As a STEAM teacher, I believe it is critical that our students understand and make connections between the classroom and the real world. While not every child aspires to be an engineer, nor do we expect them to be, every child will be faced with challenges or obstacles at some point in their school career or adult lives.
Career exploration doesn’t always mean a field trip or a guest speaker. It can be engrained into your curriculum in many ways. I expose my students to the real world through project-based lessons that are based on situations in STEM careers. This gives them the freedom to explore a variety of careers from the comfort of their classroom.
I teach my students to work through their projects using the Engineering Design Process. Here are the 4 steps my students take in the Engineering Design Process:
I present students with a problem or ask them to identify one;
They work collaboratively to brainstorm possible solutions;
They work as a team to design, create, and test these solutions; and
They make improvements, if necessary, before sharing their idea with others.
Students learn how to rely on each other for ideas and think critically to find the best possible solution to their problem. As a result, they develop 21st-century life skills, which lead to a successful career.
While I would love to take my students on a plethora of field trips to actually show them careers in action, it’s not realistic. Instead, I use a web-based curriculum resource called Defined STEM to bring the real-world to my classroom. Defined STEM’s informative videos give them a quick overview of a wide variety of real-world careers and an understanding of how science concepts are applied in those jobs. After watching the videos, students participate in a Defined STEM performance task, where they take on the very roles in the video and work toward finding a solution to a real-world problem using science, engineering, and math skills. For example, students may work as aerospace engineers one performance task and as architects during the next task.
Teaching our students how to use their knowledge to solve problems is essential to their overall success as adults. By the time our elementary students graduate, there will be a tremendous number of STEAM careers available to them. It is our job as teachers to prepare them with the skills and mindset required to take on jobs that don’t even exist in our world today.
Jamie Harbin is a K-6 grade STEM teacher at B.B. Comer Elementary School in Sylacauga, AL. Follow Jamie on Twitter @jsharbin1