Changing Social Expectations in the Education Equation

Do you remember cramming for the test the night before? I do.

Education: I barely remember studying in my middle school or high school years. I recall my study habits included paying attention in class, taking notes~the same notes that I would need to cram for the exam, keeping them in my notebook so I could find the notes the night before the test, memorize, pass the test, and most likely I forgot the majority of what I was tested on. If I couldn’t use it (test information), I would lose it and move on to the next object of memorization to be mastered. And the cycle continued. It became a rhythm I could march to because…it worked.

Today, the learning expectations of your student are different because of the dialogue in our STEM classrooms has changed to a problem-solving mantra of questions.

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math focus is moving throughout our campuses because the need for these skills amplifies with the demand in the work place.

There are new expectations in the classroom.

“Ask questions” is the first on a short list of class expectations in my STEM learning lab. Both the instructor and the student share the list of expectations. To amplify the power behind those two words,  I share the testimony of the honorable 2009 Nobel Prize winner for physics, Isidore Rabi. When asked why he became a scientist. He replied: “My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from school and be asked, ‘What did you learn today?’ But my mother used to say, ‘Izzy, did you ask a good question today?‘  That made the difference. Asking good questions made me into a scientist.”

Engineering Your Classroom for Meaningful STEM Discovery

The new expectation means the student and the instructor understand “how will the student use this,” instead of how soon will you lose it.

The shift in expectation in the classroom is a challenge for the student who is accustomed to being spoon-fed the answers for the final exam. It is also a change for some instructors. It is a rewarding chance for the instructor so see a rapid improvement in the long-term effects of meaningful learning. By putting down the spoonful of answers, the instructor transitions into the “discovery guide”, pointing the learner down the skill path that will lead to a long-term retention with a purpose.

An important note for my fellow teachers and parents needs to be included here: It is instantly rewarding for the teacher to see the pride their student shows on their face and in their voice when they find the answer for themselves. But for those tenacious students who are hooked on the spoon-fed past, the parents make a bee-line to the principal to demand a change. Dependent on the crowd of students, the most stressful part of our day is in defending the better way of discovery learning over memorizing for an “A”.  Just like my students tackling any new skill, I too  have improved with practice and, implementing a little tenacity of my own, I see the STEM discovery results in real-time.

Information taken from Change the Equation website  explains that they align corporate efforts in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to ensure that they add up to real, measurable growth in the achievement and STEM fluency of our nation’s young people. Change the Equation’s more than 110 corporate members are committed to addressing the problem of America’s  Together, they devote more than $500 million a year to improving STEM learning.

Change the Equation provides a fast list for us as a guide to the new STEM expectation. As you review their description of STEM in the classroom, identify the ones you already include in your learning environment; search the network of STEM teachers to hunt for innovative activities to meet the expectations for active discovery with our students:

STEM-Specific Principles

  • Offer challenging and relevant STEM content
    • Move beyond minimum competency, and promote high expectations for all students.
    • Align STEM content with local, state or national STEM content standards, and provide access to the curriculum or materials students and teachers need to be effective.
    • Where possible, focus on real-world applications of STEM.
    • Focus on STEM literacy and fluency as well as on knowledge and skills.
  • Include a focus on “21st-century skills”
    • Where possible, build skills and attributes in areas like critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication and teamwork.
    • Foster students’ ability to be innovative, to use what they learn to create new ideas or products.
  • Inspire interest and engagement in STEM
    • Create excitement, and dispel negative misconceptions, about STEM.
    • Connect STEM to learners’ own interests and experiences.
    • Where possible, offer hands-on exposure to STEM content.
    • Where possible, demonstrate the relevance of STEM by connecting it to real-world problems and real-world work.
    • Where possible, create excitement about career opportunities that require a strong STEM background.
  • Encourage hands-on learning
    • Offer open-ended research activities that promote inquiry by encouraging students to pose relevant questions, seek possible explanations, test those explanations and draw conclusions.
    • Create an environment where adults and students work together as active learners.
  • Address the needs of underrepresented groups
    • Ensure that programs address the needs of groups that are underrepresented in STEM fields, such as females and underrepresented people of color.
  • Ensure the capacity of program staff or volunteers to promote student learning in STEM
    • Ensure that staff or volunteers have the STEM subject matter knowledge and command of project-based learning they need to be effective.
    • Ensure that staff or volunteers know how to build strong relationships with the educators, community members and/or students they work with.
    • When staff or volunteers lack strong background in subject matter, project-based learning and/or how to build strong relationships with students or partners, provide access to, and time for, professional development that promotes their effectiveness in these areas.

Sources for Design Principles:

  • “Best in Class: How Top Corporations Can Help Transform Public Education” (Ernst & Young, 2008)
  • “The SAI Guide to Building Effective STEM Education Programs” (NASSMC, 2007)
  • “Introducing STEM Industries to K-12 Best Practice Programs” (Bayer, 2007)
  • Strategic Ed Solutions, www.strategicedsolutions.org (BHEF)
  • “Principles for Effective Education Grantmaking” (Grantmakers in Education, 2005)
  • “A Compendium of Best Practice K-12 STEM Education Programs” (Bayer, 2010)
  • “National Science Education Standards” (NRC, 1996)
  • “What it Takes: Pre-K-12 Design Principles to Broaden Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics” (BEST, 2004)

As a STEM (science) teacher, I experience a more meaningful day with my learners from bell-to-bell when we blend real-world problems that enable them to safely problem-solve with purpose. Immediate feedback is generated through their daily learning journals in my Space Lab classes.

I promote high expectations and use instant revision to energize it. This past Friday, I invested 12 minutes towards how-to- improve the three lesson facts each student picks for their daily journal. “Don’t pick facts that you cannot connect to your life. That is boring. Boring is the opposite of discovery. Find facts that are hooked into what you do, what you want to do, and what thrills you. Then, your journal activity becomes something personal, something meaningful.” I saw an instant return on that 12 minute investment.

Everything listed on the Changing the Equation information page can come to life in your classroom. See how many of those items listed above are happening in your classroom from bell to bell. Hook those general ideas to the smart ways you generate meaningful learning in your day as their “discovery guide.” Change the social expectation in education from old-school memorization to today’s STEM labs of discovery.

STEM educatorIt is a good time to be an educator.

~Kay Borglum, MS

Space Lab and Biotechnology Science Teacher in Central Florida

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