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December 1, 2014
Vol. 72
No. 4

Tell Me About … / How STEM Instruction Should Change

Tell Me About … / How STEM Instruction Should Change- thumbnail

Start Early

The earlier we can get our children to experience STEM instruction, the better. STEM education should begin in the elementary grades. Our K–6 school became a STEM school three years ago, and the transformation was astounding. Through problem-based learning projects, our students take charge of their learning—they learn how to take risks, collaborate, and solve problems. We have students wading in local lakes and streams looking for macro invertebrates to determine the cleanliness of our water system.
Angel Blakeley, 4th grade teacher, Washington STEM Academy, Warsaw, Indiana

Bring in University Partners

For high school students, STEM instruction needs to include access to scientific research facilities in colleges and universities. Partnerships with college and university researchers stimulate our students to develop skills that prepare them for college work in science and careers in scientific and technology fields. Mentorship is a key component that will change STEM instruction so that more students have the support and role models they need.
Linda Miller, assistant principal, Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet, Nashville, Tennessee

Help Students Break the Code

Every child needs to learn how to code at an early age. Code is the language we use to talk to computers; it runs everyday objects like cars, phones, websites, bank cards, and medical equipment, yet most of us do not know how to read and write code. Our society has a shortage of qualified coders, yet we are not teaching coding in our schools. By starting early, we could help more students find meaningful work. Coding is about making a difference in the world; it is about using tools to find solutions to problems and to create useful changes in worldwide communication, education, and quality of life.
Diane Boulanger, French immersion teacher, Peel District School Board, Ontario, Canada

Don't Call It STEM

I would stop using the term STEM instruction, which places the emphasis on science and math college majors or career areas. Instead, we should call it millennial instruction and emphasize the importance of design thinking, critical reasoning, and problem-solving skills, which are important for all contributing global citizens today and tomorrow. Putting the focus on developing grit and perseverance through problem solving will help students succeed in high school and college.
Becky Ashe, principal, Knox County Schools, Knoxville, Tennessee

Put It All Together

Instead of breaking down math, science, and so on into subject areas that are taught independently from one another, replace the class period structure with entire days dedicated to collaboratively solving a single, complex problem. Critical-thinking and problem-solving skills are best taught through an interdisciplinary approach, tying multiple subject areas together by requiring students to recall prior knowledge and apply what they know to new situations.
Nicholas Cammarano, instructional technology resource teacher, New Kent County Public Schools, New Kent, Virginia

Give Students the Keys

I would love to see STEM instruction really put the keys of the class in the students' hands. Our students today are so used to assignments that come with detailed instructions. They need to have more projects in which the teacher just supplies the problem that they need to solve and lets the students find the solutions themselves. I've found that some of my students are frustrated with this approach at first, but they become more comfortable with it along the way.
Christopher Laney, STEM teacher, Novi Middle School, Novi, Michigan

Raise Career Awareness

We need to help students examine the diversity of career options that are available through STEM. Many students don't realize how many college majors and career pathways demand STEM experience. To launch the conversation with students, we can talk about how STEM complements their personal interests and strengths. For example, if a student loves sports, we can talk about the importance of understanding biology for training and math for game strategy. We can also highlight how STEM is necessary for jobs students might not expect—for example, carpentry, media arts, and welding. To learn more, see A Spotlight on Science Learning: The High Cost of Dropping Science and Math.
Bonnie Schmidt, president and founder, Let's Talk Science, London, Ontario, Canada

Draw on the Arts

The arts build many habits of mind that are necessary for STEM learning; for example, in arts classes students learn to be creative, to brainstorm multiple solutions to a problem, to communicate those ideas to other stakeholders, and to persist through a piece of work. STEM can easily evolve into STEAM by providing students with a problem-based arts experience that can help them become independent thinkers and give them the confidence and ability to identify problems, develop solutions, and implement those solutions for the betterment of our communities.
Nicholas Gehl, department chair of fine arts, Evanston Township High School, Evanston, Illinois

