STEM Connect

Q&A: The importance of STEM support for teachers

Discovery Education's new STEM Connect resource helps teachers and students expand STEM learning to the real world

In January, Discovery Education debuted STEM Connect, a web-based supplemental K-8 resource, developed with the input of educators and curriculum experts, which helps educators create engaging STEM lessons that strengthen students’ critical-thinking skills.

STEM Connect is built on a 4Cs STEM skills framework that helps students develop the creative, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills needed for success beyond graduation. Its flexible, modular learning units give students an easy-to-follow experience using high-quality interdisciplinary resources that can be used in a wide variety of classrooms and across all subjects.

eSchool News sat down with Cindy Moss, vice president of global STEM initiatives at Discovery Education, to talk about some of the important motivating factors behind STEM Connect.

(Next page: Four important questions about STEM Connect)

Were teachers asking for STEM curriculum resources? It’s increasingly important for our students, but teachers don’t always have access to high-quality resources.
Yes. Teachers say they know they need to teach STEM subjects and incorporate the 4 Cs, but they don’t always know where to find resources that support those concepts. Originally, we weren’t intending to create a STEM resource, because ideally, teachers would be able to create their own resources to tie in to local problems. But we quickly realized that teachers needed help. Our STEM Connect resources were created based on what teachers have asked us to provide for them.

Research has shown we need to attract kids to STEM topics in elementary and early middle school, because by high school, students—especially girls—tend to avoid STEM subjects and STEM extracurricular. Did any of that research guide you as you zeroed in on a grade range for STEM Connect?
We definitely looked at the research. National Science Foundation research says a student makes up their mind about STEM interest by the beginning of sixth grade. Experience tells us elementary school teachers know they need to be doing more with STEM, but many don’t have a strong background in science or math. Plus, elementary teachers are universal soldiers—they teach everything. PreK, kindergarten, and first-grade students are not afraid to solve problems and are not afraid to get their hands dirty. We have already had high school educators asking us when we are expanding STEM Connect to high school.

There are glaring gender gaps in the STEM workforce. PreK-8 education is a critical time to get students, especially girls, interested in STEM. In STEM Connect we have projects, assignments, and learning experiences to support that interest. We want to help girls understand that when they have these STEM skills, STEM companies will come looking for them. It’s really critical that we show girls what STEM can be for them.

STEM Connect includes resources about STEM industries and careers. How important is it to go beyond classroom learning and show students how they can actually make use of (and make money from) the concepts they learn in school?
We know it’s important from our work, and personally as educators, but we also know it from research. Companies are looking for informed employees; across the nation there are STEM jobs sitting unfilled because companies can’t find qualified applicants. Companies want to communicate with schools. STEM Connect makes these needs easy for teachers to understand. Teachers need things presented to them in a way that meets the needs of their job. We know those careers are so important—if a student has one positive experience associated with a potential career, the experience can motivate the student to persevere through difficult classes and not quit.

Teachers have a limited amount of time in which they are often asked to accomplish the impossible. How does a resource like STEM Connect help teachers by respecting their time?
Teachers told us they needed a place to go to find resources that are already evaluated by a trustworthy expert. They want someone who knows what students at different grade levels are capable of, and what teachers at different grade levels need for their students.

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