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Thoughts from Nevada on the New Federal STEM Strategic Plan


“White House.” White House, Getty Images, www.whitehouse.gov/get-involved/.

 

Earlier this month, the White House unveiled its new Congressionally-mandated five-year strategic plan on STEM Education, “Charting a Course for Success: America’s Strategy for STEM Education.” The plan, developed across 18 months with the support of over 200 STEM stakeholders across the country from all 50 states, including representatives from OSIT and the STEM Advisory Council, is meant to act as a “North Star” for the country. The report identifies a vision for STEM education, along with goals and strategies for reaching those goals:

  • Build Strong Foundations for STEM Literacy
  • Increase Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM
  • Prepare the STEM Workforce for the Future

The strategic plan identified four pathways to achieve its goals: developing and enriching partnerships, engaging students where disciplines converge, building computational literacy, and operating with transparency and accountability. Each pathway describes strategies for meeting the three main goals, and each includes supplemental objectives. By early April 2019, “the Federal agencies engaged in STEM education will collaborate to develop a consolidated implementation plan, including additional actions to achieve the goals and objectives described in this strategic plan.”

What Does this Mean for Nevada?

The report describes how the federal government will strive to grow STEM education across the nation and how it will align efforts across the federal agencies to achieve the outlined goals.  A cohesive, unified federal strategy, particularly in regards to funding STEM, is important to all states.  The report also seeks to serve as a nationwide collaborative call to action.  It provides useful guidance to families, states, the K-12 and higher education communities, businesses, and non-profits.  Many of the suggestions in the report are familiar to Nevadans and are already in varying stages of implementation. There are other best practices suggested that Nevadans can adopt or improve within each goal.

State of Nevada’s Strategic Plan

Similar to the five-year plan the Committee on STEM Education released, the Nevada STEM Advisory Council released a statewide STEM Strategic Plan. The most recent plan, released in 2017, lists Nevada’s priorities as equity and access to STEM, quality and scope of STEM education, increased interest and awareness of STEM, and state-wide alignment and engagement. The new federal strategic plan will be among a number of resources the STEM Advisory Council consults the next time Nevada’s plan is due for revision.

How Does Nevada Compare?

The federal plan has four pathways with strategies to achieve its goals. Let's look at all four to see how Nevada compares.

Develop and Enrich Strategic Partnerships

The federal plan calls for the development of STEM ecosystems, which “include, among others, families; school districts; State, local, and Tribal governments; the Federal Government and Federal facilities; libraries; museums and science centers; community colleges, technical schools, and universities; community groups and clubs; foundations and nonprofits; faith-based organizations; and businesses.” These ecosystems help connect students with authentic problems, job opportunities, and resources.

Nevada’s STEM ecosystem is developing college and career pathways for Nevadans across the State. Initiatives include the STEM Leaders Academy (which engages K-12 schools in developing high-quality STEM programs), expanding Career Technical Education (CTE) programs in cybersecurity and manufacturing, and industry-driven programs such as Panasonic Preferred Pathway (P3) which train and hire Nevadans. Additionally, Nevada’s cross-agency taskforce on growing STEM-focused work-based learning (WBL) opportunities, that includes representatives from the Clark and Washoe school districts, is working to educate schools and businesses alike on the benefits of WBL. 

Strategic partnerships are an important part of connecting STEM learning in the classroom to careers.  Partnerships also help ensure what is taught meets the needs of employers.  Many successful partnerships exist throughout Nevada’s communities. More work is needed to engage employers and build new partnerships and scale partnership strategies that work.    

Engage Students Where Disciplines Converge

The national plan emphasizes integration that incorporates real-world applications, critical thinking, problem-solving, cooperation, and adaptability. Rather than teaching the S, T, E, and M in isolation, the report discusses integrating the subjects “in meaningful and applied contexts” with a special focus on ensuring all students understand and are confident in mathematics. 

