Ten Ideas To Take Students Beyond That STEM Activity… And Towards The Standards

We must be careful, and be certain, to go beyond the activity
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Ten Ideas To Take Students Beyond That STEM Activity… And Towards The Standards 

“You can have facts without thinking, but you cannot have thinking without facts” – John Dewey

I am a big advocate of student engagement, exploration, and inquiry. I enjoy seeing a great STEM activity where the students are motivated and enjoying the task. In fact, this is one reason to bring STEM experiences into the school. It allows for the students to do, which is so important in education.

John Dewey often said, “You can have facts without thinking, but you cannot have thinking without facts”. I would like to believe that this thinking also involved doing. In other words, the nouns in our standards are better understood when students participate in the verbs. It seems the last ten years of education has seen an emphasis on the test which promoted the memorization of nouns, or facts. This took the opportunity for doing, which emphasizes verbs, away from many of our students. I see doing as an opportunity to actively think and work with those facts. Without this balance the results become… facts without thinking. When this happens, where is the learning?

As the STEM movement has gained momentum it seems we have a lot more students’ doing. I see many classrooms where students are involved, excited, and motivated as they engage in a STEM activity. At the same time, I often wonder if the doing is always connected with thinking and metacognition emphasized by the standards. Afterall, it is the standards that students will be tested on. To be “doing” with the verbs in the standards is very important. As educators practice “doing” there is a possibility of straying from the facts (nouns). I have seen this happen and often refer to it as a STEM activity or Activity Based learning. For this reason, I believe educators must deliberately find a balance between content and doing. We must make sure that STEM goes beyond an activity. STEM must become a “learning event” that supports and amplifies the concepts as students acquire the necessary standards.

It is the teachers responsibility to provide this important balance. Educators must reflect on the concepts and knowledge students walk away with after being engaged in a STEM learning experience. Note that I called it a STEM learning experience and not an activity. We must be careful, and be certain, to go beyond the activity, Teachers must provide STEM learning experiences that are rich, authentic, and connected to the standards and real world. We must be certain that standards are in place and that metacognition is supported in relationship to the STEM event and standards. Most of all, there must be some type of assessment to see if the learning opportunity provided the needed “facts and thinking”. Please take a moment to read and reflect on the ten thoughts and ideas that follow. It is my intention to help ensure that your lessons go beyond an activity and support the learning necessary for student success in the 21st century.

  1. Take some time to ensure that your standards are integrated into the learning experience.
  2. Balance time spent with standards addressed. Our educational time is so valuable. Make sure there is proper balance.
  3. Provide students with understandable learning targets they can own. Find ways to develop that ownership.
  4. Promote and emphasize inquiry allowing for student centered learning. At the same time, provide constraints to keep within the meaning of the learning objectives.
  5. Provide time for student metacognition in both peer discussions, classroom processing, and independent reflection.
  6. Find ways to connect to other disciplines allowing for increased productivity and understanding.
  7. Consider promoting, facilitating, and assessing the 21st century skills (critical thinking, communication, creativity, and collaboration). These are a natual part of both STEM and the verbs found inside teh standards.
  8. Determine and employ assessments to measure student success in accomplishing standards. Establish group and individual accountablity.
  9. Be actively involved with students through the process by providing guidance toward understanding. At the same time integrate formative assessment that will support the summative tool used to measure individual learning.
  10. Connect and integrate the STEM learning opportunity with other modalities. These should be both traditional and nontraditional. Possiblities include readings, web interaction, multimedia, disccussion, simulations, journaling, and explanation.

As you can see, it is possible to go beyond the STEM activity by employing intentional thought and planning. As we do this we provide our students with exciting and engaging ways to learn by doing and thinking. At the same time the standards are supported. The best pay off may be that our students walk away with a real and authentic understanding of what they are expected to learn. As they do, they will find success and so much more on that final evaluation or test. Students will open new windows of opportunity! They will discover and create new content as they “do and think” through important facts!

“You can have facts without thinking, but you cannot have thinking without facts” – John Dewey

Thank you for joining me for another year of educational thoughts and ideas! Please take a moment to share this post with other educators across the world. Please accept my invitation to you, which is the opportunity to be a part of another year of postings, by subscribing by email or RSS and follow me on Twitter (mjgormans). You will also find a treasure of resources covering 21st-century learning, STEM, PBL, and technology integration for the classroom. Best wishes to you in this wonderful New Year!

cross-posted at 21centuryedtech.wordpress.com

Michael Gorman oversees one-to-one laptop programs and digital professional development for Southwest Allen County Schools near Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a consultant for Discovery Education, ISTE, My Big Campus, and November Learning and is on the National Faculty for The Buck Institute for Education. His awards include district Teacher of the Year, Indiana STEM Educator of the Year and Microsoft’s 365 Global Education Hero. Read more at 21centuryedtech.wordpress.com.

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