(Re)Defining STEM During Distance Learning
While STEM has been a part of the education landscape for decades, there are still pockets of students unable to access meaningful STEM experiences regularly.
The U.S. Department of Education’s STEM education plan was meant to help prepare more students for career-ready jobs in STEM fields. While students are graduating with STEM-related degrees, many lack the skills that companies desire.
But, through proven strategies and intentional practice, educators can help students build these critical skills and thrive in STEM fields.
To help all students access opportunities for STEM education in any type of learning environment, TGR EDU: Explore – a program from Discovery Education and TGR Foundation – released a no-cost resource that helps educators extend a powerful STEM education to every student, regardless of location. You can access the full (Re)Defining STEM module here.
As we continue planning for fall 2020 and beyond, let’s consider the components of STEM education, and how to include them in your distance learning initiative.
The no-cost professional development module helps educators consider essential questions related to STEM education: What is your current definition of STEM education? How does it look in the classroom? As an educator, what is your role in teaching it? Our updated definition of STEM outlines four components:
STEM Component #1: Interdisciplinary learning
STEM is often taught in siloed subjects. Students may attend science class for one hour, then math for another hour. They might choose an elective technology class, or participate in an afterschool robotics club. While this approach may feel “traditional”, it doesn’t provide authentic learning experiences to students.
An interdisciplinary approach, on the other hand, embeds multiple concepts from different subjects into a single lesson. By combining math, science and art into one project, students can build their skills for use in the real world.
Interdisciplinary learning is especially helpful during distance learning, where classes may be shortened. To start, try incorporating 2-3 different subject areas into an activity. You may be surprised by the results!
STEM Component #2: Design principles
When STEM professionals solve problems in the workplace, they follow a design process (you may recognize it as the Engineering Design Process).
Students can leverage the same design principles to solve problems in multiple subject areas. While there’s no single “right” design process, I recommend using the following to get started:
- Step 1 – Define the problem
- Step 2 – Design solutions
- Step 3 – Create or prototype
- Step 4 – Refine or improve
- Step 5 – Communicate results
TGR EDU: Explore has a variety of STEM design challenge lessons available – feel free to use them as is, or to inspire your own design challenge activity to incorporate in your distance learning initiative.
STEM Component #3: Real-world connections
As you already know, preparing students for success means making real-world connections in the classroom. There are a variety of ways to make these connections during activities, including:
- Relevance: Make a connection between the activity and students’ lives and personal experiences.
- Student voice: Support student voice by encouraging learners to express their ideas, concerns and opinions.
- Student choice: Allow students to be the decision-makers, which can range from what they learn to how they learn. This helps students take ownership of their learning.
When students are learning remotely, they may feel less engaged than they would in the classroom. Use the suggestions above to help them feel more invested in activities, and continue to hone their STEM skills using real-world examples.
STEM Component #4: Skill-building
By now, most of us have heard about the importance of the “four Cs”, critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.
These skills are crucial to success in college, the workforce and life itself. While STEM may feel technical in nature, fields like IT and engineering need candidates who can effectively communicate and collaborate.
No matter the subject or activity, the four Cs should be a focus. Help students hone their communication and collaboration skills through group projects, which can be done via video call, and offer plenty of opportunities to think critically and be creative.
STEM applies to all educators, not just math and science teachers. By incorporating these skills throughout instruction, we can ensure every student has an opportunity to pursue a career in STEM.