A bit about me:
I’m not a teacher, nor am I an expert in education. I am a market research analyst and strategic advisor having worked on a variety of brands sold to consumers and business. I dig to understand markets and issues. I interview people to understand their emotional and rational thoughts, make sense out of data and metrics and interpret findings into intelligence to be used for strategic gain. A recent assignment for a Chicago nonprofit serving low income, inner city kids led me to education reform. Then, I met Dan Rasmus on Twitter.
But here’s a secret:
When Daniel tweeted STEM, I had no clue what it meant. Not wanting to appear stupid, it took nanoseconds to Google STEM and fill my brain with current trends realizing that STEM stood for ‘Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics” a hot educational initiative.
But my ignorance of STEM is important to anyone who wants to embrace it.
STEM has a problem:
Selling a product or program demands public (consumer) understanding. Without public understanding or knowledge of an idea – there is limited perceived need and somewhat low demand. Products with low to no awareness become invisible and difficult to sell. And, while Harry Potter and his invisibility cloak are hip, STEM education can’t be invisible to the ones using it or benefitting from it. Especially to people, or school districts expecting to pay for it.
Personally, I was shocked on my NO-STEM knowledge. I’ve been around, I’m involved with my kids – here’s a brief personal update:
- Mom for 21 years
- Heavily involved in the educational process of 2 children
- Living in an exceptional school district
- Participating in PTO including fundraising chairman, being a Board Member of the local Middle School Network. Not going to count the endless days of going to soccer games and talking to parents while sitting in freezing rain.
- Proud owner of Substitute Teaching certificate K-12 for Lake County, IL
- Conducting a market research analysis on Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and 40% dropout rates; issues impacting dropout and early education trends in poverty stricken areas. No STEM there, although, digital learning was used as terminology.
- Raising a child taking 3 of 5 AP classes, 1 in math, 1 in science and last year looking at engineering colleges – when I asked my daughter re STEM – I received a blank stare!
- Thinking, “I must be missing something”, my daughter graciously allowed me to interview her friends at University of Pittsburgh, University of Illinois, University of Michigan and Vanderbilt including one going into teaching. Guess what? STEM was an unknown, even with prompts. These kids are currently freshmen in college. Could STEM be this new?
- So, I took one more step and contacted eight young moms, college-educated, high income with 2+ kids and asked about their knowledge of STEM and their kid’s education. STEM was not a recognized acronym. But AYSO was – that’s the soccer organization.
Not to let a stone go unturned, I called my next door neighbor who was principal at a major high school. What a surprise! He rattled off all the STEM trends which he said had been going on for years and upon further Search, I found educational professionals and business serving education knew the STEM-speak. But, not the parents, nor the kids. Finally, a brain cell ignited, I realized: this lack of knowledge on what STEM is, what is does and how it fits in a kid’s life- IS A PROBLEM beyond singular me.
I like to look at problems as opportunities and this one is huge. It’s really called: Marketing 101.
Business must understand the problem(s) prior to developing the solutions. While the current solutions include a variety of classroom integrations with emphasis on technology, many questions came out of a few phone calls:
- What the heck is STEM?
- More science, more tech, more engineering, more math? What does that mean?
- Why does my 3rd grader need more science? Don’t they learn that in 5th grade? H.S?
- What benefit will be achieved by exposing my kids to STEM? They’re too young for that stuff. Let them play sports. Only the nerdy kids do afterschool science. Tech is good.
- Kids are trained in specific software programs at their first job; you’re getting way ahead of yourself. Let kids be kids.
- I’m not a math whiz and I have a great job. Not really worried about it.
- Some kids are good at math, some aren’t. Can’t force it. My child is 8 yrs old.
- Engineering schools are so selective; don’t think my kid has what it takes.
- Engineering for an elite group; special kids. Usually their parents are brilliant; oddballs.
- We live in a great school district; they’ll teach my kid the best way.
- Schools want to teach classes, the ‘meat’, not process or software. Those are electives.
The above was obtained from a quick 2 day process, but we’d like to learn more. My initial topline thoughts from this STEM adventure are listed below:
- STEM is a confused term. Even when STEM is spelled-out, not many understand the long term meaning or significance of teaching STEM to kids K-6.
- Parents may think the SEM of STEM not important to future growth, or not appropriate for mainstream kids, their kids. Especially at younger ages.
- The T of STEM appears to be readily accepted. But can Technology carry the SEM?
- Will parents need to be educated on STEM to support initiatives? What cultural changes need to occur within the parent/caretaker mindset?
- Who are the gatekeepers of education? Parents or teachers/school districts or both and to what extent? What role does parent have in accelerating STEM in household? Do parents have the mental and physical tools to increase STEM beyond classroom?
- The educational market has embraced STEM. Is this the primary market to sustain STEM growth, or excel in educational reform? How do parents and kids fit?
CALL TO ACTION: Help us add to the above. Help us define STEM in real-life terms: A bit of homework —
Yep, we want you to ask your spouse, significant other, or anyone managing your kids/grandkids/cousins, etc. the following questions: (Please do not include teachers)
- Have you ever heard of STEM?
- If you get a blank stare, re-ask: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math? STEM as acronym? Ever hear of it?
- If you get that ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about look’, ask what their schools are doing for their kids in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math – and blog specifics such as, “Oh, he was taught how to use Google Bibliography for his English paper.” Or, “There’s a science fair every year.” Please add as many comments as discussed and as verbatims, no translations needed. We’re looking for ‘real words’. If you can add age/grade of child, that would be helpful, but not mandatory. (I didn’t do, but I’m writing this blog)
- Bonus Question: If conversation gets going, ask how parents/caretakers view STEM as being important, or unimportant to their child. Be creative with your questions; homework should be fun!
Looking forward to receiving your findings.
A TOKEN OF APPRECIATION – A Marketing Cue
OK, I was trained in sales and taught to leave an idea after every conversation. So here’s a story to ponder on brand/package communications.
Master Lock sold their laminated padlocks to professional locksmiths and technical language was primarily used to explain product features, e.g. 3-pin tumbler, 5-pin tumbler. Master also sold into mass retailers and although the packaging and copy weren’t consumer friendly, the brand dominated. When imports started to copy the Master Lock product and package, retailers could obtain higher margins with imports and Master Lock lost share. The brand needed to be reinvented and I led the team to spearhead the package/merchandising redesign.
When interviewing consumers, we found they had no clue on 3-pin tumbler, or 5-pin technical speak and only wanted to find a lock that could be used for specific applications. We heard: ‘something to lock my backyard shed’, ‘lock my boat without rusting’, and ‘provide strong protection to lock my gate so kids won’t fall in the pool’. People spoke in real life terms and needs.
The entire product line was segmented and redesigned, not by technical language which R&D loved, but by consumer-speak: A lock for boats, a lock for sheds, a lock for gates – making quick identification and purchase idiot-proof for the time-pressed consumer. After the redesign, Master regained the lost Kmart business, as well as other retailers and pushed imports back to China.
Lesson learned: Present your product in a way that people can relate to, in a way they can easily understand and in a way for which they shop. Speak to people in everyday, normal and relevant speak, or comprehension AND sales will be lost. I think the Master Lock story can be transferred to STEM. Easy understanding and relevance ignites buy-in. That said, let the learning begin and we hope you’ll return with real world STEM insights.
OK – you can rate my first blog post, but please be kind.