Since the launching of Sputnik, the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields have been flagged as increasingly important (Schoenfeld, 2001). This trend continues today (National Science Foundation [NSF], 2010). In fact, “STEM” is the most frequently occurring word in our current Information Age (Lefkowitz, 2014).
The reason for this is simple; North American students continue to underperform in mathematics (National Assessment of Educational Programs [NAEP], 2005; National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2009; PISA, 2007 & 2013). This leaves large gaps in our schools, universities, and in our current and future workforce (Gateway, 2006; NSF, 2010; Manpower, 2010; Statistics Canada, 2013). The repercussions this intellectual shortfall are huge as a Nation’s economy depends on their ability to produce a workforce that enables them to be innovative and nationally competitive (Association for Career and Technical Education [ACTE], 2001; Networking, Architecture, & Storage [NAS], 2007; NSF, 2010; Orpwood, Schmidt, & Hu, 2012). Having a skilled and knowledgeable workforce that can solve real-world problems is critical for the health, wealth, and cultural vitality of a nation (Fullen, 2010). Given that over eight million jobs (in the US alone) will require STEM skills by the year 2018 (Lefkowitz, 2014), and the fact that we are projected to be grossly unable to meet these demands (NSF, 2010; Orpwood, Schmidt, & Hu, 2012), the urgency to produce a citizenry that is literate in the STEM fields has never been greater (Manpower, 2010; Parntership for 21st Century Skills, 2010).
To be successful in the STEM fields, students need to be mathematically literate as mathematical knowledge is the foundational building block for learning science and acquiring skills in engineering and technology. Additionally, mathematics is important because according to a longitudinal meta-analysis of students from 3 different countries, early mathematical skills are a greater predictor of future reading, math, and over-all academic skills than socioemotional skills, attention issues, and reading skills (Duncan, Dowsett, Claessens, Magnuson, Huston, Klebanov, Pagani, Feinstein, Engel, Brooks-Gunn, Sexton, Duckworth, & Japel, 2006). Research also suggests that a student’s ability to do math is highly correlated with their future educational and vocational opportunities (Moses & Cobb, 2001; Guiterrez, 2009; Wai, Benbow, & Steigler, 2010), to future earning power (Moses and Cobb, 2001), and to job satisfaction (PISA, 2013). Mathematical ability has also been linked to attaining a full and active participation as a critical citizen in today’s rapidly changing world (Guiterrez, 2009) and is even linked to higher rates of community volunteerism (PISA, 2013). Put simply, students that are not mathematically literate have less opportunities than those who have a higher degree of mathematical literacy. Thus, the questions on everyone’s mind is how to do get more students to be proficient in mathematics not just for the good of STEM but for the good of our just and democratic 21st Century society.