5 ways to make STEM more engaging and less complicated

It’s no secret that over the years and due to more standardized testing, science has become a backburner subject in many American elementary schools. Teachers often tell me they don’t have time to teach science, or don’t want to teach it at all.

Some aren’t comfortable with teaching science due to the lack of coursework they were given while earning their degrees, but the truth is, most colleges only require four hours of methods and strategies for teaching science out of approximately 120 credit hours needed to earn a degree in elementary education.

So how do we empower teachers with the knowledge, time, and tools they need to not only teach STEM topics, but also do so with vigor and passion? I’ve outlined five ways I believe can help teachers not only embrace STEM subjects, but also inspire students while following the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Position on Teaching Science.

Here are the five ways:

1. Infuse scientific literacy into your classroom: Science isn’t just about the scientific method

An article posted by the National PTA on the importance of developing scientific literacy throughout K-12 states, “Scientific literacy matters, regardless of what career path your child chooses to pursue”. I couldn’t agree more. Today, we put a huge emphasis on STEM careers and fail to understand that not every student wants to become a scientist or engineer; however, today’s students will participate in a society that requires critical thinking and an understanding of the world around them. It is an absolute must that every student graduate with the skills to work in a complex world. How can we help them gain those skills?

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eSchool News STEM, STEAM, & Makerspaces Guide

The eSchool News STEM, STEAM, & Makerspaces Guide is here! It features strategies to help you integrate STEM, STEAM, and makerspace education into classrooms, and it offers a look at how these tools engage students and give them valuable skills. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!

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How technology helps us turn dreams into reality for students

If we have the ability to help make a student’s dreams come true, what’s stopping us from doing so?

That’s something I wondered when I was a high school student, because in my town, I wasn’t able to compete in a FIRST Robotics competition until I was in ninth grade. Of course, I was grateful I had that opportunity at all – so many students still don’t – but I knew that had I participated sooner, I would have benefited from earlier exposure to the important STEM skills robotics can teach.

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That’s why I’ve made it my duty to turn that question into action over the last few years, using the wonders of 21st-century technology to help students here and all around the world take advantage of all that robotics has to offer. It’s also why I encourage educators everywhere to ask themselves the same, challenging them to see how they can better serve their students, through robotics and beyond, simply by accessing existing resources.

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IT Solutions: Hardware and Management Guide

We are excited to bring you the fourth in a series of eSchool News Guides, which are full of resources, tips, trends, and insight from industry experts on a variety of topics that are essential to the classroom, school, and district.

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5 common insights from state education leaders

I remember when State Education Agencies (SEAs) primarily focused on compliance. However, with the U.S. Department of Education taking a step back from leading on educational initiatives, more and more we’re seeing SEAs working harder than ever to ensure all students have access to quality education.

As I attend conferences and follow the advocacy efforts and publications of organizations that support state education leaders such as the Council of Chief State School Officers, State Educational Technology Directors Association, and the National Association of State Boards of Education, I see common problems of practice on the minds of state education leaders.

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Equitable scalability – When SEAs have educational initiatives they need to implement, the challenge they face is how to scale the initiative to all school districts with fidelity and equity. States face the challenge of respecting local control and leadership of county and district offices AND ensuring that all students across the state have access to quality content, instruction, and the tools they need to be successful. While purchasing decisions still largely remain at the district level, we do see some states purchasing systems for statewide use as a foundation for the other tools districts need to layer on top. These state level purchases may include anything from Student Information Systems (SIS), Learning Management Systems (LMS), Assessment Management Systems (AMS), to Learning Object Repositories. States are often looking for best-of-breed in each system, rather than all in one packages, making open systems and interoperability critical.

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The top 7 education conferences that aren’t on your radar

The best conferences are generally those that expand your thinking, reframe a current problem, provide practical recommendations, and encourage networking.

This list is not a review of the largest education conferences – those with large exhibitor halls that host the same people year after year. Instead, this is a list for education leaders interested in cultural, organizational, or instructional transformation.

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If that sounds like you – think about trying something other than the big education conferences and consider any one of the following events:

Southwest Airlines Culture Connection – Hosted by Southwest Airlines annually in October, this event showcases the learnings of the airline, including their approaches to recruitment and celebrations and onboarding.

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Technology in rural schools: Addressing digital equity

The goal of digital equity is to ensure that all students have access to devices, high-speed internet, and opportunities to learn both in school and out.

While digital equity is a challenge for all school districts, Dr. Beth Holland, CoSN’s digital equity and rural project director, points out that it becomes a very complex issue given the challenges within rural schools and systems.

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In a recent edWebinar, Holland, along with Jennifer Austin, CETL, instructional technology coordinator at Lac du Flambeau Public School in Wisconsin; Michael Flood, vice president of strategy at Kajeet; and Tammy Neil, a computer science teacher at Suwannee Middle School in Florida, discuss the unique challenges rural districts face when providing students’ online access to their education.

Flood explains that when students don’t have equal access to devices and high-speed internet, it prevents them from having the same kinds of learning opportunities as their more connected peers.

Challenges

Usually located in rugged terrains, near rivers, and wooded areas and surrounded by mountains, rural school districts like Suwannee Middle School and Lac du Flambeau Public Schools struggle to have connectivity within the school.

