Posted: Monday, April 1st, 2013
by Rick Pomeroy
Just last week, I had the pleasure of visiting several elementary schools and one high school in Maryland that shared the focus of incorporating STEM as a regular part of their daily curriculum. What was most impressive to me was not the science and math courses that the students were taking, nor the fact that the students at all grade levels appeared to use technology effortlessly. Instead, it was the collaboration of the faculty, staff and administrators and their seemingly universal commitment to doing things differently. The efforts to prepare students to work confidently in an increasingly digital world were evident everywhere I visited and there was a definite feeling of dynamic progress. The reason I found this so impressive is that after countless hours spent participating in STEM Task Force Meetings, STEM Summits, STEM-focused conferences, and NGSS review sessions it was clear to me that the most important factor in the success of these programs was not the technology or content, but the people involved.
Borrowing from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I am not sure I can tell you exactly what STEM is but “I know it when I see it”. This phrase clearly describes my experiences last week. I could definitely see STEM but I don’t think I could pinpoint any one (or ten) thing(s) that they were doing that would be defined as STEM-specific curriculum.
For example, elementary school students were using a wide variety of technological tools from kindergarten class to sixth grade simply as universal tools for learning. SmartBoards® allowed kindergarteners to drag and drop pictures of objects that started with “B”, and others used tablets to write and hear the sounds of letters. Fourth graders used simple probes to measure the temperature of compost being “cooked” in 2-liter soda bottles during a science lessons in anticipation of starting a composting project in their school cafeteria. In a third grade math classroom, students measured the circumference of different wheels using rulers and sticky spots to decide which would go further in one full revolution. What I didn’t realize until I visited the STEM classroom was that those students were also building little electric cars, trying to make the fastest car using a common set of materials. The math lesson on circles preceded the car-building activity, making the application of what they had learned a simple process. The key to me was not that they were doing a math lesson on circles but that the lesson from math was so easily applied in the race-car building because the teachers collaborated across grades and disciplines.
My visit to the high school was equally impressive. At this school of 2000 students, 100 in each of the four grade levels had chosen to take part in the STEM academy that included participation in a class each year such as STEM policy or community service. In addition, each student was expected to take part in an internship with a local business or local organization where they gained real world experience. Why did this make such an impression on me? Because the lead teachers for these STEM classes were the English and history teachers. Yes, there were math, science, and engineering teachers in the STEM academy, but the collaboration by all of the teachers across the different subject areas made the entire process more seamless than something special. Each of these teachers shared that they taught traditional classes for the entire student body and one class for the STEM academy, and that all of their students benefited from this school wide collaboration.
Finally, in all of the schools the students I met were confident about what they were doing and anxious to continue their pursuits. The high school students had summer internship plans and had applied to and been accepted by various colleges and universities. They had even won a national competition, put on by the Verizon Foundation, to develop a Smartphone App specifically for high school students.
Clearly, STEM can happen systemically, but only through purposeful collaboration across disciplines. Many of the activities that students were doing could have easily been done without the special technology. For example, felt boards could be used for word sorting, thermometers for measuring the heat produced by composting. Students can do internships without any special technology. What made the experience in the Maryland schools different was the sense of utilizing authentic scientific practices and tools to engage in collaborative problem solving in real world situations. The faculty were collaborating to ensure students heard a common message about the importance of collaboration, solving real world problems, and doing so within the specific confines of their own communities. Just as our ever-growing technological world demands experts in all areas, our students need the talents and expertise of all curriculum areas to be successful in their future careers.
Based on my experiences, our typical bureaucratic approach to implementing STEM may be headed in the wrong direction. I’d like to go out on a limb and suggest that making our current curriculum STEM-centric is probably going to be much easier than modifying what and how we currently teach to a new set of Standards based on the NGSS. To prepare collaborative, problem solving citizens, we first need to develop and model those skills amongst ourselves as educators.
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…