Middle school students are applying innovative problem solving skills using STEM curriculum and meeting new challenges.
In Ohio, for Scott Stoddart’s seventh-grade science classroom, each new day means a new challenge for students, a new goal he’s hopeful they will reach by the end of the class period.
But during fifth period Monday, in the midst of an experiment meant to illustrate why elements behave the way they do, Stoddart found himself on the other side of his teaching philosophy. Despite his best attempts, the glass bottle wrapped around the middle with nail polish remover-soaked string, lit on fire and dunked into a vat of icy water, refused to break in half as it had during previous class periods.
Stoddart embraced the experiment’s failure as a teachable moment.
“You hear all the time about items that work, that are successful,” said Stoddart, addressing his class of 25. “What you don’t hear about are how many times it didn’t work. It is a lot of trial and error, a lot of problem solving.”
The type of problem-based learning that Stoddart emphasizes in his science classroom — in which the teacher functions more as a guide than as an authority, and where students often work together in groups — will by this fall become an essential component of curricula across the district.
No longer will science, technology, engineering and mathematics be limited to those individual courses; instead, “everything we do,” from language arts to social studies, will be infused with STEM, said Joseph Nohra, superintendent of Struthers schools.
“It’s not just teaching science and math,” he said. “It starts with students coming up with problems and ways to solve them.”
Nohra said this infusion of STEM into the district’s classrooms has happened slowly over the past few years, but that it continually has increased every year. So, when he took the helm of the district in early 2013, he made it a priority to more aggressively move forward and to incorporate intensive STEM education into all levels at Struthers.
“Building STEM-based curriculum and building STEM-based careers is a matter of national security,” Nohra said. “We don’t have enough folks entering these professions.”
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