Moving Forward With STEM
As STEM education becomes a familiar buzzword among education circles, teachers are finding themselves barraged with new concepts, technologies, and curriculum to make STEM education a reality for their students. Studies are published with statistics espousing the value and importance of STEM to students, community and country. New national and state standards regularly emerge with requirements for STEM related curriculum and achievement scores. Teachers are continually encouraged to do more hands on, problem solving and thought provoking activities keep students engaged and challenged in the class room with less time and far smaller budgets.
Missing in the platitudes and statistics is a concise, on the ground how-to guide for real classroom teachers to do real STEM education. Not just an activity or two here and there, but a program that weaves STEM education principles among a variety of courses, disciplines, and instructors in a way that capitalizes on the good things that you already do in the classroom, doesn’t require huge budget expenditures, and creates a fresh, positive learning community among staff and students. Properly done, STEM education is a game changer in educational practice. This article, and the content on TeachSTEMNow.com is designed specifically to make STEM not a buzzword or book laid on a dusty shelf, but a key component in your teaching practices to make your job far more effective, rewarding and relevant.
Dis-Integration and Departmentalization
Today’s secondary and post secondary schools are highly departmentalized institutions. Having individual departments allows instructors to focus on delivering specialized content. Departmentalization also concentrates equipment and materials for convenient student access. The math department has calculators and smart boards, for example. The tech/computer department has a room full of computers. Science has everything from preserved specimens to bunsen burners. Shop classes have welders, machine tools and table saws.
Unfortunately this academic departmentalization has lead to social compartmentalization as well among staff members( and their students) and it works to confound STEM program objectives in schools. Imagine a typical staff room at lunch. Math and Science, English and History, Woods and Metal Shop, and Health and PE teachers often segregrate themselves into social groups. Even though teachers pretend to try not to talk shop during lunch, they often do, and sharing information about curriculum, testing, or strategies is good thing any time it happens. This is further reinforced with regular department meetings.
One key factor that is missing in the equation toward STEM implementation is consistent, meaningful crosstalk between departments with a consistent guiding principle. By its very nature, effective STEM education requires interdisciplinary discussion, planning and sharing of information, equipment and materials. Attempts have been made in the past as educators have long recognized the issues associated with isolated curriculum , and the movement toward articulating curriculum between disciplines has been around for some time. Most teachers have probably had instructional development and training on this topic, and districts have developed plans to help focus efforts on increasing student achievement by encouraging links between science and math, History and Language Arts, and so on.
The results of this articulation can be very positive if teachers consistently plan and adjust the pace and progress of common curricular activities. Much of the time, given all of the other issues teachers have to contend with as the school year takes shape, the grand plans to articulate remain limited in scope and execution. There are often well meaning attempts to cover similar material at the same time, or team teach a project or two; however the lack of an overarching paradigm that serves to guide educators as they plan and execute articulation over the course of a single year, let alone a long term plan, has not served educational stakeholders well in the race to increase the number of students with the marketable skills needed to join the modern workforce.
Properly implemented STEM education provides that paradigm, and breaking down the barriers on the ground between teachers and their departments is a key first step to making meaningful changes in the direction toward putting science, technology, engineering and mathematics into the hands of every teacher in your school.