Thirty years ago the United States was a superpower in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, but in the last few decades other countries have begun to outpace it. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, American colleges produced only 70,000 engineers in 2004, compared to 600,000 in China and 350,000 in India.
Officials at Rochester’s Nazareth Academy hope their new science, technology, engineering and math curriculum — which educators oftentimes refer to as STEM — will help combat this trend. Introduced in September 2006, the new curriculum raises the school’s graduation requirements from 24 to 26 credits and mandates that all freshmen take either a principles of engineering course or a new course called Integrated Technologies, according to Lou Zona, principal.
The STEM fields of study have long been a priority at Nazareth, which has offered the Academic Scholarship in Computing, Engineering and New Technology — or ASCENT — pre-engineering program for more than 15 years. This year 28 percent of the school’s students chose to participate in this program, Zona said, taking courses in engineering, design and drawing, logic design and robotics. The new STEM curriculum will help students who plan to pursue an engineering career because it will prescribe a set of core and elective courses they must take, much like the core and elective courses needed to complete a college major, he added.
The new curriculum also will ensure that all students are exposed to engineering or the school’s state-of-the-art technology, whether or not they intend to pursue a career in engineering, math or the sciences, he said. Students who take Integrated Technologies will learn how to use technology as an interdisciplinary research and communication tool, Zona said.
Colleges assume that applicants know how to use technology, and that knowledge will be even more important after students graduate and try to find jobs in today’s global economy, he added.
"When I went to school I was competing with the kid down the street for a job. It’s not that way anymore," Zona said. "Our kids are competing with the world. They need to utilize the technology of today in order to succeed."
Many Catholic schools throughout the diocese are coming to the same conclusion. That’s why all teachers at St. Francis-St. Stephen School in Geneva take their children into the computer lab and incorporate computers and technology into various subjects, said Elaine Morrow, principal.
"We don’t want the children to see technology as being a separate subject. In the 21st century, these students are going to be using technology in everything they do," she said.
Technology is not the only STEM field schools are focusing on, however. Notre Dame High School in Elmira is considering the addition of an engineering course to its offerings, and the school encourages all of its students to take four years of math and science, said Mercy Sister Mary Walter Hickey, principal.
School officials have recognized the need to develop students’ math and science abilities, and to encourage those students to go into education and become math and science teachers themselves, Sister Hickey added.
Through the Gemini program, upperclassmen at DeSales High School in Geneva are able to take college-level courses in a number of subjects, including pre-calculus, calculus, biology, physics and astronomy, said Charlie Evangelista, the school’s development and recruitment director. Students who take these Gemini courses receive high-school credit as well as college credit from Finger Lakes Community College.
Rochester’s Aquinas Institute offers courses in robotics, advanced computer programming and digital-image manipulation, said Rob Gillis, assistant principal. Students also learn to use laptop computers, high-tech calculators and laboratory equipment to run lab experiments, conduct research and analyze data, he said.
Making STEM material exciting and relevant is one key to keeping students interested in those subjects, educators say. In November Elmira’s Science and Discovery Center sent its H20 To Go mobile laboratory to Holy Family Junior High School in Elmira, where students had a great time conducting lab activities related to the water cycle, said Elizabeth Berliner, principal.
Officials at Our Lady of Mercy High School in Brighton realize not all students are interested in math, even though they’re required to take four years of the subject, said Kathleen Hanford, assistant principal for academics. The school helps students meet this requirement by offering several nontraditional math courses, such as Math Explorations and an entrepreneurship course, she said.
In the entrepreneurship course, students learn about business concepts, communication and team-building skills, and how to apply technology to business situations. Students in Math Explorations learn about everything from the history of mathematics to the mathematical foundations of art and music, Hanford said.
"It helps the girls to better understand why we study math. It’s not that math is isolated. It’s part of other things they’re interested in," she said.
One of the primary goals of an educator is to help students understand how the lessons they learn can be applied to their everyday lives, agreed David Dye, chairman of the math department at Rochester’s McQuaid Jesuit High School. Students are only required to take three years of high-school math, but more than 92 percent of the students take a fourth year as well, he said. This may be because teachers tie math skills to the real-life skills necessary to perform tasks such as calculating the amount of a car payment or the interest rates of home loans, he said.
"Those things are determined mathematically. It is brought across to students how relevant this is," Dye said. "You will get more attention from them any time you bring up the real-life applications. Nothing gets their attention more than those."