M6 Reflection – Challenges Implementing STEM

What do you view as some of the challenges associated with implementing an effective STEM model given your current teaching context? What are some potential solutions and/or innovations you can create to eliminate some of these challenges?

As a beginning teacher, I think I have been more adventurous in the ways I approach lesson plans and creating curriculum that of some of my teacher peers. One of my greatest challenges is my content knowledge for teaching interdisciplinary topics. In efforts to construct lessons that incorporate complex scientific topics or technology (such as computer programming), I am limited by my experiences working in those fields. Even providing students with context specific activities, I only have academic settings to apply my understanding of application. I have never worked in industry so I cannot provide real world experiences. Thus, I rely heavily on other sources, such as textbooks and the internet to provide high quality content for my students. This is a lot of additional work for me as a teacher, I’ll discuss this later.

Practice five of the Next Generation Science Standards suggest the importance of the connection between mathematics and sciences. Mathematics is a way to explain many scientific phenomena, and so mathematics can be taught through many scientific ideas. The whole reason Calculus was created was because Sir Isaac Newton was interested in physics and needed a way to explain how things changed over very short periods of time. Hence, we should be taking an approach to mathematics in with this idea in mind: “If math is the aspirin, how do we create the headache? (Meyer, 2014)” My fear in generating math content, is that I am unable to create such a headache for my students.

Another, probably more common response to the lack of implementation of STEM is the time constraints faced by teachers (Petrinjak, 2012). Within my context many teachers are more worried about a students ability and content knowledge than their ability to create well integrated STEM classes. It is not in the job description for teachers to collaborate with others to design a STEM integrated learning unit. According to the principals at my school, many teachers are independent workers in an environment that needs more collaboration. Luckily, there are new initiatives to entice teacher to collaborate more with others.

Earlier this year, I read a book called Teaching as Inquiry (Weinbaum, et al, 2004) about engaging in inquiry groups with other teachers. This book provided insight into how to create a collaborative work environment with other teachers to help improve my own teaching, be that STEM integration, classroom management practices or the like. Many anecdotes throughout the chapters empowered me to view colleagues as a support team, especially when teaching similar content. Other teachers have a lot of background knowledge too, collaborating with them to build a unit both teacher can use greatly reduces working time overall. Similar to the way that we are working collaboratively for the STEM Research class to design a project based learning unit, the time spent working collaboratively is much more useful than time spent along attempting to integrate STEM.

Working as a team can help a developing teacher find the “headache” needed to inspire some learning around STEM which can serve as the “aspirin.” Over the past year, I’ve had many headaches trying to figure out a STEM application, I could have cured that so quickly by asking a colleague for a simple application, someone who had the content knowledge I was lacking. Part of the Weinbaum book talked about creating a colleague climate. The saying, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch my back” is all too true, as a new teacher working to implement STEM, many favors will need to be asked.

ICCSS2NGSSn my current context, I will be teaching Algebra 1 which is taught primarily to the 9th grade class. My school has a freshman program meant to help reduce the dropout rates early on. These cohort groups include science, English, history, and health, but Mathematics is missing from this equation. The teachers of these cohorts have a very special, administration facilitated, opportunity to work together, get to know students and collaborate in learning. Unfortunately, I am out of this collaborative look because students entering 9th grade are at vastly different levels of math (unlike the other topics). In the coming years, I want to start creating a structure around how to improve this cohort model to include math classes, even when students are not on track. Mayes & Koala (2012) published an alignment between mathematics and science practices, if teachers are able to work together could help with the collaboration process. These show important 21st century skills students need as a STEM model.

As mentioned earlier, time is a significant constraint on teachers as they work. In our lecture this week, Dr. Henrickson mentioned the need for teachers reject the need to create their own materials for every class session. They do not! A lot of curriculum out there is perfect for the needs of our students, there is a lot to pick from. Teachers DO need to be able to assess students needs and be able to select lessons that meet the standards aimed to be met. By selecting content rich activities, using an engagement learning method, students learn much more by inquiry than by traditional forms of education (Eddy, 2015), including IRE (Initiate, Response, Evaluate) or by providing students with copious amounts of worksheets (Wiliam, 2011). According to Eddy (2015) students need to have some background knowledge before the active learning is effective, but when students are asking questions about what they are learning, what learning that does occur is much stronger. She claims that the process may be slower, but the learning is significantly better (yes, statistically significant).

