The state of STEM reading
There is a push in the field of education to encourage students to consider STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and careers. Yet, as the graphic at right shows, books with STEM topics are lacking greatly from students’ reading diets.
A study of 9.8 million students at 31,327 schools who read 334 million books and nonfiction articles last school year 1 showed that, on average, only 54% of students read at least one STEM book last year. This means that about half of the student sample didn’t do any STEM reading. 2
Overall, boys are more likely to choose books with STEM topics than girls. The data show that of the students who did read a STEM book, 56% of boys read at least one STEM book last year, compared to 52% of girls who did so. Also, of all books read by boys, 11% covered a STEM topic, versus 8% of the books read by girls. Our data also show that more books with STEM topics were read at the elementary level, and that STEM books accounted for a larger proportion of elementary reading, compared to students in middle and high school.
So how do we beef up the STEM diet? A place to begin may simply be awareness of what’s out there. Here’s a list of 20 popular books with STEM topics from the study (with their ATOS Readability Formula and Interest levels noted): 3
- Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza (1.0, LG) by Marjorie Eberts
- A Color of His Own (2.3, LG) by Leo Lionni
- Lemonade for Sale (2.8, LG) by Stuart J. Murphy
- Exploring Space with an Astronaut (3.0, LG) by Patricia J. Murphy
- How Much Is a Million? (3.4, LG) by David M. Schwartz
- The Magic School bus Inside the Earth (3.6, LG) by Joanna Cole
- Superstorms (3.8, LG) by Seymour Simon
- The Greedy Triangle (3.9, LG) by Marilyn Burns
- The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman (4.2, LG) by Darcy Pattison
- A Tree Is Growing (4.2, LG) by Arthur Dorros
- The Albertosaurus Mystery: Philip Currie’s Hunt in the Badlands (4.6, MG) by T.V. Padma
- Camping with the President (5.1, LG) by Ginger Wadsworth
- How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning (5.1, LG) by Rosalyn Schanzer
- The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth (5.5, LG) by Kathleen Krull
- Scat (5.5, MG) by Carl Hiaasen
- Who Was Albert Einstein? (5.8, MG) by Jess M. Brallier
- Rocket Boys/October Sky (5.9, UG) by Homer Hickam
- Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (6.9, UG) by Steve Sheinkin
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (8.0, UG) by Rebecca Skloot
- Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (9.2, UG) by Steven D. Levitt
2 Note: We recognize that students may complete additional reading from sources not captured in our database. However, for users of this program, much reading is captured in this way.
3 ATOS and Interest levels together inform book selection. ATOS level is an estimate of text difficulty reported on a grade-level scale. Interest levels refer to the sophistication/maturity of a text’s content, ideas, and themes: LG (lower grades, K–3), MG (middle grades, 4–8), MG+ (middle grades plus, 6 and up), and UG (upper grades, 9–12).