Transdisciplinary STEM lessons

Last week I had the pleasure or attending the DEN Summer Institute in Nashville Tennessee. This was my first DEN Summer Institute and I really enjoyed meeting the talented, energetic and passionate members of the DEN who are constantly working to improve their effectiveness as educators and leaders. During the Unconference sessions I participated in several session focusing on STEM, and found that even though most educators believe teachers need to be providing more STEM teaching and learning experiences for students, most really do not know where to begin. DEN Stars expressed their desire to put more math and literacy into their science lessons and a few talked about engineering using Legos or other builder tools. However, the majority who discussed their efforts were looking at their traditional syllabi and adding one of the STEM letters into their existing units. At Discovery Education we define STEM as Students and Teachers Energizing Minds and believe that STEM is a culture of learning, not something you buy in a box.  We envision STEM teaching and learning as using real world problems as the context to engage students and then transdisciplinary lessons that provide students with pieces of content they need to apply to solve the problems. This paradigm shift lets the students know that adults do not have the answers and need their best thinking to provide possible solutions. This culture engages all kinds of students because there are hands-on inquiry earning opportunities, cyberinvestigations, connections to careers, communications experiences and collaboration. If we are going to fill the 3 million open STEM jobs in the US we need the diverse thinking of women and minorities, and we need to increase the appeal to male students. Only with diverse backgrounds and critical problem solving can we truly make the world a better place for us all. In order for that to occur educators need to jump in and begin changing their practice to create a STEM culture for their students.  Educators need examples of this transdisciplinary STEM teaching and learning so they can truly understand how it feels and works. I look forward to working with our outstanding DEN Stars to provide examples of success in STEM.

Brookings Institute report on STEM jobs

This week the Brookings Institute released their report on STEM jobs that used data about the length of time STEM job postings take to fill. The conclusion of the report stated:

“Job openings for STEM positions take longer to fill than openings in other fields. The median duration of advertising for a STEM vacancy is more than twice as long as for a non-STEM vacancy. For STEM openings requiring a Ph.D. or other professional degree, advertisements last an average of 50 days, compared to 33 days for all non-STEM vacancies. Even sub-bachelor’s STEM job openings take longer to fill than non-STEM jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree. Health care and computer openings are advertised 23 and 15 days longer, on average, than openings for non-STEM occupations, like those in office and administrative support. Moreover, professional STEM vacancies take longer to fill now than before the recession, while vacancies for lower-skilled occupations remain much easier to fill. These indicators signal that STEM skills are in short supply in the labor market, relative to demand.”

As we prepare for Independence Day we know that the only way the US is going to maintain our position as a world leader is by producing high school graduates with the skills they need to get a job, enter the military or be successful in higher education. As the pressure of state and national standards increases educators need to remain committed to providing teaching and learning that prepares our students for a future with opportunity. That means providing experiences that allow students to develop the 21st century skills of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication.

STEM teaching and learning requires community connections

Last week I facilitated the Baldwin County (AL) STEM Leader Retreat with 50 community members. These people represented local STEM industry, community leaders, nonprofits and interested educators. We spent several hours exploring the data about STEM jobs in their area and the skills that employees need in prospective hires as well as research on best practices around problem based learning and STEM. With the knowledge of the group they were able to generate a list of the biggest STEM employers in the area, the skills needed and potential ways to partner with the schools. Next steps will include finding funding to grow the capacity of the teachers and students, as well as creating Problem Based Learning units around topics relevant to Baldwin county. We all left excited for the future and full of hope that ALL students can develop the skills necessary to enter the STEM pipeline. Stay tuned for next steps in Baldwin Alabama.


Oak Ridge STEM Steering Committee

Tuesday I had the pleasure of facilitating the first meeting of the Oak Ridge TN school district’s STEM Steering Committee. Oak Ridge Schools are embarking upon a journey to transform their district into the premier PreK-12 STEM School district in the country. This STEM Steering committee included research scientists from the Oak Ridge National Labs, engineers from Y-12, architects, college professors and administrators, parents, teachers, administrators, politicians and concerned citizens. This group will provide guidance to the school district as they move forward to incorporate real world learning into all classrooms in their district. The school district has a plan to ensure that all graduates will have either a technical certificate, a plan to enter the military or acceptance to higher education. Currently there are 400 teachers in the Oak Ridge schools and 50 of them have committed to a 3 year initiative where they will become STEM Innovators. As STEM Innovators these teachers (science, math, CTE, English, social studies, art, music, PE, PreK, etc) will experience 5 days of PD each year to help them move along the STEM continuum. They will also experience ongoing in-class coaching to help them plan STEM lessons, create STEM tasks, create rubrics, reflect upon teaching and evaluate student work. STEM Innovators will work with their principals to create a school STEM Plan and are committed to opening their classrooms as STEM Learning Labs. They are also committed to working together as a PLC-Professional Learning Community. The STEM Steering Committee will be working with the schools to create a communication plan, create more opportunities for hands-on experiences and facilitate community partnerships with students, classes and schools. All of the stakeholders are passionate about transforming teaching and learning so that ALL Oak Ridge students have the opportunity to enter the STEM pipeline.

STEMPosium in Grand Prairie TX

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the 3rd annual STEMPosium in Grand Prairie school district, a suburb of Dallas. This STEMPosium was an opportunity for 5th and 8th grade students to showcase their STEM skills. All 5th and 8th grade students in the district (4400 students) were invited to participate. The district created 2 problem for the students and students also had the opportunity to do an experimental project. The district science team created a rubric for the work and provided the rubric to the students and teachers. Each school had their own STEMPosium and evaluated the student projects. The top projects were sent to the district staff and 27 of the teams were invited to present at the district STEMPosium. Each team member received a medal and then the schools with the most number of student teams qualifying for the district STEMPosium won the STEMley Cup, which will remain in the winning school until next year’s STEMposium.  Overall 4600 students in the district participated in this PBL and used the Discovery Board Builder as the technology tool to exhibit their learning.

The celebration of inquiry, innovation  and design involved parents and community members. The students did an outstanding job communicating their learning and collaborating with their peers.  They also discovered that becoming an innovator required hard work but was lots of fun.


Model STEM School

As school winds down across the US many teachers and administrators are reflecting upon the year. I recently visited STEM Launch a K-8 STEM school in the Adams 12 school district, a suburb of Denver CO. STEM Launch is in its 2nd year and you immediately know that STEM teaching and learning are happening there. The principal, Kelli Lauth, was the STEM Coordinator of STEM Lab another K-8 STEM school in their district. STEM Lab has been in existence for 7 years and is really successful. It began as an option for gifted and talented students and had a long waiting list. To better serve the needs of students in the district, STEM Launch was created and Kelli Lauth was tapped to lead the new school. In both STEM Lab and Launch students engage in PBL-problem based learning experiences. In the K-5 parts of the schools students have separate time to develop their literacy and math skills and typically do PBLs that incorporate science, social studies and at least 1 other content area. The students are divided into teams, meet with local experts on the topic and work with their teachers to communicate their solutions. The students are actively engaged in rigorous learning and definitely take ownership of their learning. STEM Launch had just received their 3rd grade scores for reading and math when I was visiting and had one of the largest gains in scores in the state of Colorado. Most people realize that we need to make changes in the way students are learning and provide them with real world problems. The best example of how STEM teaching and learning should work is found in these 2 schools in Colorado.

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