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How Do We Prepare Students for Careers That Don’t Yet Exist? Build a STEAM Culture for All.

Chances are, you’ve heard about STEM courses of study and careers — those that involve Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Now before you say to yourself, “This blog post isn’t relevant to my child — s/he isn’t interested in those subjects,” I encourage you to read on. Because at DCE, we are investing in STEAM skills — adding Art/Design to the equation. STEAM isn’t simply for students enrolled in STEM courses. Far from it. As Cindy Moss — a teacher with 21 years of experience and a nationally recognized STEM education and reform thought leader — put it: STEM isn’t a class, it’s a culture. In fact, Moss likes to refer to STEM as “Students and Teachers Energizing Minds.”

Research indicates that STEAM skills and jobs in STEAM fields present today’s students with the best pathway to the future and thus we have made the implementation of a strong and inclusive STEAM culture a priority for all students in our District. As part of that process, DCE Junior High Principal Jason McFarlane and I attended the 3M Equity Through STEM symposium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which gathered educational leaders from across the nation. Principal McFarlane and I had the opportunity to engage in discussions about how schools can build a STEAM culture and integrate STEAM into everyday learning across all disciplines in order to provide opportunities to all our students no matter where they live, their race, gender, cultural background or academic and career interests.

What is a STEAM Culture?

A STEAM culture is a teaching and learning environment that

  • Utilizes hands-on, real-world, problem-solving instruction to engage students in subjects (be it art, literature, math, physics or design)
  • Challenges them to use their creativity, curiosity, investigative and critical thinking skills to collaboratively find solutions to relevant problems
  • Builds communication skills by allowing students to share their solutions and discoveries in a unique manner that suits them
  • Provides them with opportunities to explore careers that are relevant to their interests
  • Prepares students to face challenges no matter what field they study and work in

Steam Chart

Why STEAM Matters.

The beauty of a STEAM learning environment is that it prepares students by developing the very skills employers are looking for in the 21st century: critical thinking, investigation, creativity, problem-solving, determination, collaboration and communication. It is an environment that treats students as creators, innovators, makers and entrepreneurs and encourages them to make a positive impact on the world around them.

The need for STEAM-trained students in the workplace is astronomical — employers need students who can explore real world problems and come up with workable solutions. During the symposium we learned that:

  • U.S. students are not prepared for 21st century job opportunities. In 2015, only 1% of U.S. college grads earned degrees in science — in comparison South Korea (38%), France (47%,) China (50%) and Singapore (67%) had significantly more.
  • Banks hire 90% of math majors and yet they don’t have enough to choose from — only .01% of U.S. college students earned a math degree in 2015.
  • The military has reported that high numbers of potential recruits are ineligible to serve because they lack math and problem-solving skills.

STEAM skills can provide DCE students with a pathway to the future











As you can see from this graphic, there are plenty of opportunities out there for our students. By creating a STEAM learning environment for all of our students, we will present our students with the greatest opportunities for the future — regardless of what field of study or career a student is interested in.

Because a STEAM learning environment uses digital content and personalized learning and teaching strategies, it also holds the most potential for closing the “opportunity gap.” Cindy Moss, Director of Global STEM Initiatives, Discovery Education served as the Director of PreK-12 STEM for Charlotte Mecklenburg School District in North Carolina. Her District launched a STEM initiative at their Title 1 schools (those that have a higher percentage of ELL or economically disadvantaged students) and discovered that by using “hands-on inquiry using real world problems, we engaged students who were not typically excited to be in school.” After just one year of utilizing STEM practices, the Title 1 schools reported two years of growth for average students and four to five years of growth for English Language Learners (ELL) and special education students. As a result of this success, other schools within the district launched STEM learning programs with the following results:

  • Science scores improved by 44 points for 5th and 8th grade
  • Math scores improved by 35 points for 3rd through 8th grade
  • The gap between test scores for economically disadvantaged students and their peers decreased from 37 points to 7 points in just three years 

 “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

One of the most challenging issues facing schools who implement a plan to educate all students in SATEM practices are students’ pre-conceived notions of what STEAM is and how they feel they “fit” in a STEAM world. Most students don’t dwell on how competitive they will be in the global market or what their role in the world will be. As Marian Wright Edelman of Children’s Defense Fund puts it, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”

So the burden is on us, as educators, to develop learning opportunities that our students can relate to, engage their curiosity and help them explore the incredible diversity of careers that require STEAM skills. Mr. McFarlane and I were amazed to learn about careers we’d never heard of before: extracorporeal technology-perfusionist (two-year degree, starting salary of $150,000 and federal law mandates you only work 12 hours a week!), biomechatronics engineering, music data journalist, motorsports coding and automotive mechatronics. 

Surprised that we hadn’t heard of many of these jobs? Don’t be. It’s true — as educators, we now face an interesting challenge because we are preparing students for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. So how can we prepare our students for such an intangible target? By linking STEAM learning to STEAM careers through strong partnerships with business leaders, chambers of commerce, entrepreneurs and the community that expose our students to real-world career opportunities. 

Moving Forward

DCE already has a strong foundation upon which to build a more dynamic STEAM learning environment. We feature math and LEGO robotics clubs, have Maker Spaces in most schools, provide computer and robotics courses, offer interdisciplinary learning experiences where older students mentor elementary students in hands-on projects, host a Young Entrepreneurs Academy and STEM camps. STEAM skills are becoming a part of everyday learning in our classrooms. 

We’ve also successfully implemented the One-to-One initiative and personalized learning, which help to remove socio-economic barriers to learning by providing students with 24/7 access to digital content and tools that allow them to progress at a pace appropriate for them. Our students are able to access experts and thought leaders via digital conferences and explore the corners of the globe with virtual field trips.

We have sound partnerships with our community, organizations and businesses — all of who are eager to share their real world knowledge with our students. And we have supportive staff and teachers who have eagerly embraced innovation, personalized learning and digital content. Last year alone, our teachers tallied more than 25,000 hours of individual professional development time! 

We will continue to encourage our students and teachers to take risks — to try new things, develop innovative means of instruction, embrace diverse learning and presentation methods and continue to ask the important questions: How can we ensure greater access to STEAM opportunities for all students? How do we ensure our instructional methods are engaging and applicable to the real world so our students are prepared and can make an impact?

Together, we will pave a pathway to success for all DCE students.

Dr. Kristine Gilmore