Tag Archives: Teaching

Why STEM? An idealist rant from my inner hippie voice.

4 Sep

Tonight after reading a post by Kim Crawford, titled “Don’t Forget to Show Them Who You Really Are” I started to think about how I present myself in this blog. By nature, I do not struggle with vulnerability. Unlike Kim, I’m more likely to need to build a few walls then take them down. But her post got me thinking. Do I ever really share the part of me that is a peace-loving, wildly idealistic optimist that just wants the world to stop making itself so sick, or do I keep that part of me hidden so as not to come off as an “anti-intellectual”?

So, I’ve decided to share my completely self-serving idealist hippie reasons for pushing STEM in schools. I’m going to try not to self-censor or over edit. If it’s a little jumbled, please be gentle. 

In the media and the white papers, improving STEM curriculum in schools is promoted as the means by which we will ensure our national security and create the pipeline of skilled, technical workers that will be needed to keep our high-tech world running and progressing. While I don’t undervalue the importance national security or a skilled work force, these are not my motivators for pushing STEM in schools.

My desire to see STEM improve in schools is based in my desire to help students develop the skills I believe they will need in order to create the world I want to live in and that they will have to live in. What can I say, it’s sounds cheesy when I say it out loud, but there it is, my reason for pushing STEM in schools. 

I want to live in a world where, when a problem or obstacle presents itself, people attempt to solve it, and don’t immediately look to someone else to fix it or blame someone else when it doen’s get fixed. I want to live where people from every race, sex, religion, and age can empathize with one another and collaborate to create positive change.  I want to live in a world where people who think about their actions and the impact their actions will have on others drive innovation and progress. I’m not naive. It won’t happen in my lifetime, but I can still want it and I can still take steps to try to make it happen.

I sometimes judge myself harshly. I should be championing the efforts to keep music, art and physical fitness in schools. They are equally important and they are the reason I stayed in school. I guess I see the current focus on getting STEM into schools as an opportunity to keep these activities from disappearing altogether for now. Art with an emphasis on applied math and technology. You can can make that happen. Physical activity with an emphasis on applied physics, technology and engineering. You can make that happen. With STEM as the buzzword of the moment, you can say, “Don’t worry! It’s not an art lesson, it’s a STEM lesson” and no one will question.

I’m technically an advocate for SHTEMPALM… but that sounds a little silly, right?

I’m getting a little punchy and it’s a little late, so before I back out and save this as a draft that never gets posted, I think it’s time to sum it up. 

I want to make sure that students engage in problem-solving and critical thinking especially around issues that are relevant in their lives. I want them to think about problems and to work together to find and design solutions. I want them to have the information and the skill sets they need to make their solutions realities. I want them to learn to fail with grace and to bask in the intrinsic joy that comes with success. I want them to build a beautiful world for themselves.

Peace. 😉

Feature: A Teacher’s Top eGFI Tips

31 Aug

Check it out! I was interviewed for the latest “Engineering Go For It” teacher newsletter.

As you may already know if you follow this blog, I love eGFI’s educator resources, so when contacted by one of their writers for an interview, I jumped at the chance to share how I use them!

If you are implementing a STEM program at your school, their site is a must!

It’s nothing personal…

16 Feb

Two weeks ago, I asked the students in the middle school after-school robotics program to think about whether they would like to continue with the robotics club for their final after-school activity cycle this year. We are due to switch at the end of February.

Since none of them had truly opted to take robotics, and since they all were sort of roped into the club, it surprised me when one-by-one they all stated they planned to continue. I left that day a little impressed with myself. I must have done something right.

During the days that followed, I reflected on their whole-group decision to stick around. I thought about each of the kids in the club. While they are all wonderful and while each one brings a unique set of traits and skills to the club, they don’t all seem “totally into” the activities we do. There are all engaged in the activities, but only a few seem really“into them“.  Do you know what I mean?

I want our students to participate in after-school activities that fuel their personal passions and truly excite them. I don’t just want them to be “engaged” in activities. I want them to be “into them”.

I started to think about why they were all choosing to stay on with me even if they weren’t that “into” robotics and engineering. Then it occurred to me.

Maybe… they don’t want to hurt my feelings.”

I realized the kids had probably picked up on my earnest desire to share something new and exciting with them. I think they wanted more of that enthusiasm and more of those high expectations, even if they didn’t necessarily want more “robotics and engineering” .

At the start of our meeting on Monday, after reviewing our work from the previous week, I let the kids know that they would need to decide for sure by the end of the day whether they would continue with club or not. If they were excited by the activities we’ve been working on and enthusiastic about continuing, I suggested they stay. If they weren’t, I assured them that my feelings wouldn’t be hurt if they moved on. I explained that while I believe every student should have an opportunity to explore and be exposed to some of the activities we have been working on, not every student had to make engineering and robotics their passion. A different club might interest or excite them more. I promised they could visit me any time if they decided to choose a different club.

One student asked, “What if some of the stuff excites us and some of it doesn’t? Should we  stay?”

To this I responded truthfully. “I can’t answer that.  All I can say is that if you stay, you’re a part of the team and you have to try and bring your best even when you aren’t 100% excited about the activity we are working on that day. Some activities will be more fun for different people. The club is still new, we’re still figuring out who we are and how we operate. If you want to stick around and help me figure it out you can, but don’t feel like you have to.”

During the meeting, I watched as a few of the students dug into a design challenge I had given them with a genuine intrinsic drive to solve the challenge. They weren’t trying to get an “A” or win a prize or finish first. They just wanted or needed to figure it out.

Others did their best or at least gave it a good shot, but they were less hungry for a solution. For them, it was an enjoyable activity, but solving the challenge was neither here nor there. I started guessing who would stay and who would go.

At the close of the meeting, I asked for their final decisions. Five of the eight students chose to stay. It wasn’t easy hearing students say they wanted to do something else and I was surprised that one of them was choosing to move on, but I was glad they were able to be honest with me and able to make their decision based on genuine interest, not  based on whether they thought I’d be disappointed or not.

On the way out the door, one of the students who decided to move on, ran back and gave me a big hug. She didn’t say why, but I think I can guess why and it felt good to know that she felt positive about our time together.

I sometimes have to remind myself  that it’s not personal. Students are individuals with diverse interests. Not every kid will fall in love with the subject matter I teach. My job is to inspire them to be individuals, to be citizens, to be determined and persistent in their pursuit of learning, to try their best, and to explore their options. It’s not to turn them into something they are not.

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