The wealth of STEM information and ready-to-go projects available in our digital world can be overwhelming. Add to that the fact that in the time that I spent typing the first sentence of this post approximately 6,000 tweets were tweeted; more than 40,000 Google queries were searched; and more than 2 million emails were sent, many of which were about STEM (Internet Live Stats). With this ever growing database of resources and all of the talk about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, it may be tempting to think that you have to try everything you see…all at once…immediately… or you and your students will be left behind, but I know from experience that trying to implement too many great ideas at one time is like trying to drink from a fire hose…challenging, at best
Interested in STEM? Start Here
With so many ideas for STEM integration, how do you know where to start? When considering change and transformation, I think about these 3 things:
Analyze the data. What needs to improve? When first beginning hands-on, collaborative projects involving technology, I did so to boost engagement and enhance student understanding of concepts. I taught at a high school with a student population comprised of 78% male students. Most of the students (both male and female) were athletes. The students were used to being active and working as a team. Sadly, activity and team work were absent from our math class. My practices needed to change. Lecturing about Geometry topics at 2 o’clock in the afternoon was not working. In fact, it was down right painful for both me and the students.
Integration of STEM Boosts Engagement and Understanding
I was stinking it up as a teacher. Knowing that there was student disengagement and a lack of understanding kept me awake at night. I was not having fun teaching and they sure weren’t having fun learning. I considered including “learning by doing” and hoped that it would not only be fun, but most importantly help increase retention and engagement, improve students’ ability to problem solve, and appeal to various learning styles. Despite my fear in trying something new, I jumped in to give it a try.
Integration of STEM Projects and Practices Enhances Student Achievement
After trying it in my classroom and seeing the benefits, I was moved to a position at my school in which I was able to try it in a bigger way…this time my WHY was to affect change in middle school math and science scores. After seeing success again, I then moved into a job where I was charged with raising scores in all content areas at several schools, as well as, attracting new students to the district. So, for me, my WHY changed as I changed jobs, but understanding the WHY in every position I held was an integral part of helping me better frame the course for change.
How will success be measured? In my job on the campus-level, I recognized our biggest areas of need were in middle school math and science. Our pass rate on the state standardized test was only 55% in Science and 64% in Math. We knew that we needed reinforcement in both areas.
Make SMART Goals
Based upon the analysis of data, we identified our areas of opportunity. The results of the analysis helped us establish a SMART goal, one that was specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound. Next, we planned our path and determined how many activities we wanted to include in the semester long class. We designed projects based upon the identified gaps in learning and then we monitored student progress.
Set a Specific Target and Then Devise a Plan
Just like knowing your destination helps you determine the best route, having a specific goal helps you determine what you need to do to achieve it. On one campus we opted for a required STEM class for all middle school students. The class included activities designed around the use of robotics, probeware, and virtual field trips. The lessons required students to think logically and engage in math and science through experimentation. With virtual field trips, we leveraged the knowledge of professionals outside of our school and made real-world connections to the content.
There are many ways to “do” STEM. It is definitely not a one size fits all kind of thing. Each program should be as unique as the students served. The plan should include activities designed to inspire them, engage their minds, and enhance their understanding of standards-aligned content.
Assign STEM Challenges in Isolation
You may feel more comfortable starting out in bite-sized pieces and that’s okay! In fact, that is how I started out in my own classroom. If you want to provide your students with opportunities to foster critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication, think about developing a:
- pop-up makerspace in which students would have random opportunities as the schedule allows to complete STEM challenges periodically,
- Make it Monday or Figure it out Friday in which students would work on tasks on a set day of the week,
- STEM hour in which students could work on an on-going project at a set time daily, or
- project for a set period in which students would work for “x” number of days, weeks, or grading period to develop a solution for a real-world problem.
Embed STEM Practices into Current Content
If specific skills or test scores need to be targeted, consider embedding STEM practices into standards-aligned curriculum with regularity. Design lessons so that students can employ the 4 C’s of STEM and make real-world connections daily. Have students connect with STEM career professionals. Extend knowledge about a topic beyond disciplinary boundaries when possible.
As with anything new, change can seem overwhelming, but frame your thinking and chart your course by reflecting on these 3 things and you are sure to see success as you jump into STEM!