lots of ideas stemming from STEM education

I just finished reading another issue of Instructor magazine and, not surprisingly, came rushing to my computer to get all of my thoughts down! My favourite article in the latest issue (Spring 2013) was about the up-and-coming topic of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) or STEAM (the A is for Arts) Education.

The article provided multiple, simple ways to integrate a STEM-based approach in the classroom without previous experience, such as building boats out of clay in order to understand how items that normally sink in water can be made to float.

The biggest reaction I had to these ideas was ‘ugh.’ I always found the ‘engineering’ type of lessons to be frustrating and a waste of time. As a ruthless memorizer, I found school much more rewarding and personally successful when I could learn a formula, keep it stored away and use it forever after. Now that I am in the Education program, however, I understand that being a memorizer only can be a huge disadvantage for a student. And that is why I am so glad that I see the future curricula reflecting a hands-on, inquiry approach to learning. I hope that the educational system puts a stop to making children believe that they cannot be successful in their academic career unless they can remember tables and formulae. Learning through personal discovery and question posing is much more beneficial because it is realistic.

So while I may have found my Grade 10 Physics project of self-designed, balloon-propelled cars the most difficult and useless thing in my high school career, I now look back as a future educator, and applaud my teacher for incorporating (and still continuing to incorporate – much to my younger sister’s chagrin, I guess her opinion on the assignment was similar to mine) this lesson in his introductory Physics unit because it allows the students to fiddle with their cars and notice what improves or impedes their cars’ success.

Personally, I found this project so angering because there was no right answer or steps to follow in order to get to the desired outcome, something that school taught me would, 99% of the time, work! It went against my learning style, which, so far, has allowed me to achieve lots of success as a student! However, I am constantly wishing that I were a tinkerer and an iron-willed problem solver who won’t stop until a solution has been discovered. Unfortunately, though, I just got frustrated with the project and eventually gave up (I know, not a good example to be putting out there, but I figure honesty is the best policy). As a future educator, though, I hope to put an end to a generation of young thinkers who can succeed by merely memorizing (which, admittedly, in some cases and subjects, is required). I want my students to learn through their own mistakes. As the article so eloquently puts it,

Introducing kids to the engineering process – having them start again and fix the mistakes – at that age is much easier because they haven’t yet developed a fear of failure.

-Monica Foss, Instructor, Spring 2013, “STEM: Everyday

Engineering,” Page 41

This really rang true for me because, as a student, I would always dread to give the wrong answer when a teacher called on me. Students are so afraid of getting the wrong answer that they are losing the opportunity to learn through their failed attempts! I hope to foster an environment where mistakes are okay, and even encouraged, in order to work towards the right answer!

In closing, I hope to use lots of these hands-on, engineering/building activities with my students in order to give them a chance to learn real-world principles on a smaller scale. I know that using the arts in my classroom will be easy to do, because I have a connection with them, but I also want my classroom to be a nurturing environment for the world’s future engineers, scientists, mathematicians and technological gurus!

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