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  • Elizabeth Barrett-Zahn

STEM (S&C Editor's Note)

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

We hear the refrain from multiple sources about the importance of increasing and enhancing STEM opportunities in our classrooms. By now the acronym can easily be recited as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. There is no denying that STEM has hit the mainstream with “STEM this” and “STEM that” popping up everywhere from games to workshops, books to presentations not to mention as a key phrase in grant opportunities. Whether its STEM or STEAM or even STREAM elementary teachers are trying to make sense of what this all means and where this would fit into an already jammed packed day.

With the added pressure of ELA and math expectations and outcomes gobbling up precious preparation and teaching time in the classroom, some have relegated STEM or STEM-related activities to STEM Friday or the occasional STEM Day. While teachers may have had experience teaching using themes or even through project-based work, the true nature and purpose of STEM is often lost in translation.

STEM is more than just the collection of science, technology, engineering and mathematics or even the discrete attention to these four disciplines; it is the integration of disciplines used to find answers, solve problems and create solutions. The questions and problems create the context, and the learning takes place as students “need to know” more and make connections across discipline lines to find answers and solutions. But how do we support STEM teaching and learning in our classrooms, schools, and districts?

Let’s be honest, if you have this journal in your hands, and even more so if you are reading this editorial about STEM, you are most likely already a leader in your school, district or region for science and STEM learning. And that’s just what we need – teacher-leaders ready to provide guidance, support, and coaching as STEM becomes integrated into classrooms.

By incorporating STEM teaching and learning in the classroom, teachers will gain much-needed confidence that comprehensive short-term and long-term learning goals can be attained. We have all heard the scenario that we are teaching kids who will be solving problems that don’t even exist today! So how do we teach them? What do they need to know? Information is readily available, facts and figures can be easily accessed, yet what we will need are learners who are discerning, can make connections, think creatively and with flexibility. And how are these skills fostered- by practice and through repeated and varied experiences. Students need to be fully immersed in solving problems, making decisions, given opportunities to debate, examine the validity of data, and discern facts from opinions.

The goals for increasing our STEM-ready students is to fill the STEM-related careers of our very near future. But more than that, it’s to foster a curiosity for learning, a desire to understand, with the goal of leaving the planet just a bit better than when we first stepped foot on it. Yes, our jobs are quite essential on so many levels.

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