Reflection – Future of STEM Education

As part of my Summer reading activities I was tasked with viewing The Future of STEM Education, presented by Dr. Roni Ellington at the 2013 Baltimore TEDx, and writing a reflection based on the four parts of inclusive framework.

1. Empower students to pursue hard subjects even as such subjects become more difficult over time. (Or: addition is easy, but calculus is hard.)
Acknowledging that all students have the ability to reach lofty goals, even if their academic standing may state otherwise. Many times kids are slammed into the class their test score dictates even if it means they may be passionate and intelligent in something unrelated. In the process of doing what is “right” by trying to lift them up sometimes school eliminates opportunities for students. I had a similar experience as Dr. Ellington growing up. As a student who struggled with wanting to diagram sentences learning grammar I was always placed in the low English classes, which always prevented me from taking the more complex Social Studies classes. Ninth grade I was labeled as “low” and the game was over … I think I became the king of “Not Working to Ability” Kids deserve to be challenged … they want to be challenged.
2. Teachers must see themselves as “vehicles for students’ lives to change.” Ellington, who grew up in Washington, D.C., didn’t take an interest in math until teachers pushed her to take more rigorous courses.
Teachers are more than content deliverers. It is easy for teachers to just focus on what the data states and in the process not inspire the kids to be more than a test score … more than what they have been labeled. Many times all kids need is a push or something that at least interests them to motivate them to do better. As a Social Studies teacher and former AP US History teacher I have seen many kids disqualified from taking the APUSH class because they had low reading test scores, but yet they still wanted to be challenged by the AP class. I am proud that I fought for them to be included in the class some passed the AP test, but the passing of the AP test was not the most important thing … challenging the kids on a higher level than they were accustomed was and it made all the difference in the world.
3. Look for the “social and cultural capital” that already exists in impoverished communities.
Just because you are poor does not mean you do not have value.
Too often we buy into the hype we see in the media about “those” kids. Kids from the “bad” neighborhood who come from “that” type of lifestyle … the ones we have to spend extra time with because the data states we must bring up their test scores so our score grade will go up. These kids are smart. However, many have not had the opportunity to find their passion and sadly, many of them may never find it as they have been slammed into their least favorite classes because test scores have dictated they be there. We have to look for the leaders … the kids who are just looking for a spark to set them on fire. Look beyond their test score … their street address because every kid has the potential to be great … we just have to release it from the confines of the box in which they have been placed.
4. Think outside the book: how could robotics, for instance, be an avenue through which students can gain interest in STEM subjects?
Books are a guide NOT necessarily a set of directions. I am not sure why education does this, but we can take the greatest most exciting thing and ruin it for the kids by over standardizing the subject. We kill the creativity in Art classes by grading kids creativity and artistic skill and we do the same thing in Robotics classes. I have always been at a school with a “Robotics” class … i put that in parenthesis because it should be called “Reading Directions” class because that is all they did. The kids read directions to use the parts they were given to build the robot that was in the picture. How is this innovative? How does this give the kids the ability to think outside the box? I stopped asking the kids long ago when the battle bot competition was going to be held or when their robot would deliver a soda to me. Kids are not passionate about following directions … they are passionate about building and creating something bigger than what is in the text book. They see something or they learn something and they try to connect it to something bigger, but yet we do do not allow them to take the next step because it is not in the book. We MUST learn X and Y before you can get to Z, but what if I do not need Y or Z to get to discovering something that has not been labeled yet?
The Future of STEM education as presented by Dr. Ellington creates a great path in which to follow, but I think it will take some daring schools to take a stand for what needs to be done. STEM is supposed to expand the mind and have the kids innovating and creating as they build upon the skills learned in class. They should be using their knowledge NOT just following the instructions n a piece of paper and receiving a grade based on how well they followed the instructions. I like to think that the kids can think … “If I can do this and this then I should be able to make it do this.” The kids need to have the opportunity to take learning to the next level without being restricted by test scores, teacher expectations, or standards … sometimes teachers need to get out of the way.

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