Over the last 2 decades, developed countries around the world have been placing particular emphasis in providing young generations with necessary skills and education to foster innovation and advance technology, in order to ensure continued growth in the global economy (Riegle-Crumb, 2012). Education centered around Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM education) has been recognized as a vital element towards this goal, and several countries, such as the United States (National Academy Press, 2009) Australia, China and many European States (Corlu, 2014) initiated policies to ensure students have access to specialized STEM curriculums within the context of a broad, multidisciplinary approach to learning that integrates the 4 STEM components in a cross-disciplinary fashion.
These global initiatives have been gaining substantial momentum, driven mostly by data showing that in the near future the global economy might experience a sizeable shortage of young professionals following STEM disciplines (van Langen, 2005). This would in turn be expected to negatively impact global economic prosperity. Most governmental efforts to introduce, support and strengthen STEM curriculums in school education have focused on encouraging students to pursue STEM-related courses, as well as on ensuring that the students who do are adequately trained and qualified to be absorbed in STEM-related professional careers (Barker, 2014; Bryan, 2011; Sha, 2015).
In most developed countries, students are faced with the decision of whether to pursue education focusing on STEM disciplines around the age of 15, since up until that point school educational curriculums are common for all students.Naturally, this decision directly impacts the chance that students will eventually follow careers in STEM disciplines as young professionals a few years later, especially since most of these professions require complex and highly specialized skills and knowledge, even at entry-level positions (Ainley, 2008). It is therefore imperative that educational systems across the globe are designed in a way that ensures students in junior secondary education have positive experiences when exposed to STEM subjects, in order to maximize the chances these students will choose STEM education as their focus during their last school cycle.
Several other studies suggest that focusing on STEM education should start much earlier within the school cycle, as it takes time to develop the skills and overall mental capacity to thrive in these disciplines (English, 2015). Thus, primary schools are essentially responsible for providing children with a learning environment that supports the development of the appropriate educational foundation that will later enable students to not only choose, but also successfully engage in STEM related disciplines (Blank, 2013; Duschl, 2007).
Scientific literacy is considered pivotal for the development of lifelong competencies and skills to think critically and solve real life problems in the modern, technologically advance society of today (Bryan, 2011). For this reason, producing scientifically literate young professionals is a major educational goal globally (Tytler 2007), and STEM education seems to play a substantial role towards this goal, as it fosters scientific curiosity, cultivates an awareness of core scientific principles and develops inquiring minds with the ability to solve complex, multifaceted problems using scientific exploration that leads to innovation (Leuchter, 2014). It is therefore critical to ensure that students graduate with all the knowledge and capacities needed to succeed in an increasingly challenging and dynamic environment. To this end, the first pivotal step is to ensure that more students choose to remain in STEM related coursework during their school years, especially since research indicates that the number of students who choose science and mathematics during their post-compulsory education is constantly declining (Lyons T. 2010; Marginson, 2013; Forgasz, 2006). The major factor accounting for these declining numbers seems to be students’ low interest, and overall negative attitude towards sciences and mathematics. (Hidi, 2000; Lyons T. &., 2010; Sjøberg, 2006). Lack of student motivation to engage in sciences has been largely attributed to passive teaching methodologies centered around pedestrian lectures and heavy dependence on textbooks, which fail to connect science and math with real life problems and solutions, and do not allow students to fully realize the potential of STEM disciplines and the impact they have on society (Fensham, 2006; Lyons, 2005; Tytler R. &., 2006). Clearly then, alternative teaching methods, particularly developed and designed to incorporate hands-on, experimentally oriented curriculums are necessary in order to spark and foster scientific curiosity and allow students to experience STEM disciplines within the context of inquiry-based, contextualized, real life applications with direct impact on humanity (Tytler R. S., 2011).
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