs to stop ignoring the "S"

Assistant Editor
Mon Nov 26, 2018

When I was in middle school, I was under the impression that anything related to technology was called “engineering,” and so I decided back then that I wanted to be an engineer. Because of the generation I grew up in, my childhood took place in an era of rapid technological advancement. As a result, my generation has an advantage over older ones; we have a better grasp on technology and can use, understand, and learn it quicker because, well, we've kind of had to. As a child, this made it appear like I had a natural affinity towards technology and that I should pursue careers that deal with it, not knowing that engineering isn’t the only option. My high school had a program that specialized in “science, engineering, and high technology” that students could apply to be a part of at the end of eighth grade. Students that were accepted would have their math and science classes chosen for them to fit this program, along with some other mandatory classes, specifically geared towards engineering. I was a part of this program for my four years in high school and then went on to here, Illinois Tech, as a mechanical engineering major. However, at the end of my first year, I made the decision to switch my major to a science, physics, leaving the path that I had been on since the sixth grade. Why didn’t I make this decision earlier and let myself go on this path for so long just to leave it? My conclusion is that high school hadn’t properly exposed me to science, so I didn’t know that I liked it.

Particularly in my high school, but I imagine in others as well, students are exposed to very engineering-heavy rhetoric. The recent effort to push young people into science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields seems more like a push specifically to engineering. While my high school’s special program claimed to include science, I didn’t take any science classes that weren’t already required for the rest of the student body. A huge majority of my classes were engineering focused. I don’t mean to imply that those classes were a waste; I did still learn skills that I would probably never have anywhere else, but the imbalance is still apparent.

Science is treated like an old, finished field that exists for engineering to build off of. While the latter part of that idea is true (engineering does build off of science), the former isn’t. There is so much that has yet to be discovered, and that isn’t made clear to students. And given that engineering relies on science, it should be surprising that there isn’t more attention given to science, yet science classes are still taught like they’re a thing of the past.

In high school classes (and college for the most part), physics is taught chronologically, that is, the subjects are taught in the order that they were discovered. High school physics only covers the beginning areas and up until around 1865, maybe a little bit of modern physics if you were in an advanced placement (AP) class, and that’s the most exposure that a majority of students get. They don’t get to learn any of what comes next. I didn’t find out until I came to college that there were other subatomic particles besides protons, neutrons, and electrons, or anything related to astrophysics, or any of the other fascinating things that inspired me to switch majors. Even then, I didn’t even learn those things in my classes; I learned them from other physics majors I knew at the time. Students are deprived of over 150 years of physics developments.

Until the standard curriculums change, one of the best things that we can do is find ways to reach out and network with younger students so they can be exposed to more areas of STEM they may be interested in. Exposure is the key to continuing the pursuit for the answers to the world’s mysteries. It would be a shame for future generations to keep undervaluing science like I did.



Appears in
2018 - Fall - Issue 11