Challenges with STEM Planning in Education

*My thinking today… may change tomorrow… what do you think?

Planning for STEM programs in K-12 Education is not as simple as it might seem.  K-12 Education systems are complex… with many subsystems… each with their own complexities.  In order to create sustainable change in complex systems, it requires shifts at variety of leverage points all orchestrated at once.  However, systems like these are also highly adaptive and each shift you make will feedback into the system creating potentially new challenges and revealing new leverage points that may need to be considered.OntarioEducationSystem

I believe that STEM learning experiences should be provided for ALL STUDENTS!  I’m not suggesting that all students should pursue a STEM profession… I’m only suggesting that we need to ensure that all our students are provided equitable experiences that will help inform their choices.  Diversifying the STEM profession will only truly happen if ALL STUDENTS have an opportunity to engage in this learning and develop the skills, knowledge in robust ways that will equip them for success.  I want to be really clear here… being prepared for STEM postsecondary pathways are defined by postsecondary institutions.  For example, engineering is an accredited program leading to a licensed profession.  For engineering programs, you must have completed Grade 12 courses in Physics, Chemistry, Calculus and Vectors, Advanced Functions, English and 1 elective course.  In the world we live in today, the elective course should really be in Computer Science… So if we think about this like an engineer, and we “reverse engineer” from this outcome, it is clear that mathematics and science education is at the core of this work.  So… doing “fun activities” in the name of STEM without deep learning is problematic.

The work we must do in STEM Education is not isolated within K-12 education…  The response to this call to action must involve partners beyond education which only adds to the complexity of this work.  Creating intentional partners requires a great deal of planning.  In the work I have done… past and present… I find myself referring to the following things:

  1. Partnerships are not product driven.  Partnerships are relationship driven.  Partnerships must involve mutual understanding and mutual benefit.  For example, if the work is simply the transfer of financial support from one organization to another for a service or product development… this is not a partnership…  Agreements such as these have a purpose and also supports the work in STEM education…  However, agreements like these alone will not transform our system to make sustainable change.  Each of us.. in our varied roles… hold a wealth of expertise.. skills… knowledge.. and experience…  I am certain that we can create rich new sustainable opportunities if we put our human capital together and really push all our thinking to THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX!
  2. Ensure that the partnerships you develop are in service of the people you are designing for.  The STEM learning experience you are creating must be responsive to the needs of the students, parents and educators within schools.  This requires that the programs are designed WITH them and not FOR them.
  3. Build professional relationships with all partners.  This takes time!  Understand the outcomes that each partner wishes to have in the work and create a space where these outcomes can come together in a way that benefits all partners.
  4. Create a clear vision for the work with a common understanding of the intended outcomes.  Having a clear vision will allow for the partnership to develop in matter that reflects a common purpose.  Each partner must become excited about the collective vision, see the benefits of the work and make commitments for long term collaborative work.
  5. Define measures of success together so that all partners understand the direction of the work.  Create a research strategy that will actively evaluate the programs.  Use the data to inform future iterations of the work.  All projects evolve…  Think of every project as simply a prototype that continually shifts and changes depending on the needs of students, parents and educators.
  6. Reflect on the partnership and be ready to pivot when needed.  Not all partnership are meant to last forever.  Ensure that you have designed a process with your partners to evaluate the benefits of the partnership and agree on how the partnership will evolve over time.


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