All K12 students need to develop a basic level of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) literacy in order to function as citizens in our rapidly advancing world. As well, future job opportunities will demand it.
Despite overall high unemployment, STEM job postings in Washington State outnumbered unemployed people by 2.1 to one, with STEM jobs predicted to keep growing.
In order to develop the skills needed to pursue these STEM jobs, our students need teachers with deep content knowledge. Only 24% of Washington’s 8th graders have a math teacher who majored in math and only 51% of 8th graders have a science teacher who majored in a science field.
To meet these challenges and opportunities, schools are intensifying their focus on STEM education and increasingly, STEM professionals are being asked to contribute to those efforts.
The OEL Program
Observing for Evidence of Learning (OEL) is an example of a program that supports STEM teaching and learning. The OEL program supports the professional growth of math and science teachers. The OEL model designates time and a structure for a whole math or science department to meet together in their school building and collaboratively refine lessons from the school curriculum that have been found to be “challenging.” A key aspect of the OEL program is the inclusion of STEM professionals who join the teacher group for about an hour and help the teachers deepen their content knowledge and make real world connections. The refined lessons developed through the OEL program have been shown to significantly increase student achievement.
STEM professionals include research scientists, engineers, college professors, and others. They typically have first hand experience about the skills and practices used in STEM fields.
OEL STEM Professionals…
Address questions from the teachers to clarify content understanding.
Introduce real-life applications of the concept, highlighting local relevance.
Present current research regarding the big ideas discussed.
Benefits for Teachers and Students
When STEM professionals work with teachers, the teachers develop a deepened content knowledge and a broader understanding of STEM practices and careers. In turn, their students develop greater proficiency and interest in STEM subjects and aspirations to pursue careers in STEM fields.
Benefits for STEM Professionals
Working with teachers offers STEM professionals the opportunity to enhance communication skills with a lay audience, acquire a deeper understanding of K12 education, develop new strategies for teaching, and consider the roles that professionals can contribute in advocating for quality K12 STEM education.
Reflections from experienced OEL STEM Professionals:
Learning how to distill the most relevant parts a topic for the teachers so that they can then figure out how best to present it to their students has improved my ability to communicate scientific ideas with other non-scientists.
Working with OEL has had a huge impact on my practice. It makes me consider my own teaching in the context of what critical understandings are for students.
How to get involved
If you are a STEM Professional interested in becoming an OEL Content Expert, please visit and complete the interest survey. If you have any questions, please contact Jen Eklund.