How does Massachusetts approach STEM education?

Beyond the Microscope Blog Post | March 4, 2021

By Michaela Goss

Massachusetts aims to fulfill two key goals for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education: ensure students can actively engage in data analysis and ensure they can relate what they learn in the classroom to life outside the classroom.

The Massachusetts Department of Education’s (DOE’s) website lays out the state’s standards-based academic vision for what students learn in school. It also discusses how the state’s focus on STEM education derives from the role of Massachusetts as a growing hub for STEM careers – particularly, in technology and engineering. Massachusetts appears ready to build a pipeline of students from the state’s schools into full-fledged STEM careers after graduation.

The foundation for this pipeline starts in elementary education. In elementary schools, the goal is to spark interest in STEM that can lead to a lifelong love of the subjects and a future STEM career, which have some of the highest paying entry level positions. Schools rise to meet this goal by involving students in content-based learning, as well as applied learning.

Applied learning enables students to apply concepts they learn in the classroom to projects or situations either relevant to their lives or to help them visualize the concepts they are taught. Videos on the DOE’s website showcase students building, working together to complete science experiments and learning math as it applies to real-world issues – rather than simply numbers on a page.

In middle and high schools, these concepts carry over. Students learn topics and are able to apply them to projects or real-world problems, with a goal of preparing them for their futures and showing them potential career paths.

However, STEM education faces challenges, as it can be fairly expensive to invest in resources required for STEM classes, like technology or interactive field trips. In addition, nearly half of American respondents in a 2018 Pew Research report viewed the U.S.’s K-12 STEM education as average compared to other similar countries. This amount drops considerably for Americans with postgraduate STEM degrees, as the majority of those with advanced STEM degrees view U.S.’s K-12 STEM education as below average.

The report doesn’t state why Americans with advanced STEM degrees were unhappy with their K-12 education. Yet, looking at their positive ratings for undergraduate and graduate STEM education – 52% and 62% above average ratings, respectively – one can assume their higher level education was more positive because they had more specialized STEM concentrations in their colleges or universities.

These numbers also don’t reflect Massachusetts specifically. Still, respondents who had hands-on learning experiences both noted that experience as a highlight of STEM learning and generally had positives views of their STEM education, as well. With the Massachusetts DOE’s focus on applied learning and real-world experience, this hopefully means Massachusetts students have and will continue to have positive views of their STEM education in this state. Kids in Tech aims to supplement in-school STEM education with its after school programs, and directly aligns with the Massachusetts DOE’s goal of providing students with real-world experiences and opportunities to learn about STEM