image What STEM is not.. (primary)

Teaching STEM is not hearing a teacher say, “We do STEM in term 3″. When STEM became the next ‘big thing’ in education in 2015/2016, many teachers jumped on board, including myself. The idea of integrating Science, Technology, Engineering and Math bought excitement for many teachers, ‘Yes, hands-on practical learning is back!” (similar to the old, ‘design, make and appraise’ process which many teachers had previously been familiar with).

People were (and still are) blogging/pinning STEM challenges from building the tallest free standing tower, to designing a balloon powered boat, to building a flotation devices for an action hero, to the STEM mystery bag challenge and so forth. Many teachers integrated these activities within their Design Technologies program and labelled the unit STEM, taught it during Term 2 or 3 and hence, ‘We do STEM in term 3″.

So why isn’t this STEM teaching? Well, read the definition below of STEM education  according to Tsupos, Kohler & Hallinen (2009):

“STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach to  learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy”.

What do you notice? What stands out for me is the idea that STEM education is about the application of concepts taught in subject areas. With the example above, ‘We teach STEM in term 3’, the activities being taught/explored within the Design Technologies program are not linked to the subject areas the students are learning during term 3. Rather, the activities whilst being STEM based,  they do not provide any application for students to other subject areas, hence, not interdisciplinary. Can we do these activities in Design Technologies? I think so, just don’t label them STEM.

So how might we teach STEM? I think a good starting point it to look at a unit of work, and ask yourself, how can I integrate an activity which is hands-on, directly linked to the content I am teaching which will allow students to form connections between the content and real-world applications.  Sounds easy, not!

A new colleague joined our Year 5 team this year and it is great to have fresh ideas for any program. Last term our year 5 team taught a Science unit on Earth and Space. The key ideas were for students to consider Earth as a component within the solar system and use models for investigating systems at astronomical scales. Students needed to begin to identify stable and dynamic aspects of systems, and learn how to look for patterns and relationships between components and systems. Further more, they need to develop explanations for patterns they observe.

At the end of the unit, she integrated a STEM activity which required students to engineer a lander that can keep two “astronauts” inside a cup when dropped. Students were guided through the engineering process of asking,  imagining, planning, creating, testing, improving and sharing.

The task:
Lunar lander Engineering Challenge-1r45gge

The results:

The evaluation:
Student work sample-2l7kr7v

Then what do we do about Design Technologies? How do we program and teach this? I’ll post some ideas in a later blog.

One comment

  1. Jo…100% spot on. I would add that model building is a significant, if not THE central framework for STEM. And, not kits, not building blocks, not pre made experiments. Those are activities that can support knowledge building, but THEY are not STEM.

    Keep doing what you do.


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