The Pressing STEM Issue

BooksWith the Next Generation Science Standards final draft due out in March and all those changes looming, I am wondering what is pressing in the STEM classrooms right now. I think a pressing issue is, what are teachers currently doing to infuse STEM, literacy, and the common core standards in their classrooms? All teachers, including teachers of STEM discipline, have no extra time within their day. With all the new requirements, as well as being STEM content experts; they might not pay too much attention to the literacy piece which is very important. They may just assign some essays on famous scientists or mathematicians. There are more possibilities for interesting, involving assignments that match the CCSS than the one described above, but time and planning are certainly necessary.

Shannon Reed, an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Pittsburgh, where she also teaches, makes some great recommendations to STEM teachers. A good first step for STEM teachers uncomfortable with these new requests would be to pair up with a trusted English-teaching colleague and explore ways of incorporating literacy into the STEM class. When teachers do this, they will be better equipped to come up with a variety of assignments. The Standards don’t offer much to STEM high school teachers in terms of suggested texts, so teachers must be creative in ways to find this information. News sources are most always a good source. STEM teachers can incorporate newspaper articles about weather phenomenon and discoveries throughout the universe. There are also many interesting non-fiction books available. Shannon suggests Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, and Mary Roach’s Stiff.  Of course she mentions that whatever text you choose will present challenges to students in readability, no matter what your population may be.   Many students will struggle to understand the vocabulary of certain texts more than they will a textbook, which provides definitions and stringently grade-level reading.  You might find your students more motivated to understand the information because of their interest in the text.

When it comes to writing, Shannon suggests, thinking beyond the essay. The CCSS do not ask for informational essays or biographical research papers. They do give guidelines for the work involved, not the final product. Ms. Reed mentions that by the end of high school, students should be able to, “integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media in order to address a question or solve a problem.” That suggests a detailed, multi-media examination of crucial issues in STEM topics. How this integration and evaluation should be presented in final form is left up to the teacher, and maybe the students themselves. A brochure? A poster? A short story? A rap? A monologue? A speech? Don’t just pick one! There are a variety of ways that this work can be accomplished! While it seems that the Standards make more demands on STEM teachers, my hope is that they also bring to the surface the importance of STEM classes. We need more creative scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and technologists, and with the NGSS coming at us quickly, now is the time to help cultivate these students!

Corcoran_Dana_WEBDana A. Corcoran, Ph.D.
Science Coordinator

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