Keeping STEM education amid a pandemic

For the vast majority of teachers and students this year, school looks quite different. Instead of the heavy traffic in hallways, slamming lockers, and crowded desks bumping into each other, most schools are still navigating the foreign territory of education during a pandemic.

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The once-normal practice of teachers and students physically visiting one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s premier 17 National Labs as part of its ongoing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math or STEM education has been disrupted. Our pre-COVID days were filled with public lectures, workshops, competitions, student research laboratories, museum visits, and lab employees volunteering in schools as tutors and presenters.


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But that doesn’t mean there are not alternatives to keeping students of all ages immersed and curious about scientific discovery and potential job opportunities in STEM. The nation’s educators, parents, and Labs must stretch our creativity and innovation to find ways to still engage, educate, and inspire our youth.

COVID may have altered the way we educate, but we know that our nation’s outstanding educators and content providers can change and adapt.

DOE and its National Labs offer vast online resources in the form of lesson plans, activities, worksheets, reading materials, and virtual field trips. We’ve revamped our STEM Rising K-12 page to make it easy to find virtual resources in one spot, like our hands-on experiments that can be done at home, videos or live chats with STEM professionals to see the interesting work they are doing, and virtual conferences.

Sometimes these changes in STEM education simply mean adapting programs and competitions. For instance, this year’s Bridge Building Competition sponsored by Brookhaven National Lab was streamed live. Instead of having the high school teams who designed and constructed 190 model bridges gather in person, their bridges were dropped off and Brookhaven engineers tested each structure. Students could watch virtually as their bridges were pulled, pressed, and stress-tested.

Lawrence Berkeley National Lab is offering pre-scheduled virtual tours of its facilities where participants can spend an hour interacting with staff and scientists and learn about the Lab’s history, ground-breaking discoveries, and contributions to COVID-19-related research.

The recent USA Science & Engineering Festival’s SciFest All Access went virtual this year. Attendees at these events can engage directly with sponsors and exhibitors, including many DOE National Laboratories to experience over 100 virtual STEM activities. In October, we are rolling out a K-12 National Laboratory activity booklet, with ways to discover our Labs and science at home.

We must continue fostering and promoting STEM learning, and investing in the STEM workforce. These capabilities are in high demand. In the past decade, the demand for STEM-related jobs has grown three times faster than the demand for all other jobs.

American competitiveness needs current and future generations of science and engineering leaders. In our case, DOE cannot carry out its mission for energy, environment, and national security without the next generation workforce.

DOE will continue to promote STEM any way we can. Cultivating student enthusiasm and talent and taking advantage of the diversity of their backgrounds and cultures remains an important goal for our STEM programs.

The next generation of scientists and engineers will drive discovery and innovation. We must ensure that this future generation is equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to solve the energy challenges they are sure to face. These are our future leaders, individuals who will ensure a prosperous, competitive, safe, and secure America.

Paul Dabbar is under secretary for science at the Department of Energy.

Tags: Opinion, Op-Eds

Original Author: Paul Dabbar

Original Location: Keeping STEM education amid a pandemic

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