STEM is Here to Stay:
7 Things About STEM Today
Which projects do you remember from your school days? A book report diorama, report on a state or a science fair tri-fold. Egg drop, grow labs, and bridges were some of the first engineering design challenges I tried as a kid but they were just cool projects, not EDC’s then. My training with what we now call STEM started with NASA’s space camp for teachers. Honeywell sponsored educators from around the world to gather in Huntsville, Alabama to focus for ten days on engineering, space exploration, and project-based learning. The 2015 talk of “Learning ecologies” and “STEM networks” are rooted in corporate sponsorships/community building, high-quality teacher education experiences, and educational innovations focused on science literacy and systems.
The National Science Teacher’s Association held a STEM Forum in Minneapolis in May of 2015. I figured I’d run into a number of periodic table t-shirts and cloud chart coffee mugs but instead I was greeted by vibrant motivating STEM conversations. Here are seven things to know about STEM.
1. Defining STEM? The STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) is a teaching philosophy that emphasizes process over product, experiences over curriculum, and connections over compartmentalized subjects. I was surprised to hear how STEM is being defined, on paper in mission statements and frameworks, at state and city-wide levels in order to communicate educational objectives clearly. From STEM have grown STEAM (A for art), ESTEAM (E for environment), and STREAM (R for religion). These acronyms are not taking away from STEM- but building upon it. For example, Growing Green Hearts specializes in ESTEAM because: 1) connecting with the environment allows children to practice systems thinking, 2)empower students in addressing climate change in a hope-filled way, 3) brain-based research points to increased creativity, engagement, and retention with project-based learning that crosses the median of the brain exercising both right and left hemispheres. STREAM and STEAM also work to bridge the humanities and the sciences- connecting science literacy with social systems and communities.
2. STEM education is a continuum. Whether coast to coast or from school to school STEM can be embedded into a student’s day in many ways: attending a STEM magnet school, district-wide initiatives rooted in trainings for teachers, extended day STEM programming, extracurricular clubs, a single teacher advocating for the STEM movement in education, apps for STEM play at home, or STEM embedded service-learning.
3. Dive in to STEM. Sue came to the conference from Ohio- she and I built a wind turbine together- and safely failed 3 times before getting it right (not perfect but spinning and lifting a little weight at least!). George Arcadum, and I played with buoyancy and the engineering design process led by the U.S. Bureau of Oceans and Energy Management. Teachers from around the country shared, both on invited panels and in casual conversations, that the best way to learn STEM is to just dive in and experience it. In-school field trips by Growing Green Hearts model STEM teaching for classrooms. The kids and teachers get to play with the process (and the pedagogy). With engineering design, it’s ok to fail as long as you learn from it and grow from there. Ready to jump in? Tie together in-school field trips with curriculum development by Growing Green Hearts and you’ll have a K-5 ESTEAM project for your school to intertwines environmental sustainability with STEM, specific to your site, all rooted in your community.
4. STEM is an organized movement. Rumors of teachers scrambling for trainings and textbooks the summer before the school year due to their states quickly adopting new standards has led to misconceptions about STEM being a thrown together trend. While states are on different timelines with adoption of national science standards, it is true that Common Core standards are a basis for the Next Generation Science Standards, which embody the STEM movement in education. Both have roots in the document titled: National Science Education Standards done by the national Research Council and the national Academy of Sciences in 1996. The binding on my book is worn- even years ago it acted as a solid guide for the hands-on, inquiry-based, science literacy-based classroom.
5. STEM is here to stay. STEM and NGSS are rooted in solid science education practices and from those roots grows an enriched way to reach, teach, coach and empower kids.
6. STEM pipelines are in place in the U.S. now. New York, NY; Apple Valley, MN; and Des Moines, IA are three examples of STEM pipelines. This means that students can go through their educational careers Kindergarten through college (also known as K-16) with STEM experiences strengthening skills every step of the way. Unfortunately kids get into the flow of amazing engineering design skills, computational language experiences or service learning projects that stop abruptly at the end of the school year when many schools or districts may have one magnet school or one passionate teacher rather than a thoughtful STEM pipeline in place.
7. Community connections enhance, fund, and drive STEM. Maker Spaces, Fab Labs, natural playgrounds, and school gardens are areas of a school dedicated to creative teaching and learning. From cardboard with hot glue gun and saws to 3-D printers and vinyl machines these spaces require expensive tools, time, and space. Local businesses benefit from a work force trained in on tech tools and positive image within the community. Schools, families, and students benefit from the “learning ecology”- or network of people and places invested in education for all.
Play. Learn. Love.