Integrating instruction in the STEM disciplines together, and together with non-STEM disciplines, has been a focus for the Nevada STEM Advisory Council and was one of the Nevada team’s suggestions at the 50-state convening.  Integration helps students see connections in their learning and use the skills learned from multiple disciplines to solve problems.  Nevada’s academic standards in math and science promote practices such as authentic problem-solving and the use of 21st century skills. In addition to the standards, Nevada has developed a STEM framework and a network of Governor designated STEM schools to promote quality STEM education. The framework outlines qualities similar to those from the national plan, such as equitable engagement of all students, problem-solving, critical thinking, integration of both STEM and non-STEM subjects, college and career connections, and partnerships with local industry. Much of the work happening in Nevada schools around STEM is focused on transdisciplinary meaning-making. The school designation program is relatively new and can be expanded to promote access to quality STEM education in all areas of the State. 

Nevada’s teachers have been trained in using the standards to inform instruction, and in how to support students in reaching the standards. Many teachers continue to enroll in courses to learn about 21st century learning and STEM, and an increasing number of teachers are engaging their students in STEM learning, either on their own accord, through district-level training, or through programs such as the Nevada K-12 STEM Challenge and the Engineering Fellows Program. Nevada continues to promote and elevate STEM education across the state so that all students have equitable access to quality STEM education.

Academic subjects have for so long been taught in silos that it is difficult for many educators to understand how to integrate science, math, English, and social studies together.  Nevada can do more to identify and showcase schools that are making learning meaningful by intentionally engaging learners where disciplines converge.  Nevada can also do more to identify methods and interventions that help students to learn and apply their skills in mathematics in a variety of contexts.

Building Computational Literacy

The plan’s pathways, “Build Computational Literacy,” encourages digital literacy for all citizens, to both prepare students for tomorrow’s jobs and to equip students with skills to navigate our technologically advancing society. Computer science is increasingly becoming a required skill set for all jobs, not just “coding” jobs.

Nevada was among the first states to formally adopt K-12 Computer Science standards and all high schools will be required to offer at least one course in computer science by 2022. Over 2,000 K-12 teachers across all districts have been trained in how to teach computer science curriculum and computational thinking. Additionally, the Commission on Professional Standards approved two new licensure endorsements earlier this year, Methods to Teach Computer Science and Computer Science Concepts. 

Nevada should continue to support teachers in classrooms today and those in teacher preparation programs with the resources and skills needed to develop computational literacy in all students in all grade levels.

Operate with Transparency and Accountability

The last pathway asks all federal agencies to be transparent and open in its decisions related to its programs and funding allocations.  It encourages other STEM-stakeholders to likewise be open in communication and transparent in decision-making.

Decisions made and work done by the STEM Advisory Council and its subcommittees follow Nevada’s Open Meeting law. The Council developed the Nevada State STEM Strategic Plan and the subcommittees, which have accomplished various tasks, such as creating the K-12 Computer Science Standards, evaluating STEM school designees, and developing the high school STEM/STEAM Seal option.

Call to Action

The federal government has an immense impact on the progress of STEM literacy throughout the country.  It is encouraging that many of the strategies outlined in the federal strategic plan are already underway in Nevada and that the federal strategic plan reflects much of the counsel and suggestions offered by state STEM leaders around the country.  As federal funding streams across a number of different agencies and departments are aligned to this plan, it will be important for Nevada’s stakeholders to demonstrate how our work is aligned with and can benefit from federal funding.  Importantly, Nevada this plan also provides opportunities for Nevada’s STEM stakeholders to evaluate areas for improvement, knowing that stakeholders in states around the country will strive toward the same ideas and outcomes.  By working together, Nevada can “Chart a Course” to high-quality STEM education and STEM literacy for all students and families.  As the plan notes, “even for those who may never be employed in a STEM-related job, a basic understanding and comfort with STEM and STEM-enabled technology has become a prerequisite for full participation in modern society. STEM education teaches thinking and problem-solving skills that are transferable to many other endeavors. STEM literacy gives individuals a better capacity to make informed choices on personal health and nutrition, entertainment, transportation, cybersecurity, financial management, and parenting. A STEM-literate public will be better equipped to conduct thoughtful analysis and to sort through problems, propose innovative solutions, and handle rapid technological change, and will be better prepared to participate in civil society as jurors, voters, and consumers.” All Nevadans benefit from a quality STEM education system.

 

“Charting a Course for Success: America's Strategy for STEM Education: A Report by the Committee on STEM Education of the National Science & Technology Council.” The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), 2018. <https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/STEM-Education-Str...