PUTTING STEAM BACK INTO STEM EDUCATION
Recent media reports express concern over the number of college students who are deciding not to continue their science based studies. The major reasons are the unanticipated difficulty of both the math and science courses. Analysts state that the decline in solid elementary and secondary education in math and science are major contributing factors. Considering the national goals of expanding and invigorating instruction and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), this is a discouraging development.
IT’S THE TEACHERS, RIGHT? This is the motivator for all of the local, state and national efforts to tighten the methods and extent of teacher evaluations. In my opinion, with minor exceptions, we should not thump the teachers. The classic barriers of over-populated classes, curriculum goals that seek to satisfy national testing rather than student learning, and dreadfully fickle administrative guidelines that undergo school-board opinionated revisions, all turn the education process upside down. By the time all of this descends upon and around the teacher, student education has become a locked-stepped march into confusion. In spite of this, most teachers strive to teach and to inspire each student to learn. This turns a regular school day for teachers into an average 12 to 15 hour day when they really work to make learning successful and joyful.
JOYFUL LEARNING? There is an inherent stress for most youngsters during the education process; even for the super-bright ones. Making the process joyful, when suitable, reduces the stress, opens the mind and makes learning pleasurable instead of either deadly dull or frightening. In most cases, this approach is the product of highly motivated teachers who dress up their presentations (art, videos, student demonstrations, visiting heroes, etc) that far exceed the dry-as-toast curriculum dictated by the national test score mantra. All of these extra efforts are variables and in many cases difficult to consistently sustain so overall the education process FAILS with respect to future STEM success.
SO WHAT’S TO BE DONE? As and example let’s take five critical areas for consideration. These examples all presume a standardized education concept that enhances both STEM and HAMLIT education. This combination imposes a considerable demand on teachers through all elementary and secondary grades. Right now both are cut short because of the imposition of that national testing mantra. Yes, we do need to evaluate the system and how well it is serving the education of our young, but under no circumstances should that evaluation debilitate a sound and well structured curriculum. Broadly speaking the White House does not seem to recognize this educational impediment built into its mandates.
The five critical areas are as follows (The emphasis on items 1-3 are for elementary education, K-3):
- STEM and HAMLIT should be specifically present at the Kindergarten level, but in a most innovative way. Here the joy of learning is most important. Simple math concepts and delightful literature and music experiences should be presented in a most memorable and enjoyable way. Young minds grab at these concepts when presented in this manner. Additionally, parents must be more actively recruited to support what is happening in Kindergarten. They should be fully aware of the program and the variety of supportive things they can do to enhance their children’s early learning experiences.
- STEM and HAMLIT follow the youngsters out of Kindergarten into the first stages of elementary school. Now all children don’t learn at the same rate and not all will be serious STEM learners, but all of them will be at ease with HAMLIT when creatively presented. Yes, creative presentations. Most teachers, particularly elementary level teachers do this automatically and usually very creatively. These efforts must be extended to STEM as well. Math can be so dreadfully dull if presented in that way, but when creatively presented (using a variety of teaching aids) it can win over children that appeared not to be good STEM candidates.
- ENTER THE COMPUTER: Although the students may have already had some exposure (home or school) to computers, the Third Grade is the key place to begin using the computer to enhance STEM learning. Right now, there is some concerns about how effective this will be, but as the article in the foregoing link points out there are steps that, if taken, can make the computer a vital and highly productive instrument for enhancing the learning process; particularly for STEM. Teachers must be directly involved in the choice of software programs to be used. A misfit of program and teacher methods will produce a zero learning result with both frustrated students and teachers. Administrators and school-board officials must recognize this and insist on teacher input in the software selection process.
- ELEMENTARY LEVEL EDUCATION is critical to the full success of the youngsters through their Middle and High School experiences. A poor foundation in this area coupled with the greater student independence and learning responsibilities in these advanced grade levels can lead to a student drop-out. This is quite simply a tragedy whether the student was a good STEM candidate or more HAMLIT oriented. Dropping out is like shooting curiosity and imagination on the spot. Again, teacher instructional latitude, even with heavy computer participation, is critical. Impositions of the standard testing mantra, worrisome and severe teacher evaluations and often bumbling administrative processes can severely cripple these advanced learning experiences. So again, before harping, its the teachers, we need to carefully examine the teaching environment, the available tools and the level of administrative imposition that distracts teacher productivity.
- COLLEGE/CAREER PREP should actually start in Middle School and increase in supportive ways through the remainder of secondary education. Right now the push is for college from everywhere and everyone, and yet many students are either not ready or are just not interested in that direction for their future. Sound counseling on alternatives that continue to bolster the students opportunity profile should be included along with the standard college pep talks. There are a host of technical training opportunities, including the military services, that provide a student with some promising career alternatives. These should not be ignored. Additionally joint sessions with the non-college oriented students and their parents should be conducted to help prevent the forceful persuasiveness of parents fixated on college for the kids.
About the Author: XiNeutrino (Waddell Robey) after leaving the high-tech aerospace and health science fields, he devoted a little over seven years working as both a TSS (Therapeutic Staff Support) and Therapist in Children and Family Services. Most of his time was spent in school settings with his young clients and this has given him a unique and highly informative perspective on our education system, its teachers, and the varying success of its students. Those experiences along with his independent observations and discussion with teachers and administrators have formed the opinions and recommendations expressed in this blog article.
IMAGE CREDIT: Cartoon depiction of STEM at work. Courtesy: eidmladenkaraman.com