Education leaders all across the country are searching for innovative strategies for building a solid STEM foundation. Earlier this year, Discovery Education brought several leaders to Pensacola, FL, for a peek behind the scenes at Santa Rosa County Public Schools, where a powerful STEM vision is beginning to blossom.
During the event, we spoke with three attendees to gather their insights into some of the burning questions around STEM and the future of learning:
- Chris Marczak, superintendent of Maury County Public Schools, TN
- Erin Tracy, educator, Santa Rosa Public Schools, FL
- Tina Garrett, STEM coordinator, Garland Independent School District, TX
Q: What do you think is driving all the interest in STEM?
CHRIS MARCZAK: The way I see STEM, it’s the next revolution in education. I call it deconstructing No Child Left Behind. We’re getting away from compartmentalizing education, and bringing it to a holistic look of how kids should be educated, so they have the skills they need to carry that forth into the world. I don’t read from 10-11 in the morning; I don’t do math from 1:45-2:45. I do literacy and math all day long. So why should our kids have experiences that are any different from that?
TINA GARRETT: Texas is number two in the nation with the projection of STEM jobs. We have about 800,000 STEM jobs projected by 2018. We are in 2017. We have to change the way we do business in order for our students to have the skills to get those jobs. We’re almost in crisis mode. What will we do differently to ensure our students get those jobs?
ERIN TRACY: I think sometimes people get the idea that STEM is going to be taught in isolation. But it is not “in addition to,” it can be interwoven into other activities. Teachers are going to provide this seamless experience — like a science and art opportunity. Just providing a collaborative opportunity where kids can think critically or creatively, that’s STEM too. It doesn’t have to be “I’m going to do a technology, science, math, and art lesson.” That’s a lot of pressure! But once educators see what it really is and discover how they can slot it in, it becomes more natural, and students really appreciate these opportunities.
Q: What does a STEM Classroom Look Like?
CHRIS MARCZAK: If I were to peek into a STEM classroom, I wouldn’t see things I normally see in education. You won’t see rows or a teacher in the front of a room lecturing. You’re going to see kids engaged in collaborative work, you’re going to see the teacher floating around the room more as a facilitator than a teacher of information. Kids will be learning things that have applicability to real life, not just completing a worksheet or answering questions out of the back of a book.
TINA GARRETT: STEM is messy. STEM is loud. STEM is chaotic. But it’s so exciting and engaging to see. It’s not the “sit-and-get” learning that you and I had. It’s about doing. Students are creating, researching, tapping into digital assets to truly build their understanding. STEM is taking learning to new heights. It’s not about, “Hey I learned this, now let me take a test.” It’s about performance tests. What can I create, share, present in a new way.
ERIN TRACY: You will find kids involved in real-world learning experiences. It’s very process oriented and students really move around, and you will hear them actively engaged in the lesson. It will be standards-based, they will be involved in their learning. STEM classrooms look different, but powerful learning is still taking place.
Q: What would you advise other educators hoping to dive into STEM?
CHRIS MARCZAK: We found the best way to build STEM culture is to support the teachers and staff that we are tasking with actually doing the work. At the end of the day, teachers are our most critical elements to success in the classroom — the principal comes in second. So, we communicate as much as we possibly can, we provide as much support as we can, and when the short term wins come in, we celebrate them publicly. We put them on a pedestal, and we tell others in the district — look what these teachers did. You can do it too, and here are the opportunities for you to do that.
TINA GARRETT: STEM teachers should be immersed in the learning, just as we immerse students in hands-on, minds-on learning. We want teachers and principals to be involved, so we put them through engineering challenges, robotics challenges, curriculum challenges. We immerse them in the opportunity to learn in a STEM environment.
ERIN TRACY: The most important thing about beginning is establishing a routine in your classroom. Letting the kids know what their role is in the STEAM classroom. Students are going to have to take some initiatives for their own learning, look to their classmates and collaborate with them. Take some chances, problem-solve on their own, work through some challenges. Once you establish some routines and get the kids to understand what STEAM is, and you have some basic tools and strategies established, then your classroom should be a place where STEAM can start to get rolling.