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STEM From The Start: A Fix For the STEM Dropout Dilemma

By: Dennis Kleinman, Executive Producer

In a technology-driven global economy, the countries with the most STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) graduates are the ones positioned for the most promising economic futures. But the United States—which used to dominate in this arena—has fallen behind to both India and China in generating STEM graduates. Despite the massive effort and money spent on programs geared at getting high school and college students on a STEM career track, the gap between the US and its Asian competitors continues to widen.

So what could a small, New Hampshire-based educational media company possibly do to impact such a formidable national dilemma? In 2013, my business partner Tom McCarron and I decided to find out. We formed a company called Learniverse Media and began digging into the problem. We discovered that as excellent as many of the programs aimed at high school and college students have been, the roots of the problem run much deeper, back to a student’s first exposure to STEM subjects in the early elementary grades.

The latest research shows that students form much of their identities as learners by the time they reach the 3rd grade. That means that if a student is turned off by STEM subjects upon first exposure, it is likely that they will opt out of STEM for the duration of their academic career. (According to the Journal of STEM Teacher Education… that is about 1/3 of students!) The opposite is also true: making the STEM experience interesting and exciting in the earliest grades will substantially increase the number of students who keep the STEM gateway open and go on to pursue STEM degrees.

So getting and keeping early learners engaged with STEM is exactly what our team has set out to do. The result is STEM From The Start, a series of lessons based on the K-2 Next Generation Science Standards that blends the robust visual appeal of animated adventures with hands-on, teacher-guided activities. New Hampshire PBS came onboard as our media partner and the first four lessons are now available for free download on our website, www.stemfromthestart.org.

Here are some stats from early elementary teachers who tried STEM From The Start!

  • 90% of teachers report that students were very engaged during the lesson.
  • 100% of teachers reported that students learned the lesson’s NGSS-aligned content.
  • Half of the teachers reported that SFTS made them more confident in teaching STEM at these grades.

Dennis Neil Kleinman was part of the original team behind the long-running PBS kids show Reading Rainbow, and that experience triggered a lifelong interest in using media to make challenging content more accessible. His work as a writer and producer has been featured on The Disney Channel, PBS, Showtime, Learning Channel, A&E and National Geographic.

For more information about STEM From The Start, contact Georgia Maguire at georgia@stemfromthestart.org

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