Thursday, November 10, 2011

STEM - description, ideas and resources for educators

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is a term that has become more and more popular lately as the federal government is pushing for improvements in student performance in these areas. The United States needs more students to enter these fields and, in general, the public needs to be more educated about these topics to be better informed citizens.

There are a lot of initiatives, programs, and resources related to STEM and I will try to share as many as possible while explaining what they are.

The White House has the Educate to Innovate campaign to “improve the participation and performance of America’s students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).” The campaign is also being supported by companies, foundations and science and engineering societies. Discovery is one of the major players and they already have a huge number of resources for STEM (many listed below). The goal is to increase STEM literacy so that all students can think critically and learn in STEM topics.

One of the things happening on the national level is a new Science Framework that is being developed to pave the way for new science standards. The new framework will emphasize depth over breadth, using scientific inquiry and the engineering design process as part of their learning experience, and having core scientific concepts revisited at multiple grade levels to help build on prior learning and facilitate a deeper understanding. Part of this includes more science education at the elementary level, including training for teachers. There is a strong emphasis on engineering and technology in the framework. The engineering design process is an excellent way to teach problem solving and engineering and technology is the application of the science concepts students are learning. NextGenScience is the site related to this topic and teachers can find more information. You can download a free PDF book about the New Science Framework here.

I am a former engineer. I received my BS Degree in Mechanical Engineering - Aerospace, from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and worked for 10 years as an engineer before becoming an educator. WPI has a project based curriculum and I use many of their ideas in my classroom now. WPI is even creating a STEM Education center to help train teachers.I teach Physics and use engineering in my classes all the time. I teach the students the engineering design process and we do a lot of projects. I also run an after school pre-engineering program at my school (CPEP). My engineering education and experience has given me the skills to solve problems, think critically, learn on my own, and apply knowledge to applications. I feel that this is what we need to be teaching our students.

The engineering design process is a cycle. It emphasizes that things don’t always work the first time and that you analyze what happened, redesign, and try again. I like to share with students the fact that most of what they see around them was designed by teams of engineers who had failures and had to redesign and retest before they got it right. Failure is ok. The process is a great model for using in any field, and any problem.

So, how can teachers incorporate more STEM into their classrooms?

Science teachers should discuss engineering careers and topics related to the subject that they are teaching. They should also explore some of the technology used in their discipline. Teach students the engineering design process as a way to solve problems.  Math teachers can relate the math concepts to science and engineering applications. History, English, Music and Art teachers can all relate things that they are teaching in their class to a STEM subject. For example, in Art and Music there is a lot of physics and math in both that can be related. English teachers could have students read articles about science instead of other topics and even relate things in the books they are reading. History teachers could bring in how STEM has affected societies and the course of history. Teachers can even talk about fiction, TV, movies, and such and explore the STEM concepts, even the incorrect ones, in them.

Schools should also look to after school programs that deal with STEM topics such as CPEP, First Robotics, JETS and more. Many are self-funded so there is no cost to the schools.

There are a lot of great resources for teachers to use to find ideas, lesson plans, and other information to incorporate STEM into their classrooms. They do not have to do it alone and it does not have to take a lot of time or effort to incorporate STEM topics and ideas into any classroom.

STEM topics can be incorporated into any class, about any subject. If you are not a STEM teacher, ask someone who is for some ideas and help. Work together with other teachers to come up with some interdisciplinary projects and lessons. Have fun with it!


NASA Engineering Design Process - NASA’s definition and outline for the engineering design process

WPI Plan - WPI’s project based, integrated curriculum. Good model for all schools to use.

Simplified Version of Engineering Design Process

Discovery Education Siemens STEM Academy - great, free resource, with tons of information and lessons. - excellent resource.

Introduction to Engineering presentation - presentation I created for students that introduces them to engineering careers and concepts.

Engineering Interact Interactive - lessons for using engineering topics

High School STEM Resources from MIT

Science of Everyday Life - free resource from Discovery Education that has great ideas and resources for relating science to everyday life. - excellent resource.

Engineering Career Resources from CBIA (CT Business and Industry Assoc.) - free career descriptions, videos, and teacher resources on science, engineering and health careers. - excellent resource.

Science Channel’s Be The Future - resources, links, lesson plans, and more all about STEM.

Change the Equation - resources to improve teaching and learning in STEM

STEM Coalition - resources, links, lesson plans, and more for STEM Education. - excellent resource.

Pratt and Whitney - How a Jet Engine Works

NASA at Home and City - space developments related to life on Earth

Technology in Use in Engineering

PreK-12 Engineering - teaching engineering concepts in any grade

List of Engineering Resources to use in school with students. Lots of great resources listed here.

Ask Polaris - engineering career help and advice

Head Rush - great show on the Science Channel about science. Spin off from Mythbusters (another great way to get kids excited about science).

Forensics are another great way to get students excited about STEM subjects:

PhET - Online, free simulations and virtual labs for science and math

Share your resources with us!


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