Make It Transdisciplinary

STEM instruction needs to be transdisciplinary. The work that students do should combine all core subjects, and preferably electives as well. We need to give students real-world scenarios they can work through the way engineers, scientists, technicians, and other STEM workers do—calling on math, language, science, and social sciences skills. Curriculum teams at the middle school level give teachers the flexibility to do this kind of transdisciplinary learning. Unless high schools incorporate teaming to provide more holistic opportunities, high school students will get a watered-down version of STEM.
Jane Laux, 7th grade STEM language arts teacher, Liberty Middle School, West Fargo, North Dakota

Make It a Project

STEM must be more integrated throughout the curriculum and must begin earlier. The instructional strategy that makes most sense in the delivery of information and that answers the students' natural question, "Why do I have to learn this?" is project- or problem-based learning. By satisfying children's natural curiosity, we also teach people how to be lifelong learners.
Lucy Helveston, mentor teacher, STEM Works, Laurel, Mississippi

Build Partnerships

STEM instruction needs to better prepare students for college and career. We need to collaborate with organizations of higher learning, as well as business organizations, to align our practice. We are doing this in Arlington Independent School District. We collaborate with the University of Texas at Arlington and many local businesses, including Lockheed, to add rigor so students receive true STEM education. We are on the road to preparing all students for the 21st century college classroom and the workforce.
Kelly Hastings, principal, Young Junior High, Arlington, Texas

Connect STEM to Students' Aspirations

We tend to think of STEM instruction from an academic viewpoint. I believe it needs to be joined with solid career development that encourages students to think of STEM as more than biology, computers, math, and so on. Educators need to better understand students' individual aspirations and interests and then connect those to STEM studies and projects.
LeAnn Stewart, director of Blended Learning, AdvancePath Academics, White House, Tennessee

Integrate Instruction

Too often, STEM is segmented, only focusing on science, math, or technology. We need to integrate STEM instruction with all disciplines, giving students authentic, real-world problems to solve and embedding and teaching 21st century skills. Teachers need to build partnerships with colleges and businesses, providing students with opportunities to see and participate in potential future careers.
Eric Dobervich, 7th grade STEM science teacher, West Fargo Public Schools, Fargo, North Dakota


STEM should change to STEAM. We ought to prepare children to lead fulfilled and productive lives for self and others. They need technical skills for college and career, but they also need to develop art appreciation and creativity, self-awareness, and community involvement. Our public education should target all three areas to solve broad societal issues.
Consuelo Yamaguchi, ESL/Bilingual Coordinator, Cannan Elementary, Willis, Texas
The business community needs to play a more active role in preparing the future workforce. Through partnerships between education and businesses, the National Academy Foundation provides schools with an educational model that blends traditional academics with work-based learning activities. This real-world application helps students recognize the importance of their education and motivates them to learn more. Through industry-focused curriculum, a continuum of work-based learning experiences, and opportunities to develop relationships with business professionals, our STEM-related career academies are paving the way for future generations.
Andrew Rothstein, vice president, programs, National Academy Foundation, New York, New York

Nurture Design Process Thinking

STEM must move beyond isolated programs to an integrated instructional approach. In our district's drive to prepare students to be ready for college, career, and citizenship, we have adopted Instructional STEM, or iSTEM. These are the three principles of iSTEM: (1) Careers and potential problems that students may face in the workplace are the driving force behind the learning. (2) The curriculum integrates two or more STEM disciplines, enabling students to make cross-curricular connections and deepen understanding. (3) Students are encouraged to use design process thinking to analyze real-world problems, brainstorm solutions, determine the solutions' effectiveness, and redesign to produce the best possible outcomes.
Jacob Andrus and Tami Byron, STEM Curriculum and Development, Newport News Public Schools, Newport News, Virginia

Connect the STEM Disciplines

I hear these questions too often in class: "Why are we doing math in science?" "Do I need science to be an engineer?" We need to connect science, math, technology, and engineering. In a perfect school there would be no separate classes. Teachers should work actively to show students the connection between STEM subjects. To achieve this, teachers will require more training to increase their knowledge in the other STEM subjects.
MaryAnn Roll, science teacher, Western New York Maritime Charter School, Buffalo, New York

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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