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STEM Gone Wrong…and How to Fix It!

3 Common STEM Mistakes (and how to fix them)

A decade ago, when “STEM” was more likely used to talk about plant parts or wine glasses than  Science Technology Engineering and Math – the idea of blending subjects under one theme was called “interdisciplinary teaching.”  What makes STEM more than just a buzzword or a recycled teaching trend is SYNERGY.  When science, technology, engineering and math are presented through the lens of learning challenges the student comes first and the curriculum second.  Engagement and learning increase.  When used correctly, synergistic STEM experiences can pull together learning under one theme and continue to fill the room, and the child, with enthusiasm, questions, and skills.    Best Practices in science education form the foundation for good STEM teaching and can grow into environmental STEM and ESTEAM (environment, science, technology, art, math) adventures that are memorable, character-building, and help the planet.  What should you look for in a good STEM program?  What could go wrong?  Here are 3 common STEM mistakes and ways to correct those misconceptions:


#1 TOO SMALL.  The flying foam and silliness created when Mentos candy is added to a 2-liter of soda is a fun activity but it is not STEM, or even a science experiment for that matter.   A small science activity should not be labeled as STEM without a connection to thinking processes found in the scientific method and/or engineering design.  Projects that stay true to the STEM philosophy will develop synergy because of the emphasis on process versus product.   The science, technology, engineering, and math subjects should naturally overlap under the common theme (ie. cooking chemistry, garden design, space exploration). Other signs that STEM is too small at your school include:  less than one time a week,  less than 30 minutes at a time, no connection to other subjects, not all students are engaged.   Here are some ways to grow your STEM teaching into something bigger:  incorporate multi-cultural storybooks,  expand a project multiple days in a row or over a few weeks, collaborate with other teachers or classrooms.  Growing Green Hearts teacher trainings titled STEMtastic© and Science Basics© will help you and your staff have fun experiencing scientific thinking through experiments and engineering design challenges.  Whether your science students are age 3 or 13, collaboration with an expert GGH science teacher will help your science program teach kids effectively, use time efficiently, move from good to great .

#2  TOO CLEAN & CONTROLLED.   Improving a design, project, or lesson takes a few tries, right?  Play gets messy, right?  Kids and adults learn from getting it wrong before they get it right!  If a teacher is going into a STEM project with their final product in mind, without creating space for the student’s creativity and mistakes- then that STEM project is too clean and controlled.  Yes, be clear about safety, expectations, goals, clean-up and rules.  Yes, have essential learnings and standards that you would like children to explore or meet.  And yes, be sure to keep in mind that STEM philosophy points to students as the curriculum not the pouring of knowledge into the child.   STEM is  project-based learning that will take many iterations for some kids and ten times that for others.  When space for creativity and collaboration are embedded into the STEM projects it allows for responsibility, teamwork, time management skills to sprout.  If you are busy controlling the conversations, counting the rulers and reading the directions you’ll miss out.   Most teachers say they didn’t get STEM until they experienced STEM.  Growing Green Hearts teacher trainings titled Building ESTEAM with STEM©, Energize Kids About Climate© model how to run engineering design challenges and service-learning projects that student-centered and teacher-friendly.  This environmental STEM meets a multitude of state standards while playing, learning, and loving nature.

#3  TOO SELFISH.   Engineering is solving problems through product or process to meet human needs or wants.  If your STEM projects are for individuals rather than teams your students are missing out on team skills that a career in engineering requires.  Try turning an existing STEM assignment into a team or family challenge.  If your STEM program is over-emphasizing physics and mechanical engineering then your students could be missing out on chemistry, biology, and earth science experiences.  Try to incorporate more types of engineering such as:  environmental, chemical, civil, construction management, aeronautical.   Better yet, give a hat tip to the systems of water, air, land, and living things by embedding environmental stewardship into your project.  Growing Green Hearts works with schools and community groups to design curriculum around service learning experiences that blend environmental stewardship and the arts with global stories and STEM.   How could hundreds of students K-5 work together to build a rain garden and simultaneously meet grade level standards?   How do energy choices here effect the other side of the globe negatively or positively?  How could a church Sunday School program embed water use and recycling into play and worship?  Growing Green Hearts has done these projects for communities like yours– call for more information.


Play. Learn. Love.

July 2015