And here are 3 ways to kickstart interdisciplinary STEM programs in your school.

GUEST COLUMN | by Azi Jamalian

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in STEM currently make up 6.2 percent of all U.S. employment. Not only that, but the majority of STEM-related occupations boast wages above the national average and demonstrate above-average growth.

There’s no doubt that foundational knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and math will help tomorrow’s job seekers to excel in the future of work. However, much of this success depends on the level of STEM instruction they receive while still in elementary, middle, and high school.

While we often assume that STEM programs are being initiated by classroom teachers, new research from School Library Journal suggests that librarians and media specialists are increasingly taking the lead in bringing new, innovative tools into their school programs. They also play an active role in piloting these programs and collaborating with other teachers to embed these new tools as part of the core curriculum. You can read the full report on this research here.

Exploring the Role of Libraries — and Librarians — in STEM Education

Last year, Pew Research Center found that Millennials are the generation most likely to use public libraries, suggesting that even in the age of digitization, the library is not obsolete. It follows that Generation Z, will follow in their parents’ footsteps and look to the library as a resource.

In fact, more than half of school libraries in the United States today offer maker programs. In elementary and middle schools, more than 60 percent of libraries now have dedicated space for maker activities as they work to integrate technology and STEM tools into their programs. Not only have these activities increased students’ library participation, but they have also significantly affected students’ overall learning in sciences, technology, engineering, and math subjects — all while giving them a strong sense of community.

And while we’re still feeling out the best ways to set teachers up for success as they bring STEM into the classroom, this new data necessitates that school districts expand their scope to embrace the work of librarians as it relates to establishing a solid STEM foundation in schools. But without previous experience in doing so, many school districts are uncertain about the best ways to incorporate librarians and media specialists into STEM initiatives.

Here are three ways to kickstart interdisciplinary STEM programs to incorporate both librarians and teachers.

Establish more comprehensive professional development programs. Providing professional development resources to librarians and media specialists will enable them to continue serving as the leading force of innovation in their schools.

Find new places for librarians and teachers to interact. Designing staff meetings and a school calendar that provides opportunities for librarians to interact more frequently with teachers is a powerful way to help librarians to better integrate maker activities with your school’s curriculum — and ultimately scale these activities beyond the library space.

Rethink the design of school libraries. The reorganization of school libraries is key if we’re hoping to allow integration of STEM and maker tools, collaboration between students, and opportunities to share knowledge in the community.

Characteristics of an Effective STEM Implementation

Every STEM implementation is different, but an effective collaboration between teachers and librarians can prove beneficial. According to School Library Journal, the most effective STEM programs are measured by the level of student engagement, collaboration, and demonstration of student learning. They emphasize the process of making rather than a student’s final project. In fact, students may go through many iterations, take risks, make mistakes, and learn forward from their failures.

Creating a community and culture around “making” catalyzes the movement and creates synergy between different stakeholders, including librarians, teachers, students, parents, administrators, and the community at large. Furthermore, maker and STEM education provides opportunities for students to deepen their understanding of academic subjects such as arts, mathematics, sciences, language arts, and social studies.

Through hands-on project-based learning, students are able to demonstrate what they know, reflect on their understanding and misunderstanding, and share their knowledge with the community.

Interested in more in-depth insights into the role of school libraries in implementing a STEM program? Read the FULL REPORT here.

Azadeh (Azi) Jamalian, Ph.D., is Head of Education Strategy at littleBits, an award-winning platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks empowering kids everywhere to invent. Azi has a Ph.D. in Cognitive Studies in Education from Teachers College Columbia University, and has published journal articles and book chapters on a broad range of topics such as designing learning platforms for children, emerging educational tech, game design, mathematical education, and cognition. Azi has received numerous awards including “IES Prize for Excellence in Research on Cognition and Student Learning” and “The Cooney Center’s certificate of innovation in Children’s Learning.”