New Blog: STEM by Design
[Editor’s note: In November 2013, Anne renamed her blog STEM by Design]
Anne Jolly began her career as a lab scientist, caught the science teaching bug and was recognized as an Alabama Teacher of the Year during her years as a middle grades science teacher. Today she works with teacher teams across the Southeast to help them develop their action research skills and take control of their own professional learning. Her practical how-to book Team to Teach: A Facilitator’s Guide to Professional Learning Teams is published by Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council).
For the past several years, Anne has also been a consultant for a Mobile AL-based, NSF-supported project to develop standards-based STEM activities that are easily integrated into middle school curricula. We’ve asked Anne (who we interviewed in June 2012) to become a regular blogger at MiddleWeb, and one important focus will be to engage readers in conversations about STEM subjects.
As teachers involved with the STEM movement know, the acronym covers Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics. To highlight the potential creative energy bound up in this combination of subjects, Anne has suggested the title STEM Imagineering for her blog. Here’s her first post and her invitation for you to join in some back and forth conversation. Follow all of Anne’s posts here.
by Anne Jolly
I’m staring blankly at page 1 of the lesson plan I just wrote. It’s my stare that’s blank – not the page.
The page is crammed with line after line of lesson procedures for a middle school STEM lesson. I wrote those procedures (along with the requisite goals, objectives, materials, preparation, etc.). Then I turned optimistically to the fine-tuning process. That’s when my eyes glazed over.
This is my fourth year of writing STEM curriculum for middle school, so you’d think I’d eventually get the hang of it. But it’s the same story each time I work with a STEM module, or even a single STEM lesson. Each day’s lesson is limited to 45 minutes. I always overwrite. Today I have at least enough information written for a full 90 minutes. What to cut?
And WHY am I doing this, anyway? I should be happily crocheting, or whatever retired people do. However, I’m not retired. In fact, I’ve already flunked retirement twice. I’m always on a mission. And when the STEM bug bit, I found a powerful new mission. Here’s a real opportunity to bring kids some lessons that actually integrate subject areas, bring teachers from math and science together to work with the lesson material, and give the students a real purpose for learning. That’s too good to pass up!
What STEM is all about
I’ll tell you my understanding of STEM, since it’s rapidly becoming one of those terms that people define to meet their own needs within their fields. Here’s your common definition from the April 11, 2012 NSTA Reports:
STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy.
If you got lost somewhere in that 55-word sentence, then just think about this. Our students have to enter the workforce with an advanced level of technical knowledge and problem-solving skills; and they have to be able to keep up with the spiraling needs of a world market. That’s why we need STEM curriculum. That’s why we must combine math and science (and other subjects, too) in ways that make sense to students and help them solve problems.
Now, how are we going to do that? That’s something I hope we can think about and work through together. I’ll tell you what I think and you tell me what you think. Let’s bubble up some new ideas and get down to business!
And about those lesson plans that don’t want to be squeezed into 45 classroom minutes? Let’s talk about writing lessons and curriculum, too. I’d love to hear examples from your own practice. How are you managing to squeeze in the essential content (and the all-important hands-on learning) in your science, math, engineering and technology-oriented lessons? Maybe we can help each other. I need you!
If you’re interested in STEM, please comment here on Anne’s post or write to Anne directly if you prefer. With your permission, she’ll share some of your thoughts in future blog posts as one more way to encourage some real conversation!