The heart of project-based learning is incorporating each component of STEM to help students achieve deeper learning.
My timing is impeccable! I took the job as STEM education facilitator for six counties in my state just when this STEM thing is getting lots of attention. Even the president has been talking it up.
I’d have to confess though that this attention also worries me. I’ve been to conferences where everything on the vendor floor displays a sticker announcing how — whatever it is — it’s “aligned to the Common Core State Standards and STEM!” I’ve even visited a school that claims it is a “STEM Academy” because (it brags) teachers are mandated to do at least 15 minutes of science EACH DAY!
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s the same approach and attitude that led to technology getting a shady reputation in education. Another “big idea” that is inevitably reduced to a subject or activity — something teachers must spend another chunk of precious class time on. It’s typical education “reform.” Instead, what we need to do is transform. STEM, done right, can help make that happen.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is not a separate subject, and you don’t “do” STEM just by doing any one of its pieces. One of the reasons I took my current position was that I recognized that STEM education has promise in leading us away from each subject only having a singular focus — its own chunk of time in the schedule.
STEM demands that we teach lessons and pursue projects that connect all the subjects represented in its acronym. In this day of narrowed curriculum, that is a very important distinction!
The STEM connection
So how does STEM education differ, and what does it have to do with the special focus of this PLP group blog — connected learning? One way to think about STEM is in the context of that desirable learning strategy we hear about now and again: “taking the time to go deep.” One of the big complaints about NCLB “reform” has been the narrow “surface” learning its accountability mechanisms have produced as a by-product. STEM provides in-depth experiences that students share and can therefore discuss, explain and argue about.
A STEM unit often starts off with a science activity that introduces the concept…
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