Needed: 4 Radical Shifts in How We Teach Kids
A MiddleWeb Blog
2018 was a bonanza year for STEM, and 2019 holds even more promise for good things to happen. When it comes to building well-prepared students and a well-prepared work force, STEM education is cultivating key skills, talents, and expertise.
That’s good news, but we face some big challenges to get STEM education where it can fully deliver on its potential.
The national nonprofit 100Kin10 has mapped out over 100 grand challenges for STEM education. I’ve compiled a more modest list of four areas where I think we could focus to radically improve STEM – and other subjects as well.
These will look familiar, and some schools already provide examples of excellence in these areas. But for the most part, most schools are still at the starting gate.
So, let’s do something radical! Let’s aim for some extreme changes in these four areas in 2019.
Extreme Change 1: A radical K-12 curriculum shift – include engineering in every subject
Our typical public school curriculum in the USA has presented scientific principles and mathematical formulas the same way for decades – as “knowledge in isolation,” better known as “the silo approach.” A strong emphasis on social and collaborative skills doesn’t surface in most K-12 curriculum.
Strange, since these skills are increasingly necessary for students to flourish in what will soon be the third decade of the 21st century. Other than in STEM classes, where will they learn and practice soft skills like teamwork, effective communication, and creative problem solving?
How about this idea? Incorporate engineering into all subjects. Kids need to encounter STEM thinking and skills in all subjects, and engineering is an effective integration approach for doing this. Engineering promotes curiosity, creativity, communication, collaboration, persistence, and ethics, among other things. It teaches kids to balance constraints and criteria, focus on solutions for problems, and learn from failure.
In other words, engineering promotes the kind of critical thinking and creative problem-solving that helps kids deal successfully with change throughout their lives. Start by including the engineering design process across the curriculum in 2019.
Extreme Change 2: A radical pedagogical shift by all teachers – teach ‘STEM style’ in all classrooms
We know from research that students are social learners – they learn best with and from each other. And they remember best when what they learn is placed in real world contexts. (Imagine a school where paper-and-pencil, sit-and-get is banned for 2019!)
A widely used teaching method for this type of learning is Project-based learning (PBL). PBL is already par for the course in STEM education where students tackle authentic problems and work together for an extended time on solutions.
STEM has been around long enough for educators to see its outcomes and practices unfold in schools across the nation. In her LittleBits Blog post Allison VanNest asserts that STEM-related learning is becoming a part of every subject.
She notes that in 2019 “educators will increasingly incorporate STEM lessons into English, history, social studies, art, and every subject in between.” Using a PBL approach, teachers can do this in a way that encourages students to be entrepreneurs – to explore and invent.
Extreme Shift 3: Knowledgeable, empowered teachers – well-compensated and dedicated to cutting-edge STEM learning
As the world continues to change, so do the learning needs of our students. That means today’s teachers must stay current in content, teaching methods, and technology. What they taught last year may not work well this year. To deliver high-quality STEM lessons in 2019 teachers will need regular, high-quality STEM professional development.
Professional learning for teachers will also involve teachers in meeting regularly during the school day to focus on best practices for teaching STEM and deliver 21st century learning to students. (Find ideas for teacher teaming by typing “team to teach” in a search engine.)
In 2019, all teachers need regular guidance and instruction on digital literacy. They must be able to help kids master essential skills and help students develop healthy habits and attitudes when using technology.
Teacher professional learning and support is integral to teaching STEM. In 2019 we should signal that by offering teachers compensation for workshops they attend and by providing time for them to work together during the school day to continue their learning.
Extreme Shift 4: A transformed K-12 learning space for all STEM classrooms – from institutional to comfortable
We know a lot about how kids learn now, as evidenced by the way we teach STEM. But if you compare some classrooms today to ones in the early 20th century, you probably won’t notice many differences. Desks are still in straight rows with the teacher lecturing at the front of the room.
21st century classrooms must be flexible, inclusive spaces that allow for a variety of grouping arrangements. Kids can move around to areas such as workstations, standing tables, round tables, and makerspaces (collaborative workspaces) to name a few. STEM Kids need a room layout that helps them communicate, collaborate, create, experiment, analyze, and learn leadership skills.
A main feature of a contemporary STEM classroom is true technology integration. According to Beverly Woolf, AI (artificial Intelligence) will be a game changer in classrooms and will personalize learning and mentor students.
Believe it or not, lighting is an important part of up-to-date classroom design. Lighting affects kids’ levels of alertness and productivity, as well as their emotions. Provide natural lighting to students to make them more comfortable, reduce headaches, and improve learning.
If your school is not ready to make wholesale classroom changes, do something radical and begin making changes yourself – possibly with the help of interested parents. Check out this classroom architect website tool to play with different arrangements. Also take a look at this article – at the bottom are tips for making simple but perhaps profound changes in your classroom on a teacher’s budget.
Bid Groundhog Day Good-bye
So there you have it – four grand STEM challenges for 2019 – which were also the grand challenges for 2018, 2017, and previous years. Let’s stop reliving the same year over and over. Let’s do something radical. Let’s change this outdated system from the classroom up!