Suggestions on How to Develop a Top Notch STEM Program

For this month’s STEM Blog, I would like you to meet top-notch STEM program developer Dr. Susan Pruet. Susan has directed two remarkably successful NSF-funded school reform efforts involving STEM education:  Maysville/Mobile Math Initiative and, more recently, the middle grades program Engaging Youth through Engineering.

Susan seems to have a talent and a well-designed process for establishing successful STEM reform initiatives.  She does a remarkable job joining hands with teachers, administrators, and community & business leaders to make it happen. Here are 7 tips Susan thinks you should know up front when trying to implement a successful, sustainable STEM Program.

1. Plan, Plan, Plan! 

Designing a STEM program is a huge learning curve for a school or system. In fact, as you delve into it, it can appear overwhelming.  Careful planning is key here – in fact, comprehensive planning is vital to successful STEM initiatives.  Consider these ideas for your planning process:

  • Allot enough time. Setting aside enough time for meticulous planning is hard to do, and this part of the initiative is often short-circuited.
  • Use a team approach, even in the thinking and planning stages. Make sure you pull the right people together to figure things out. Gather a diverse team that included teachers, administrators, business leaders, community leaders, varied ethnicities, and outside folks with knowledge and experience.
  • Develop clarity around why you want to do STEM and what your STEM program needs to look like. The why depends on where your need is coming from: Your community? Your student population? The business sector? The call to raise math and science scores? Because you believe all kids should have 21stCentury skills? When you reach clarity on why you want to implement STEM, develop clarity around what kind of STEM program works best for the need you identified. We decided that an integrated STEM approach built around an engineering problem-solving process would best suit our students’ needs and would provide our industries with the workforce they needed.
  • Plan for Sustainability. How will your STEM program be sustained over the long term? How will you get plenty of buy-in so that this isn’t a one-person show? Get some solid, grass-roots support in place before you roll out your STEM program. Keep in mind that a simple plan is easier to sustain than a complicated one. Put a lot of time, energy, and effort into the planning. Then, when you know the why and what, think about the how.

2. Know thyself.

Do an up-front assessment of schools and systems where you will roll this out. Do all involved know their role, and are they equipped to fill it? Are teachers motivated and prepared to implement STEM? Do they know how to work in teams with other adults, manage student teams, and work with open ended teaching approaches? Know the community your students come from and what skills they will need – social and academic. Examine your building, schedule, supplies, and technology situation. Analyze the kind of support you will be able to provide teachers and students as they work through the rollout and implementation process.

3. Provide quality ongoing professional development and support. 

Based on your “know thyself” needs, identify what support and professional development is needed – for administrators and teachers. Remember that implementing an integrated STEM initiative requires substantial changes in mindsets and practices for almost everyone, including students and their parents, as well as teachers and administrators. And, professional development and additional support will likely be needed for multiple years until a critical mass at the school is routinely and successfully implementing the STEM teaching and learning you envisioned.

4. Monitor in a meaningful way.

Plan on a 5-year period to roll out the STEM program, monitor the progress, adapt as needed, and get the initiative fully in place.  Picture where you want to be 5 years from the rollout date. What changes do you expect to see in the system, schools, classrooms, and the community as a result of having this STEM initiative operating successfully? Decide how you will measure progress toward those outcomes and prepare to intervene as needed to keep things on track.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Keep everyone informed about the STEM initiative and the progress. Do this regularly and in every available medium – newspaper, social media, etc.  Communicate and celebrate small initial successes. Implementing a STEM program is hard work, so take every opportunity to encourage those involved.

6. Be tenacious and persistent.

Nothing worthwhile is going to happen fast. Tackle the challenges with enthusiasm, positive outlook, ongoing effort, and determination. You are in this for the long term.  Be ready for push-back and don’t get discouraged.

7. Use a well-developed STEM curriculum – this is vital!

Before making a curriculum selection allow teachers time to review, look at, and talk to people who have used it. Note: Don’t make the mistaking of thinking that you’ll have a successful STEM program simply by giving teachers some good STEM curriculum.  There’s no way to short-circuit the process of designing and implementing a solid, effective STEM initiative.

Build a STEM program that will inspire our next generation of citizens and workers to solve problems – whether family problems or business problems – and to make the world a better place.

Corcoran_Dana_WEBDana Corcoran
Science Coordinator

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