Recent educational research is abundantly clear that in order to prepare students for the college experience of today, we absolutely must have students grapple with challenging content individually and collaboratively. STEM teachers embrace a shift in their instructional methods that places students in the center instead of the teacher. STEM students actively persist in the face of failure through the use of effort, strategic thinking, problem solving, information seeking and experimentation.
Serving high aptitude students requires rethinking grade-level expectations. When a student is reading many years ahead of their age and mastering mathematical concepts far beyond their age expectations, we must adjust our instructional practice. The solution is challenging open-ended instructional outcomes, where students work to maximize their individual capacity. Just like their future workplace, our students are always thinking and creating.
Former Lt. Governor Joe Garcia said, “There are random acts of STEM throughout Colorado.” Every neighborhood school claims they offer STEM. Districts with a photo of a robot and a statement that they are leaders in STEM. Is there any quality control?
North Carolina has begun to quantify STEM schools. If a school claims to be a STEM school, they have created a rubric to measure the degree of implementation. The areas NC measures are:
1. Problem-Based Learning (PBL) integrated across STEM subjects
2. Connections to effective in and out of school STEM programs
3. Integration of technology and virtual learning
4. Authentic assessment and exhibition of STEM skills
5. Professional development on integrated STEM curriculum, community/industry partnerships and post-secondary education
6. Outreach, support and focus on under-served students, especially females, minorities and economically disadvantaged students
So what distinguishes our school? Our PBLs require our students to not only have a strong foundation of knowledge, but to apply the learning using technology for a creative and novel solution. Students cannot slow down their use of technology as they enter our school every morning but instead, they must speed up. The performance standard in our classroom is constantly rising as students develop competencies. Students collaborate and work together to deepen knowledge. Our school is both social and challenging. It is not the typical neighborhood school -- it is a school that prepares students to be leaders, problem solvers and academic experts. The confidence of our students is remarkable.
Colorado has funded the “Colorado STEM Education Roadmap” to remedy our need to find quality candidates external to our state.
One of the primary goals of this initiative is to develop in-demand STEM skills to fill our high-wage, high-skill occupations. The STEM roadmap will build on the identified 21st Century skills:
1. Critical thinking and reasoning: cause and effect, analysis and logic
2. Information Literacy: knowledge acquisition, source discernment, system management
3. Collaboration: synergy, team resourcing, leadership for new knowledge
4. Self-direction: persistence, adaptability, work ethic, initiative
5. Invention: creativity, innovation
At STEM School and Academy, student learning activities have these skills embedded. Taking notes, memorizing, summative test and repeat no longer serve the fast-moving world that does not care what you know but what you can do with your knowledge and skills. Our students can do a lot. They apply learning in creative and inspiring ways. Just learned software becomes the solution to a question in the next class. Students are so motivated that they persist for long periods of time to master an assignment for their own personal gratification. These habits, so necessary for success, are being developed with every assignment. Our faculty encourages students to be amazing and then share their breakthrough thinking with peers. This collaboration and celebration builds a community of learners.