M.Ed. STEM ED Session 2, August 27th, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 11.15.18 AMThe second meeting of the M.Ed. Teacher Leadership: STEM ED group focused on making sense of STEM and STEM education. It was designed to build from the survey questions on STEM education that the teachers were asked to complete before the program began.

I started the session off with a brief review of the history of some of the major federal interventions that have influenced education in the STEM disciplines in the last century. The presentation culminated with Race to the Top, the 4.35 billion dollar grant competition issued by the Obama administration in 2009 to spur innovation in high-quality education reform. (Maryland was a recipient of a Race to the Top award, part of which was used to fund the creation of our master’s program!)

We then turned to a discussion about different conceptualizations of STEM and STEM education. The discussion was informed by the MSDE STEM Standards of Practice, the Maryland STEM brochure, and an article by Rodger W. Bybee titled Advancing STEM Education: A 2020 Vision

It has been my experience that quite often when educators discuss STEM education, they tend to do so in terms of lessons that simply incorporate content from more than one STEM discipline.  This is often referred to as the “siloed” approach to STEM education. As discussed in our group, even when content from multiple STEM subjects are included into a unit or lesson, this approach treats the disciplines as isolated subjects, or ‘silos.’ This contrasts with a more integrated approach to STEM that is reflected, for example,in the MSDE STEM Standards of Practice.    Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 2.58.20 PM

As it turns out,  many of the teachers seemed to embrace the transdiciplinary approach and, indeed, seemed to equate it synonymously with STEM education. The STEM survey asked the teachers to briefly describe what ‘STEM Education’ meant to them. While 22% of the responses mentioned the incorporation of multiple disciplines, over 43% of the responses noted integration as being important to STEM education. Integration was a common thread in this introductory discussion and I am looking forward to pressing the teachers for examples of meaningful disciplinary integration in future sessions.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 3.35.08 PMWe soon turned the discussion toward challenges of implementing STEM into classroom practice. Bybee (2010) states, “[o]ne of the most significant challenges centers on introducing STEM-related issues such as energy efficiency, climate change, and hazard mitigation and developing the competencies to address the issues students  will confront as citizens” (p. 32) and proceeds to add health, natural resources, and frontiers of science, technology, engineering, and math to the list.  One teacher shared that she was confused as to why such issues would be challenging for the ‘advancement’ of STEM. I turned this question to the group. I asked them to talk about the nature of these topics and compare them to topics currently taught in the STEM disciplines in school. The teachers quickly noted that all of the issues in Bybee’s list were political (which I mused meant they had to do with people–human-centered problems are often at the heart of STEM education activities) and controversial.  One teacher further noted that for most of these topics, there is “no end result,” in other words, there isn’t a clearly defined (or testable) question for each and, likewise, there aren’t obvious, linear paths to finite answers. She further shared that this can be “scary for teachers to have to say ‘I don’t know where we’re going to end up.'”

August 27
A group of teachers discussing STEM education

I must admit I was excited that this point had been brought up. An engineer at the University of Maryland once shared that engineering as a discipline is unique in that problems are not always predefined, but rather develop as potential solutions are explored. I’ve often argued that integrating engineering into everyday classroom practice would thus require (or perhaps inspire?) an incredible paradigm shift for educators. It would mean moving away from pedagogies that privilege standardized representations of standardized understandings. It would mean authentically placing the students at the center and in control of their own learning. I believe that therein lies the most powerful potential for STEM education. MP900398793

Many teachers in the session seemed to echo this perspective. A fourth grade teacher added that lessons that center on topics without definitive answers are “where problem solving and critical thinking come in. [They] would motivate [the students] to find out more and to engage with the topic personally and more readily.” Many others agreed, noting that this is what ‘the real world’ is like. When one teacher noted that STEM teachers can still teach with the ‘end in mind,’ I agreed and suggested it might mean adjusting what we consider ‘the end’ and what ‘mastery’ looks like.  A first grade teacher took this even further by claiming that this is what it means to set children up to be 21st century learners who must face real-world problems for which there is no wrong answer. How they solve the problem is what’s important. The others agreed and the general consensus seemed to be that proficiency in STEM must look differently than proficiency in individual school content areas. These are absolutely critical topics for consideration with STEM education and I am looking forward to more opportunities to discuss them in more detail.

Teachers in the M.Ed. Leadership in STEM program discussing challenges to advancing STEM ed
Teachers in the M.Ed. Leadership in STEM program discussing challenges to advancing STEM ed

The teachers have been tasked this week with creating thoughtful posts for their blogs on the topic of STEM education. The posts should be informed by class readings and discussions, however the teachers are free to focus on any aspect of STEM education that is most provocative to them at this point. I can’t wait to read them!

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One thought on “M.Ed. STEM ED Session 2, August 27th, 2013

  1. Really interesting, that it seemed natural in this conversation for STEM to be closely associated with no-right-answer issues/problems. That’s a powerful affordance, and not inevitable. (I bet we could easily find “STEM projects” in some curricular materials that are all about getting to pre-determined answers.)

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