The moral of the story is straightforward: STEM education is challenging to provide in isolation in a traditional K-12 classrooms. As such, a collaborative approach has to be adopted to involve various stakeholders with expertise and experience in the STEM field in the real world.
Stem education requires different approachMany of us are familiar with the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” It’s based on the idea that many different people in a community need to engage in the successful raising of children. In the education of children, the same principle applies.
However, many times in schools in the United States, STEM education is provided by one single classroom teacher who has no work experience outside of the classroom. In other words, no experience in the real world working in a STEM field. The one and the same STEM teacher who lacks authentic experiences is charged with providing instruction in four complex disciplines that encourage authentic experiences: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
It goes without saying, the quality of STEM education that can be provided in a classroom by one single teacher who lacks real-world STEM experiences will be fairly poor and limited to a basic introduction to each of the four fields and some rudimentary hands-on projects that are relatively disconnected from the real world.
Providing a modern STEM education is significantly more complex than teaching, for example, English grammar or social studies. Education stakeholders must understand that and approach it accordingly. The general idea is in line with a recent OffCrowd article pointing out that the “current education system [in the Philippines] is limited” and that new, creative education opportunities need to be introduced to students.
As I have mentioned in my other OffCrowd opinion articles, technology careers in the United States are lucrative and plentiful with many fast growing occupations. This is true of the entire STEM field. Over six-percent of all jobs in the U.S. are directly STEM related. To put that into perspective, there are as many STEM jobs in the U.S. as there are school teaching and retail sales jobs combined.
However, while the supply of school teachers and retail sales personnel in many U.S. states and communities is plentiful, the supply of STEM workers is low in the entire country. Due to that having been a problem for many years, the U.S. has in place a special optional practical training extension for foreign students enrolled in American universities in STEM fields. However, that does not address the root cause of the problem, namely inadequate STEM education in the U.S. K-12 public school system.
Having worked as a public school technology teacher in the state of Vermont for several years as well as having spoken with many parents of school students in addition to discussing this with many businesses, it has become clear to me that a new approach is needed to provide a more relevant and improved STEM education to students.
That’s where a non-organization such Technology for Tomorrow (T4T) comes in, but not in order to replace K-12 STEM education. Our goal is to enhance and provide opportunities that K-12 schools cannot or will not provide. As opposed to K-12 schools, T4T is embracing change and is, thus, pursuing a collaborative, authentic approach to STEM education by engaging various community stakeholders in the process in order to inspire K-12 schools to consider adopting a similar collaborative approach.
RESISTANCE TO CHANGEResistance to change among U.S. schools is fairly significant, especially in terms of collaborating and partnering with non-school organizations for educational improvements. Simply put, many school administrators and teachers are afraid to give up control of the educational process and engage outside stakeholders.
In the state of Vermont, we are fortunate that a law titled Act 77 Flexible Pathways was passed in 2013, which provides students the opportunity to pursue education outside of the traditional classroom and count that experience towards their high school graduation.
In essence, Act 77 acknowledges that schools alone are simply not equipped to provide the education students need to be successful today and in the future. The law provides necessary incentive (by force) for resisting schools to accept that education can and should occur outside of the classroom and make needed adjustments on how they educate students to accommodate for that.
However, some Vermont schools are still resisting by not properly informing and assisting students in pursuing outside-the-classroom educational opportunities. Fortunately, some schools have been eager to encourage their students to pursue such possibilities.
In the summer of 2018, I had a high school student do a technology work-based learning program with me for high school credits, an opportunity that provided that student significantly more relevant, advanced, and authentic STEM education than a high school possibly could provide.
Not only did the students learn many critical STEM skills with a focus on technology but also various other miscellaneous and critical skills around managing a small organization, which kills school teachers for obvious reasons are incapable of teaching in a classroom.
A COLLABORATIVE APPROACHTo set an example for what STEM education can be, T4T decided to create a week-long intensive STEM camp that is truly collaborative in nature so we can address various aspects of STEM in an authentic fashion.
We started off by contacting various community organizations (for-profit, non-profit, and state government agencies) in order to receive input and engage in collaborative partnerships. The first goal was to secure funding. Luckily, two local for-profit STEM businesses stepped in and provided needed funding, with the stipulation that three students who are traditionally considered underserved (live in poverty) attend for free on scholarships. That’s also a way to ensure that some children who otherwise don’t have access to quality STEM education get such access.
With that in mind, we engaged a non-profit organization that works closely with public schools in the entire state. That organization, in turn, reached out to various high schools and middle schools on our behalf and recruited the three under-served students who will attend the STEM camp on the scholarships provided by the for-profit businesses. In addition, the organization also recruited several more students whose fees are paid for by a state government affiliated organization.
Secondly, we reached out to the coordinator for the state of Vermont Agency of Education homeschooling division to get the word out to the homeschooling community. This particular community has no access to STEM education other than what’s offered online as these children are simply not enrolled in K-12 schools. As a result of this outreach effort, several homeschooled students enrolled.
Simultaneously, we started to develop a robust STEM curriculum. As stated earlier, our goal was to make this a truly collaborative program by involving a variety of stakeholders. As such, we reached out to several local STEM organizations and asked if they are willing to teach classes on a STEM topic of their choice.
Several organizations showed interest so we decided to collaborate with a state government agency for a bridge building engineering class as well as with a for-profit solar energy company to provide a solar energy engineering class. In addition, local high school students with expertise in coding and web development contacted us and asked if he can teach a class as well, so he will be providing coding and web development.
All these classes are, of course, planned for with relevant industry hands-on projects in mind (project-based learning) that are the application of the theoretical learning during the program. STEM is a field in which hands-on application is critical to learning, something we kept in the forefront of our thinking as we developed the program.
MORAL OF THE STORYThe moral of the story is straightforward: STEM education is challenging to provide in isolation in a traditional K-12 classrooms. As such, a collaborative approach has to be adopted to involve various stakeholders with expertise and experience in the STEM field in the real world.
What makes T4T unique is that we not only teach STEM classes with a focus on technology, but we also function as an integrator and facilitator of educational opportunities to maximize the outcome for students by bringing together various stakeholders and collaborative partners in order to provide the best possible STEM education.
In short, we recognize that it does take a village to provide STEM education and we understand that a collaborative approach is the best way to achieve that.
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