Reach for the Stars! That is what my tagline says and I believe it. If the truth be told, students, or most of them, need some inspiration from someone to know what the stars are for which they reach. Teachers and other mentors motivate.
For many years the United States has trained teachers through educational programs that were thought to be high quality. Educational philosophies change and evolve, giving partiality to whatever currently is “the way we do things.”
Today, the emphasis, and I believe rightly so, is for STEM education. Anyone who has ever read this blog before knows that I believe we need to integrate the arts into STEM education, making it STEAM. This integration uses project-based learning and the scientific method to ask questions, inquire and seek answers. Teach science and math concepts through the arts, and understand the arts through math and science. Teachers are facilitators, not dispensers of knowledge and must be the students’ pipeline to seeking information, problem solving, and developing critical thinking skills. They don’t have to know everything, but they have to know where to look and find answers. How does this new philosophy affect the way math and science are taught?
We want teachers to understand math and science. How can you teach what you don’t understand? We want teachers to have a depth of content knowledge in any subject, but gaining that depth in STEM subjects takes time. It takes study and development. It isn’t gotten in the one math methods or science methods course needed to obtain an education degree (at least for elementary, not much more for Secondary). You have to study all the aspects of the discipline. Knowledge must be acquired, understood and applied. This comment is not to blame teachers for what they have not been taught. Their passion for students to learn exists, give them the tools.
You can’t expect a teacher who has never studied these disciplines to wake up one day and just do it because their school is now a STEM school or has a STEM course. So many are intimidated and want to do it, but really don’t understand. Please tell me they are not making it up. I fear that some are. Education has rarely attracted the best and the brightest. It is always said that those who can do, do, and those who can’t, teach. I never believed that, but nonetheless, a college degree in education is a lot easier to obtain than one in physics. Again, not the teacher’s fault.
A day or two of professional development won’t do it. STEM is not something you learn to do by attending a workshop for a day. STEM is the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Diverse fields of science, math and technology and engineering exist. Teaching the beginnings of these various disciplines takes an understanding of the concepts and how they relate to each other. It is an emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving and teachers currently are not taught to teach this way.
So, no point in criticizing without offering solutions. We need to make this better NOW. There are teachers and schools doing very credible STEM programs. There are schools who aren’t. Instead of saying you can do something or you know the answer, say you don’t know and find out.
SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVING K-12 STEM/STEAM EDUCATION:
- Analyze and revise curriculum for science and math in K-12.
- Use Plan, Do, Study Act for the analysis process.
- Schools that embark on having STEM as a part of their curriculum must plan and hire appropriate teachers who have the background to teach and integrate STEM subjects across the curriculum.
- Check out successful STEM schools and programs.
- Teachers must use every opportunity to incorporate engineering concepts and technology throughout the curriculum. (Teachers must be appropriately trained to do this).
- Higher Ed must define and establish teacher-training programs for this discipline.
- Students must have the opportunity to learn about the career possibilities in STEM fields.
- Students must integrate technology and engineering into their math and science as well as other core academics.
- Experiential learning and projects will facilitate this learning.
- Teachers must be trained to be facilitators of knowledge and help students learn how to learn, not be just administrators of information.
Public education needs more industry and business professionals that are willing to teach. Real-time experience in the STEM fields is invaluable in teaching and inspiring students. I am not suggesting for those who are not interested in mentoring kids to sign up for public education. I am sure there are those who want to give back and make a difference and have the opportunity to have a second direction in their working life. I have made this change. I am not sorry and I am not looking back. The future benefits for students is too important. Be a mentor and make a difference.