COEUR d’ALENE — The careers that await Nicole Brown's second-graders have yet to be invented.
"I’m preparing them for jobs that I don’t even know exist at the moment,” the Skyway Elementary teacher said Monday. "Being able to teach even second-graders to have that view to be able to open their minds and learn how to learn and where to go to get their resources is going to be paramount in order for them to be successful and bring us further into the future."
Idaho teachers say they know the state is behind on filling the science, technology, mathematics and engineering jobs of today, so they're working on a better tomorrow.
"I think we’re going in the right direction," Brown said. "We’ve adopted new standards that are right along the way with the United States Next Generation Science Standards. It's just about using the knowledge of those standards and how they work and making those shifts in our own classrooms to support the type of thinking that they’re going to need to fill those jobs."
Brown and about 450 teachers, librarians and after-school program coordinators across Idaho are attending i-STEM workshops at six locations this week and next week to help them better tailor their classrooms and lesson plans to the Next Generation Science Standards that Idaho approved in 2018.
These standards ask students to "think and act like scientists by engaging in the heart of science — inquiry," reads the Idaho Department of Education's website. "This paradigm shift requires students to demonstrate command of knowledge of scientific principles, processes and content by performing as scientists do."
The iSTEM workshops place educators in groups of up to 15 people. These group focus on a wide scope of STEM-related subjects.
The group topics include makerspaces, educational leadership, Idaho science standards and elementary coding.
"Not all coding is plugged-into-a-device coding," Idaho STEM Action Center executive director Angela Hemingway said. "They're doing a lot of unplugged activities: Programming each other to walk forward or walk to the pencil sharpener, whatever it is."
Idaho STEM Action Center is a state agency that raises and distributes funds for STEM education opportunities for teachers, students and community members. This four-day training is being held locally at North Idaho College to give teachers more tools to put into their educational toolboxes as they shape Idaho's future workforce.
According to information on the STEM Action Center's website, the two top in-demand STEM-related careers are nursing and software development. STEM job postings increased to 7,813, in April from 5,359 in March, a gain of nearly 50 percent.
"The concern is, if we don’t grow our own, or if we don’t have families moving in that are happy with or satisfied with Idaho’s education system, we may not have that workforce of the future," Hemingway said. "I firmly believe STEM skills help develop not only the technical side of STEM but also those 21st century skills: critical thinking, collaboration, problem-solving, how to be creative, how to work in a team."
Karie Harris, who teaches music at Seltice and Prairie View elementary schools in Post Falls, wants to be sure the "A" doesn't get left out of STEM. She says the arts also have a place in science, tech, engineering and math. She's enrolled in the makerspace group to learn to make her classroom a place where students can see the STEM applications of music.
"As a music teacher, I have the ability to integrate simply every subject, and my students know that," she said. "I think it’s important that we can make those connections so that music class isn’t just this free time to come play games, but they’re actually learning about the science of sound."