STEM is not simply about the four subjects from which the acronym has arisen. It is about how an integration of these four subjects offers the basis for learning in the 21st century. A STEM system offers a design based upon how students learn and provides the opportunity to engage and motivate all students. Entry points can be found in and across classrooms, grade levels, and schools.
1. Trust is the foundation required within any environment choosing to enter non mandates change. Leaders must be trustworthy and reinforce the development of trust throughout the system in order for a successful shift to begin and be sustained. Why? Because change requires that risks be taken and mistakes or missteps will happen. Fear constrains creativity.
2. Gather teachers, parents, local business, healthcare, and higher-ed potential partners to begin an investigative discussion. Consider the direction the district and schools. Explore the grade level(s) and/or departments which might lead the change. Be open to changing use of time within the days. Include those who are curious, supportive, questioning, and suspicious. Exclusion breeds opposition.
3. Identify and investigate those pockets within the system where problem-based, project based, investigative cross-disciplinary learning may be taking place already. Seeds planted already can be the prototypes.
4. Find resources to guide your process. East Syracuse Minoa Central School district in New York State, Granite School District in Utah, Goochland County Schools in Virginia are three examples of schools districts with plans for system wide shifts. The Stem Guide developed by the Arizona STEM Network can be used to create and evaluate steps along the way. STEM Regional Networks and STEM Hubs can be found in your states through a Google search.
5. Build understanding across the system, school, or levels and departments that STEM is “about the learning process of inquiry, imagination, questioning, problem solving, creativity, invention, and collaboration…STEM is an organizing principle upon which to build the interconnectedness of subjects” (Myers & Berkowicz, 2015). Social media outlets like Facebook, your district webpage, and Twitter are good vehicles for information sharing and for feedback. But face-to-face communication is essential. People will be disoriented when familiar boundaries dissolve. Be an accessible and supportive advocate.
6. Discover and visit schools that have begun or accomplished a STEM shift. There are many districts across the country where STEM based learning affords all students learning opportunities in which they find themselves engaged and successful and where talents of the teachers and the potential of local partnerships have been unleashed. Build a network with other STEM innovators.
7. Design a strategic plan from which the vision for 21st century learning can become reality. Let it drive resource generation and allocation.
8. Support development of teachers. This is a shift in how teaching and learning are accomplished and what the school structure looks like. It requires everyone be involved, letting go of past practice, learning together and courageously stepping into new and unfamiliar behavior. Don’t forget that parents also need to participate in some kind of development that allows them to be engaged and supportive of their children’s work on projects and in teams. Be the lead learner.
9. Develop partnerships with those in business, healthcare, and higher-ed. These:
- advance knowledge of teaching and learning
- allow for authentic learning experiences to develop organically within the community
- afford students the opportunity to work with and present to STEM professionals in the fields related to their study
- provide teachers real-world application sites and partners
- ignite support for schools and discover new resources
10. Be courageous. Leaders are not immune from fear. We, too, have security needs and an occasional cynical thought. It is the leader’s courage in the presence of his or her own vulnerability that generates leader credibility and inspires others to join an effort. When the adults can have compassion for one another while growing into a new way to working, then children benefit. Knowing what to do is important, courage makes it happen…and it is contagious.