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5 ways to integrate STEAM into instruction–right now

Picture your last trip to the grocery store. The aisles are filled with options- too many really. For example, selecting a carton of eggs might take a little more time than it used to. You have cage-free, vegetarian, organic, pasture-raised, and even eggs enhanced with Omega-3 fatty acids. Scientists call this phenomenon “choice-overload,” and it can lead to us swearing off eggs forever. In my experience visiting hundreds of classrooms and thousands of students, many teachers are faced with a similar feeling when starting their instructional transformation with STEM or STEAM.

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As a teacher-leader and STEAM Innovator in Santa Rosa County, FL for the good part of the last decade, I have made some incredible observations that can undoubtedly help every teacher transform their instructional practice and better prepare their students from kindergarten to career.

Here are five ways to immediately integrate STEAM into classroom instruction:

1. Connect with an industry expert or professional.

Here’s some precious wisdom for students: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” One of the best ways to awaken a child’s future is to show them the possibilities. Don’t just say, “You can be anything.” Students need examples, interactions, and experiences that will provide context for future opportunities.

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eSchool News STEM, STEAM, & Makerspaces Guide

The eSchool News STEM, STEAM, & Makerspaces Guide is here! It features strategies to help you integrate STEM, STEAM, and makerspace education into classrooms, and it offers a look at how these tools engage students and give them valuable skills. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!

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Using robots to bring science to life

As elementary STEAM educators, we have both learned that the best way to teach science is through hands-on exploration where lessons are both rigorous and relative to all of the students in the classroom. Incorporating robotics, coding, and engineering into these lessons is a great way to engage students and inspire them to apply their learning.

It can be something of a challenge to incorporate this hands-on learning into some science units, such as earth and life science. For example, many life science units focus on looking at plants and animals and reading about their environments—leaving out the integral hands-on engineering and robotics. Here are two tech-infused lessons that have increased student engagement and brought elementary earth and life sciences to life.

Teaching earth science and collaboration in the ‘Windy Day’ project

In Barb’s 1st-grade classes, STEAM lessons revolve around wind and weather. One example is the “Windy Day” project. We start by talking about the science vocabulary. It’s first grade, so we focus on questions like what’s hot, what’s cold, what does wind feel like, and what does it look like outside?

Related content: How our school transitioned from STEM to STEAM

To simulate a windy day, students use art materials like streamers and feathers and attach them to a KIBO robot. They code the robot by creating sequences of programmable wooden building blocks that have commands printed on them, and then use the robot itself to scan the blocks and start their program. They also sometimes use the robot’s sound module to record their own windy day sounds. They make silly sounds of wind rushing or sometimes record their voice telling the story of the robot. These recordings become part of their program.

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eSchool News STEM, STEAM, & Makerspaces Guide

The eSchool News STEM, STEAM, & Makerspaces Guide is here! It features strategies to help you integrate STEM, STEAM, and makerspace education into classrooms, and it offers a look at how these tools engage students and give them valuable skills. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!

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A female engineer shares her path

[Editor’s note: This piece was originally published in 2018, and is reposted to serve as inspiration for girls who want to pursue engineering studies and careers.]

Many people leave Disney World dreaming of becoming a princess, but when I experienced Disney for the first time as a three-year-old, I left the parks with a different dream: to become an engineer. I was enamored by the rides and became obsessed with learning how everything—from the roller coasters to the teacups—fit together and worked.

While I knew I wanted to be an engineer, I didn’t know which type of engineer I wanted to be. Fortunately, my parents handled my interest in engineering in the same way they handled other extracurricular activities: by finding every opportunity for me to learn about and experience engineering. Over the next decade, I learned about engineering by interviewing current engineers, going to summer camps, and absorbing information online.

When I was 13, I read a paragraph-long description about industrial engineering and knew what I wanted to do with my life. Today, I’m a senior industrial engineering student at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and I couldn’t be happier with the decision I made in my teens.

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eSchool News STEM, STEAM, & Makerspaces Guide

The eSchool News STEM, STEAM, & Makerspaces Guide is here! It features strategies to help you integrate STEM, STEAM, and makerspace education into classrooms, and it offers a look at how these tools engage students and give them valuable skills. A new eSchool News Guide will launch each month–don’t miss a single one!

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Students get much-requested climate change curriculum

Portland Public Schools (PPS) is partnering with Portland General Electric Company on the creation of a comprehensive K-12 curriculum exploring the causes and consequences of climate change, along with potential solutions.

This partnership is a direct response to student advocacy. In 2016, local students and climate justice advocates reached out to the Portland Public Schools Board of Education to ask for comprehensive climate literacy including understanding the root causes of climate change and potential solutions to address its effects.

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Since then, a board resolution was passed and both community and district efforts have taken place to create curriculum and hire a new–and first in country–programs manager for climate change and climate justice.

The partnership and PGE’s three-year $250,000 investment to The Fund for Portland Public Schools allows PPS to do even more innovative work and aims to give PPS students, and others, access to cutting-edge educational experiences by providing students opportunities for authentic civic engagement.

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