“A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.” ~Confucius
Friday afternoon, as I hung out the third floor window of the elementary school looking down at the anticipating faces of the fifth grade students below, as I carefully dangled an egg encased in a plastic cup, protected by bubble wrap, shaving cream and marshmallows, all tethered to a plastic bag parachute, as I poised to let it drop, I looked over my shoulder at our guest for the day, a computer engineer named Alfie, and I thought…
“This is so freaking cool. We’re doing it. Something is really starting to happen around here and the kids down there are engaged!”
When I started this blog, I promised I would document our story and share the details of our efforts as we work to plan and implement a school-wide STEM initiative. So far, I have been pretty good about posting lessons and reflecting on what I am learning with students in the classroom, but I have been negligent in documenting some of the most crucial lessons I have learned and continue to learn out of the classroom regarding this process. So here we go… I’ll start now!
three four tips for anyone about to take on a school-wide STEM initiative.
(The following tips are based solely on my personal experience and not supported by any substantial studies or fancy research statistics. So you can take ’em or leave ’em. :))
1. Find partners. Don’t go it alone.
Early on in the year, I met with students and outreach coordinators at the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. I shared our school goals. I shared some personal goals. I was vulnerable and totally honest about my skill set or lack of one in many areas. I listened to their suggestions and took notes on any programs we could take part in.
The folks at U Penn SEAS have been my secret strength. Just knowing I have someone I can go to with questions or ideas, gives me the confidence to take steps and move forward. If they see a professional development opportunity or if a program pops up they think might be helpful to us, or if they have students available to work as mentors with us, they pass the information along. Almost every conference or PD opportunity I have taken advantage of this year, was a recommendation from one of my contacts at U Penn SEAS.
2. Follow up.
I mean this in the most general of ways. Once people know you are looking to network and find opportunities, they will start sharing ideas and information.
When your friend says, “Oh, I know a guy who works as a mechanical engineer at Boeing.” Don’t let that opportunity go. Ask for contact information. Introduce yourself via e-mail. Invite the person to visit you and your students.
When you see something that says, “Free resources to the first 1o0 people!” Don’t hesitate too long. Find out if you can use those resources and follow-up. The worst that can happen is you don’t get them, the best is that you do!
Follow-up when you are contacted by non-profit organizations that can connect you and your students with Scientists and enrichment programs in the area. Those opportunities are priceless. Sometimes literally. As in free. Free scientists and mentors to help you!
Follow-up on invitations to collaborate with teachers. The minute they say, “I was thinking I might like to…” e-mail with a suggested meeting time and make it happen.
People are excited to share their expertise and to help students and teachers, but they won’t chase you down… you need to follow-up.
3. Once you get started, know that it’s okay to idle in neutral for a bit.
Once things begin to happen, it has been my experience that they start to happen quickly. When others see the level of engagement of the students, or when they hear about enrichment opportunities, they want to be involved and they want to get the students involved. This is great, but make sure you are allowing enough time to reflect, connect, and plan. As a recent guest on campus recommended when talking to staff about 21st Century Learning…“Take small bites and chew.”
(Oh! I almost forgot to include the most important lesson I’ve learned to date, the one that inspired this post, and prompted me to kick it off with a quote by Confucius…)
4. Take a step. Any step. It’s how the journey starts.
If you have any tips, please share them in the form of a comment! And as always, I welcome feedback regarding content.