Many conversations at the beginning of the year start with, “are you ready?” Are you ready for students, parents, grading, meetings, planning, standards, professional development, etc. etc etc.? The list goes on and on! I would be remise in my duties at the Science Coordinator for OCM BOCES is I didn’t ask, “Are you ready for STEM this year?” Is your new multi-million dollar facility completely furnished? Is your staff of thoroughly STEM-prepared teachers ready to go? Have you found a place to put the abundance of STEM resources and materials that were delivered to your school? Have you found ways for teachers to have extra meeting time during the day? Then you’re ready! Oh—-Wait! That is not where you are? Welcome to the large group of schools that are just getting this STEM thing off the ground. Whatever your situation, you can begin to ramp up for great STEM learning by following some advice gathered from educators and given to Anne Jolly and her “Mind shift” Blog. These teachers have been teaching STEM classes successfully for several years.
First things first: Prepare yourself for noisy, exuberant classrooms where multiple right answers abound and failure is regarded as a positive step toward discovery and a successful solution. Get ready for kids to work closely together, using hands-on methods to solve real-world problems. Be willing to step back and give students enough room to kick off their journey toward becoming creative, innovative, critical thinkers.
To prepare for the STEM adventure, you might begin by taking a look at this checklist of some questions your school needs to consider.
1. Does everyone know why the school is implementing STEM and what STEM is designed to accomplish? Some reasons often cited include these:
- We want to prepare our students for successful careers in a 21st century workforce. For kindergarteners this may seem a bit premature, but the kinds of thinking skills and problems solving required for success in the workplace start here.
- We want our students to be better prepared in math and science. What about art, math, history, language arts, and other subjects? Is there a connection between STEM productivity and these subjects? Yes!
- We want our students to be able to inquire, think, investigate, and innovate. STEM skills are in high demand in every field. Innovation is the key to developing new products and processes that sustain our economy. A common list of skills our workforce needs includes these:
- Innovative thinking
- Productive teamwork
- Generating multiple ideas
2. What type of STEM program will your school implement initially and what do you want this program to become? In other words, what will it look like now and what do you want it to look like when it’s all grown up?
- A STEM Program within the school.
- A STEM specialty school
- After school programs
3. How will you prepare and support teachers? What do teachers know/need to know, and how will they learn it? You might have one teacher that is very interested and qualified to be teaching STEM. This is a good thing for his/her classes, but you need to get some other teachers prepared as well. So, where will you start, and what do you want this to look like when your teacher support is in place? The PBS Teachers STEM Education Resource offers opportunities for your school staff to explore new ideas related to STEM learning. This STEM Smart Brief offers recommendations for preparing and supporting your STEM educators.
These are just a few ideas to think of when trying to get this STEM thing off the ground. Don’t forget about curriculum and resources too. These obviously play a large role in STEM development within a school. Remember you are not alone in this. It is new to a lot of educators, so continue to communicate and collaborate with others!