Professional Networks, Sharing Learning, STEM

The “STEM Teaching” Learning Journey…

When I entered into the teaching profession, I focused on the things that I thought teaching was about – preparing lessons and evaluations based on educational policy.  I was excited to share my knowledge, skills and passion for physics/math/science and wanted to do it “right”!  But “preparing” to teach is more than just the policies that are written… Sure… preparing lessons based on Ontario’s curriculum documents is part of the work… but policies only provide a framework…  it does not provide a complete road map for the complexity of the work.  In this post, I would like to share some of the things I have learned along the way about STEM Teaching.

STEM Degrees and Knowledge – Educators with STEM degrees are needed in K-12 education.  As teachers shift their roles from being the “holder of knowledge and facts” to the “mentor/coach” focused on real-world learning experiences, it is quite critical that teachers have deep understanding of the concepts and fluidity in the skills in the disciplines they teach.  In order to adapt to individual student learning needs, anticipate where student inquiries may go and support critical thinking and problem-solving in a dynamic learning environment, the teacher must be equipped with the ability to respond in an agile manner that is only possible if the teacher has a foundation of knowledge and skills that allows for this.

Educators Willing to Learn – STEM in society is not static – Innovations are happening every day!  As old technologies evolve into new ones, new discoveries push our understanding of the universe and society pushes us to think about creating sustainable environments, we are always evolving.  Educators must also evolve and change too!  Educators must be provided with professional learning and training!  I do not see professional learning to be the same as training.  Training teachers with current skills and providing opportunities for technical upgrades are necessary – often before you consider how they might use these new skills within their teaching practices (professional learning).  Sometimes, we claim that teachers must become co-learners with their students and just “leap in”… I would argue that without the intentional training for teachers, the student learning outcomes in a “co-learning” model without educator training falls short.  The student inquiry is the learning… the educator must be prepared to guide that inquiry based on their understanding of the skills and knowledge they hold…  There is a lot of confusion around “open inquiry”… I will need to write a separate post on this…

STEM is NOT in Isolation – STEM learning is going to take more than one area of expertise.  Not one teacher has all the skills that can deliver a STEM program by themselves that also meets the learning needs of all their students in an individualized manner.  We forget that STEM is actually a team effort.  In any example out there, STEM industries do not create solutions to societal problems in isolation from the people they are designing for.  The engineers, mathematicians, computer scientists, chemists, biologists, physicists, and trade professions do not work in isolation from one another when challenged with a problem.  STEM professions also work with many other professions outside of STEM to design and implement solutions.  When designing a STEM program within an elementary and secondary school, it is important to think about how the design of the program will build knowledge and skills over time.  STEM learning is more than an event, a Friday afternoon challenge, an extra-curricular team, a competition or a weekend/summer camp.  STEM Learning develops over time…  How will we ensure that all our students will experience STEM learning to create opportunity and possibility?

STEM does not replace Subject Specific Programs – I have noticed that as the STEM Education movement started to pick up, that some subject areas are now being masked by STEM.  Science, computer science, engineering and technology as disciplines are important just as much as mathematics.  Science in Ontario is only required up to grade 10.  Computer Science, Technology and Engineering courses in secondary programs are not running in all our schools across Ontario and they are completely elective courses.  Grade 11/12 courses in Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth and Space are considered electives and in some secondary schools, not all these courses are offered within the school year.  We clearly have challenges in how we are going to get our students prepared for STEM pathways.  The solution here is not easy… I don’t claim to have a solution.. but it is important to remember here that we can’t remove the importance of these disciplines and just simply replace it with STEM.  The solution is not that simple…

K-12 STEM Learning Requires Networks – STEM programs in K-12 cannot be designed by educators alone.  STEM is not owned by K-12 Education… It is a movement driven by current and future economic and societal need… If we are going to make this work, we must ensure that we work collaboratively to design STEM learning programs and policies with our shareholders.  I prefer the word “shareholders” rather than “stakeholders”…  We share the responsibility to shape experiences for all our students together!  In the projects I have led, designed and implemented, I have always been strategic about the partners and networks I work with to ensure the best possible outcome for our educators and students.  Growing your network to support STEM programs is critical!  However… do your homework!  Know how to navigate the complex system to develop the networks you need.  The network is very interconnected and simply going out and asking for support without understanding the system will cause problems.  Don’t underestimate the time it will take for you to develop trusting professional relationships with potential partners and the amount of strategic planning that will need to be done before any work begins.

Remember… Who do You Influence? – I have been in a variety of roles within the K-12 Education sector.  In each of these roles, it is important to remember who you have the most influence with.  Ultimately, our collective efforts are to improve learning experiences and outcomes for our students… but if you are not in direct contact with students… how is your work making impact?  How will you design programs from your role that will support your “students” as they navigate their work?  Simply telling educators what they need to do is insufficient – everyone has access to the Ontario curriculum documents and policies… these policies “tells us what to do”… Telling people what to do is easy… The hard work only begins when we think about how we will inspire, support, model and create alongside our educators and STEM partners to DO THE WORK… As you do this work… REFLECT on your influence… How do you know that you are influencing the people you are working with?  How do you know you are making impact on the people you are working with?

Always Learning…

I am always learning… Always thinking about what I hear from the people I work with… from educators in schools, system leaders in the districts I work with and the STEM partners I have engaged with…  I am always inspired by the passion, knowledge and skills of the people I have had the privilege of meeting and working with… yet… we have so much work to do together!

So…

…I think we need to consider working differently together…

…REALLY think OUTSIDE THE BOX…

…Work in the SPACES BETWEEN

…Join me on this learning journey…

 

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