As a STEM professional myself, I know how challenging it can be to both teach fundamental material as well as the applications and higher-order thinking skills asked for by state content standards (at least here in Washington state). A new KQED Mind/Shift blog post discusses these challenges in the context of how to help teachers gain a foothold into teaching STEM content.
While this post is interesting and highlights some good resources for teachers who need professional development to gain STEM skills so that they can better teach them, the article does little to address the chronic challenges of K-12 teaching and how these pose hurdles to teaching STEM ideas. If the district requires teaching to standardized tests, and if a teacher’s performance is judged on his or her students’ scores on said test, where is the room for introducing ideas that are critically important but not on the test? For that matter, the same is true without the spectre of end-of-course exams.
I find that weaving engineering concepts into every lesson is the best way to go, although in my teaching history it has been hard to test the students on these skills explicitly. To dedicate entire class periods to engineering concepts is almost impossible except when extra time is available (such as in honors classes, where students may move through material more quickly). More approachable are modifications to the teaching style. Indirect instruction and inquiry-based learning can quickly build these skills in students. I miss the old Incredible Machine games – my brothers and I spent countless hours building machines and learning Newtonian physics (although this was never told to us!). We were given these games outside of school by our parents, but what if some of our schoolwork had been to complete certain challenges within the game? There is now an iPhone/iPad version of this game available, and I recommend everyone play a few levels. For $2.99, this is cheap and easy fun! Makes me wish my Android phone had a version available (hint, hint). I see much more of this sort of thing now that I ever did growing up. One robotics class at a local school used simulations of cathedral building to demonstrate force and structures, for example.
The final way to differentiate teaching of STEM to teachers is through the initial training teachers receive to become certified. I was a student at Seattle Pacific University’s Alternative Routes to Certification program, and there they have an entire cohort dedicated to only math and science teaching, which leads to a completely separate Masters in Teaching Math and Science. Here STEM is a focus in instruction, as well as inquiry-based learning. Training teachers to use these approaches from Day 1 seems like a very god way to have them thinking about and incorporating STEM content moving forward.