The Idaho Department of Labor estimates that by 2025 Idaho will be lacking about 63,000 people needed to fill positions ranging from construction jobs to medical and technology positions, many of which involve Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics also known as STEM-related skills and knowledge.
That is why the Idaho STEM Action Center is giving out grants to Idaho schools which will use the money to teach students Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics to ensure Idaho's long-term economic prosperity. During his State of the State Address Governor Butch Otter urged the legislature to continue to support the Idaho STEM Action Center. "They already are having a significant impact on thousands of educators and tens of thousands of students," Gov. Otter said. "But the demand is there to expand their reach to help ensure every Idaho student and teacher gets the chance to embrace the STEM fields and the tremendous growth of career opportunities they provide. Proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math form an increasingly essential link between K-12 and career readiness. STEM education is critical to developing those skills most in demand in today's workplace."
Sterling Willford is the Gifted and Talented Coordinator for Sugar-Salem School District. He said they received grant money to buy a 3D printer as well as a set of 25 Arduinos, mini-computers for coding, along with 5 Arduino starter kits. This will allow them to introduce computer science and robotics into their junior high and elementary schools. "I'm lucky enough that I get to do it during school," Sterling said. "These are usually students who are doing well enough academically that they can leave for 30 minutes a day. They come into my classroom and they get reenergized about learning. Then we send them back and hopefully they get reengaged in their curriculum as well."
Willford said at the beginning of this year he introduced the class to the 3D printers and how to use them, now they are onto learning computer science and robotics with the Arduinos. "It's pretty basic what we are doing so far," he said. "What will really enhance that is when we start the programming with the Arduinos. That will not be 3D printing. There we will probably be lucky if we can manage to make an LED light blink a few times when we push a button. That's where the intense learning will start to happen. "
He said he hopes this hands-on learning experience will not only engage the students but also keep their minds thinking about future jobs. "The way our world is progressing for students to be successful they have to be confident with computers and really programming them and making them do certain functions," he said. "I have heard statistics that guess that 50 percent of the jobs these kids will have are jobs that don't even exist yet."