Taking STEM Education to the Next Level
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
Picture this: Yesterday at the end of a mind-numbing day learning factors, reading strategies, and proper nouns, every last one of my students was engaged and excited about studying forces. Not only that, but there were touchdown dances around the room as happy pairs discovered solutions to their science problems. To be honest, there were raw eggs literally flying around the room, too, and I was totally OK with it. This is what STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education is doing for me. It generates excitement in learning about the world around us with real-life problems and collaborative solutions.
STEM is on the lips of educators and policy makers as the country searches for a way to bring the United States up from the bottom of the ranks in math, science, and technology. According to the National Science and Math Initiative, the United States ranks 25th in the world in math and 17th in science on international tests. I wondered, watching the Olympics this summer, if we would stand for that kind of ranking in sports. I don’t think so. So why is it OK for our education system to fall short?
All right, you are on board. You know you need to take collaborative math and science learning to the next level in your classroom. How? A snapshot of my classroom yesterday would make it look so easy. My kids were journaling in science like mini-engineers and working collaboratively in a way few adults can handle. There are three ways to get more involved, more empowered, and become a better STEM educator.
1. Get Together!
Encourage classroom collaboration through a safe and positive learning environment. Set your norms of collaboration and stick to them. My school uses the seven norms of collaboration for professional meetings. These same ideas transfer to the classroom and tie into Core Curriculum as we engage our students with better ways to talk together and share their information. The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups is a leading resource for this kind of learning.
2. Get Journaling!
I had to leave a lot of my obsessive-compulsive tendencies at the door, but I’ve let my kids take over their math and science notebooks this year. They are taking more notes, coming up with more personal musings and predictions, and sharing more of their ideas than ever before. Math guru Marilyn Burns discusses some of the benefits of math journals in her article “Math Journals Boost Real Learning.”
3. Get Involved!
I am no expert, but I know people who are. This summer I attended the most amazing week of science and math learning that not only deepened my understanding of the topics, but was a “game changer” in terms of how I run my classroom. From management techniques to inspiring all learners, the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teacher’s Academy has it figured out.
An article from Suzanne McCarron, president of the ExxonMobil Foundation says, “It’s also clear that students won’t excel without good teachers to challenge and encourage them. We support programs such as the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy and the Sally Ride Science Academy, which are focused on improving the skills of teachers in math and science classrooms so they can inspire students to pursue careers in these all-important fields.”
They weren’t kidding. As educators, we need opportunities to be treated like professionals and have access to the kind of knowledge and teaching expertise our students deserve. Through this experience I became a member of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), which have already extended my summer learning throughout the year with valuable online resources and a network of teachers. My week with ExxonMobil this summer and the Sally Ride Festival I attended this past weekend have changed my attitude towards math and science teaching and, in turn, have benefited my children, perhaps for the rest of their lives.
Start reading and investigating. Get involved and be progressive. Apply to the ExxonMobil Teachers Academy before October 31, and if you don’t get it, apply again. It is worth your time and will change the lives of your children. Isn’t that what it’s all about?