A critical period
Research shows that 4th - 8th grade is a critical period when students begin to turn away from science and math in greater numbers. Many students are likely to leave school without the confidence or preparation they need in STEM to keep them in the "pipeline" for technical careers. As a result, fewer students are choosing to major in STEM fields in college. The Georgetown Center on Education released a study that said there will be 2.8 million job openings in the US in STEM by 2018- and 800,000 of them will require Masters Degrees in these areas. However, the U.S. will only produce around 550,000 graduates that have the training to fulfill these jobs.
The declining interest of students in general, and girls and underrepresented minorities in particular, often results from cultural beliefs and media influences that communicate stereotypes that these subjects are more appropriate for one group than another. These beliefs influence choices students make throughout school. Many students do not view STEM occupations as directly benefiting society or individuals. As a result, STEM careers often do not appeal to students who value making a social contribution. A recent survey of K-12 students nationwide indicates that students might be interested in science careers if they knew more about them and their relevance to society (Project Tomorrow, 2009). It is necessary to develop ways to sustain and support students' interest in science through upper elementary and middle school.
Research suggests several effective avenues for supporting students in STEM. These festivals contain three specific strategies: changing the image of STEM, providing students with positive role models, and providing events to encourage students to remain or become involved in STEM and to pursue STEM careers.