A few weeks ago, I attended a Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) workshop. Their process was developed for a chemistry undergraduate classroom to engage students in inquiry learning, but help guide them through the process. The POGIL workshop helped me understand that the scientific process is an inquiry based model and can be implemented in any classroom. Through active learning and student inquiry, along with “hinge point” questions or other formative assessment (William, 2011), teachers can improve their students content knowledge in a STEM integrated classroom. Some lecturing is required to help students gain essential skills, but overall, regular questions can be adapted to fit this model when facilitated by a teacher.

Overall, the challenges with implementing STEM is a challenging project. The major obstacles for me include content knowledge of STEM topics the the teacher collaboration to improve a rounded STEM program. The connection between math and science is strong, engineering can be incorporated in the problem solving aspect and technology is a tool to help scientists and mathematicians complete their work more economically, this is clear. What is not clear is how teacher will work together, either with each other or industry experts to create a learning plan for students to become STEM educated. Small steps as a new teacher will help get my school there, but many teachers will need to make larger differences to make a significant systematic impact.

Sources:

Eddy, S. (2015). Active Learning Across the Sciences: Does It Work in College Classroom and Can We Make It Inclusive? POGIL Northwest Regional Workshop. Portland: Lewis and Clark College.

Mayes, R., & Koballa, T. R. (2012, December). Exploring the Science Framework: Making connections in math with the Common Core State Standards. NSTA K-12 Journal .

Meyer, D. (2015, June 17). If Math Is The Aspirin, Then How Do You Create The Headache? Retrieved August 6, 2015.

Petrinjak, L. (2012, June 8). Gauging the STEM Effect. Retrieved August 6, 2015.

Weinbaum, A., Allen, D., Blythe, T., Simon, K., Seidel, S., & Rubin, C. (2004). Teaching as inquiry: Asking hard questions to improve practice and student achievement. New York: Teachers College Press

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded Formative Assessment. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

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H5 – Applications of Learning Beyond the Classroom

H5 – Honor student potential for roles in the greater society. Teacher candidates prepare students to be responsible citizens for an environmentally sustainable, globally interconnected, and diverse society. This means that the teacher helps students make connections between the mathematics taught in the classroom and the applications in the world around them. Students should be able to see the connection between the math and their surroundings, essentially answering the question “Why do I need to learn this?”

The evidence presented is a collection of activities which help students make connections between the mathematical concept and the world in  which they participate. Three units stand out as particularly relevant to my students. The first, was the use of polynomials, students were exposed to polynomials as they are used at Pixar animation and the United States Navy Office (USNO) to calculate the location of the moon and on a given day. The second application is for studying complex numbers. I provided students with access to a link which explains how trigonometry and complex numbers relate to spring systems in engineering. Finally, the most important is how exponential functions and the use of logarithms. On sample is to model how the human body decays drugs over time and another sample is how earthquakes are rated using the Richter Scale. For both, we discovered some shocking outcomes using mathematics. Making content relatable to students improves engagement and improved engagement increases learning opportunities.

Links to Evidence:

Each of these samples came from my own curiosity of how the content relates to the world around me. Generally, my students are interested in space, art, science, computers and engineering. In creating this content and hooking the students into participating in the activities for the real world application according to their interests, I have help students articulate the purpose for the content within their immediate future. For me, I learned about many applications of these tools too. For the Pixar Animation information, I contacted Tony DeRose, a Research Group Lead at Pixar Animation. I learned how to bring the world of mathematics into my classroom directly from the industry leaders themselves. With the creation of the Richter Scale Activity, I have become familiar with the common misunderstanding about how the Richter Scale actually works. Interestingly, a one point increase on the Richter Scale is NOT 10 times the previous energy, but rather about 27 times more energy. With Drug decay, students learned that theoretically, a drug will NEVER leave the body, its concentration just decreases.

Students benefit from the application because of their immediate use and interest in the topic. When students have some applications for the work they are doing in Mathematics, they become more interested in exploring more about the topic. I have become successful if I have interested one student to pursue a STEM career and they have used the tools learned through the application lessons in my class.

One area of weakness in helping students realize the potential for this topic is having them research the applications themselves. While I am truly interested in the matter, students will most benefit if they are able to do the research themselves and make the connections. One barrier is my fear that they will not be able to find inaccessible content because the mathematics is too advanced for their understanding. I could promote the learning by encouraging these students to do a project in which they find the application of these tools within the world and talk with an industry expert about the application of these tools themselves and ask questions to build understanding. This may pique their interest even more and teach them about the applications of learning beyond the classroom.