HANFORD — You may have heard of STEM, but have no idea what it means. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, and some consider it the future of education. STEM is a curriculum that revolves around these four educational disciplines and integrates them into real-world applications and hands-on projects for students.
Jefferson Charter Academy in Hanford is not only a dual language immersion school, it is also a school focused on teaching a “science concentrated instructional program”. According to the school’s website, the school’s mission is to provide students the knowledge needed to meet the growing demand for STEM careers.
The school even creates an optional STEM project every month that is used to help students develop and refine STEM skills. Jefferson’s vision is for students to “leave the program prepared to successfully enter, participate and complete STEM and foreign language courses in high school”.
Kevin Jauregui, a math and physics teacher at Sierra Pacific High School, said he tries to incorporate as much STEM as he can into his classes, especially his physics class. He said with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) there are more investigations of concepts and a focus on how the concepts affect society.
Some of the concepts Jauregui has taught in his class are on things like torque, sonic boom, roller coaster principles, resonance in bridges, Hooke’s law in springs, inertia in figure skating, the effect of gravity and triple acceleration in orbiting bodies and the Saturn moon rocket.
A project Jauregui has planned for his physics students is having them design a toy and relaying which physics concepts are used and how the concepts make the toy work. He said he is new to teaching physics, but would like to incorporate more projects into his physics class.
Jauregui said what physics offers his students the most is engagement, because physics is applied everywhere in the world around us. He said finding projects that involve real-world application is what intrigues students the most.
Jauregui said he recently asked his students to read an article in Consumer Reports and analyze the risk of cars tipping over while turning at high speeds. He said the concepts he taught for that lesson were torque and moment of inertia, and the real-world aspect was a motivating way to learn the material.
Students need a reason to learn, Jauregui said, and it’s more than just finding the answer to a problem in a book. He said doing the hands-on projects is resonating with students and they are paying attention in class and will often expand on their classroom discussions.
With homework from other classes to do every night, Jauregui said some students get “burned-out” with school. In his physics class, he said students seem to enjoy what they are doing. He sees a lot of interest and students routinely go above and beyond what is asked of them for their projects.
As technology evolves, STEM subjects become increasingly more important for students to learn, Jauregui said. He said there is no shortage of careers for students to go into because there are electronics and machines to be made and almost everything we do comes from satellites, which need teams of engineers to operate.
“Progress can’t be stopped,” Jauregui said. “We need people producing better projects and making the next innovations.”
Jauregui said he is happy to see some of his students interested in becoming physics majors or engineering majors in college. He said learning STEM subjects now will help students when they get into college because they will go in with a better understanding of concepts and be able to expand on what they know.
“Having good exposure to STEM technologies is essential for college,” Jauregui said.
Engineering and physics instructor at West Hills College Lemoore Jiaxin Zhao, Ph.D., said America needs engineers to support the physical infrastructures and the information technologies that are enjoyed so much nowadays.
Zhao said the country has a shortage of engineers, especially home-grown engineers. He said that is why West Hills Lemoore’s former president, Don Warkentin, started the engineering program at the college around ten years ago.
Zhao said Warkentin also backed-up the engineering program with scholarships that pay tuition and books for all qualified engineering students. He said the college also has STEM scholarships from National Science Foundation that are available to qualified STEM majors.
Zhao said engineering is using math formulas, applying physics and other natural science principles, to develop ways to solve problems, create new devices and make the world better. He said to prepare for college study in engineering or other STEM fields, students in high school generally should have a broad study of natural science, including biology, physics and chemistry, and also need to study a lot of math up to calculus.
“Polishing the math skills before college is very helpful to ensure the students fit into the rigorous college STEM curriculum right away,” Zhao said, adding math skills are fundamental tools used to study physics and engineering.
Physics is another important subject because different engineering disciplines focus on applying different physics principles. So a good understanding of different physics fields is very helpful in learning college physics as well as various engineering courses, Zhao said.
Aside from taking related classes in high school, Zhao said paying attention to what is happening around them would also stimulate students' interest in engineering and STEM fields.
“Robots and computer apps emerge like blossom of flowers,” Zhao said. “High Speed Rail in the Central Valley — despite all the pros and cons that are associated with the project — is an engineering marvel.”
Zhao said there are many advancements that are going on in society that are engineering related. He said if current high school students pursue STEM studies, they will have a lot of opportunities and excitement waiting for them, and will make “positive contributions in a rewarding career.”