STEM Readiness: 10 Questions That Schools Should Ask Themselves

My almost 9-year old came home from school last week and I asked him the usual questions. How was school today? Did you learn anything fun? He responded with the usual answer “fine” but went on to tell me about something he did in his technology class. “We used Scratch today! Do you know what that is?” I did but wanted him to explain more. “It’s a programming thing my teacher taught us. I made a dog and had him move across the screen. It was pretty cool.”

As an educator, I was glad to see that my son’s school was exposing him to this great (free!) online tool. Coding teaches students computational thinking skills and builds important dispositions like thinking flexibly and persevering through challenges. It made me wonder though what else the school curriculum would include when it comes to STEM. Are classrooms providing regular opportunities to introduce, develop and enrich learners in STEM?

From the parent perspective, there seemed to be isolated activities (at least at the elementary level) that were offered to students but not a consistent strand of content across grade levels. For example, if students are only exposed to coding a handful of times during their elementary careers (or perhaps only during Computer Science Week each year) then it will be hard for them to develop proficiency unless they pursue this knowledge outside of the classroom. As I dug a little deeper, I found more instances of STEM, STEAM, and technology-related experiences that my kids engaged in, but still not a systematic overview.

Schools should reflect on how (or if) they are preparing students for the potential STEM careers of the future. This doesn’t just mean identifying where coding happens in your curriculum but also considering the skills that students will need to develop if they are to be successful in the STEM jobs of the future. These 10 guiding questions may help school teams to open up dialogue about curriculum, instruction, and professional learning in their school and make decisions that will engage students in meaningful STEM learning.

  1. What is our philosophy for integrated instruction in science, technology, engineering and math? Does the school believe in adding an A for the arts or an R for reading or robotics?
  2. Are we creating pathways for STEM students to learn and grow in their strengths? Or is this work isolated to specific courses or programs only?
  3. What experiences, classes, or programs are available to promote STEM skill development in our school or within the community?
  4. How does the school partner with outside organizations to create connections to authentic STEM learning?
  5. In our K-12 education, do students have the opportunity to:
    • Code
    • Build
    • Compete
    • Present
    • Create
    • Prototype
    • Invent
    • Explain

If yes, when and where do these occur? Are they single opportunities or are they facilitated with fidelity?

  1. What should a fully articulated STEM curriculum look like in our school district?
  2. How is STEM learning measured and shared?
  3. What STEM-centric college and career development do students engage in during elementary, middle, and high school?
  4. How are we preparing teachers to provide meaningful instruction in STEM? What types of professional development are offered?
  5. How is student voice used to develop the STEM landscape of our school?

 

There are certainly dozens of other questions that educators might consider as they reflect on their current or future STEM offerings. These are intended to get the conversation started so that students, teachers, leaders, and the school community understand the value of STEM learning and can see its relevance within the school. Take a look at what one North Carolina district is doing to amplify STEM/STEAM in their schools.

Reflecting on STEM readiness can start with you. Ask questions. Generate new ideas. Connect with others. These are all steps that will allow you to engage in the conversation and get STEM moving in your school!


 

About the Author: 
Dr. Jacie Maslyk is an Assistant Superintendent focusing on curriculum, instruction, and professional learning. She has served in public school as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, elementary principal, and Director of Elementary Education over the last 22 years. She is passionate about STEM education and is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom. You can contact Jacie through her website at steam-makers.com.


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