STEM, a major buzz word in the world of education and elsewhere. From iPad probes to rockets, LEGO robotics to 3D printers, STEM represents a new way to think about and learn science and math.
STEM has been around for a long time, at least it’s parts. Math and science have been taught in relative silos, engineering has been somewhat non-existent, but perhaps inadvertently encountered when designing or building, and technology keeps gaining steam (not to be confused with STEAM-science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics). It’s only been recently that a premium has been put on the importance of integrating these disciplines in education. Why didn’t we think of that before? Science, technology, engineering, and math are not found in real life without being tangled up with each other.
Since September I’ve had the pleasure to work with Spencer school district to develop their STEM program. It has been an immensely gratifying experience. Especially this last week when I was able to visit and observe third graders discussing which blades on a windmill would capture the wind better, and thus do more work. The students interacted with the different blades, feeling the material and the sturdiness of the design. Then they made a claim and backed it up with evidence. Were their claims correct? Did their evidence fit their hypothesis? Often times not, but they were thinking critically. When I think back to my science education, especially elementary, I remember memorizing and filling in blanks,…oh yeah, and hermit crabs. However, I don’t remember too many opportunities to build or test a solution and very little opportunity to make a claim and back it up with my observations or data.
In Spencer, I worked with the STEM teacher Lynette Gross to scale the KidWind program from kindergarten to fifth grade. KidWind is one of the STEM scale-up programs available through the Iowa STEM initiative. It is normally met for the middle school grades. We built in plenty of inquiry and opportunity to test claims. The kindergartens were given the opportunity to observe different blades being used to do work. The fifth graders were charged with designing and producing their own blades.
I highly recommend applying for a STEM scale-up grant in the spring if you’re an Iowa educator. The state offers many programs each year. The application is short, and if awarded, professional development for the program is provided. It’s an easy way to scale-up your classroom.