What STEM can tell us about classroom innovation

School board with science writing

Are your schools moving full STEM ahead? A new report from the U.S. Department of Education says they should be.

The report, written with support from the American Institutes for Research (AIR), provides a framework for STEM education over the next decade. Titled STEM 2026, it’s based on conversations between STEM educators, thought leaders, and experts.

The report outlines several goals or “interconnected components” that are key to implementing successful widespread STEM education.

Here are four goals K-12 schools can aspire to in pursuit of innovative, technology-fueled learning:

1. Create ‘Communities of Practice’

“Children are born curious and come equipped with a desire to learn that rivals even the most determined scientist,” says the report.

The key for schools and their communities is to harness that curiosity.

“Communities of Practice” are formal and informal networks of teachers, parents, community members, and others who encourage student curiosity and learning, both in and outside the classroom.

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, for example, is a member of Remake Learning. This network of educators and professionals works to encourage student learning in unique environments outside of school. The museum’s Makeshop provides physical and digital materials to encourage real-world learning and play.

2. Encourage play and risk through hands-on learning

This goal is based on the simple premise that failure can often lead to learning.

Schools should allow students, especially middle and high schoolers, more time to play and experiment, the report says.

Makerspaces and science labs are great examples of this. Band rooms and art studios are also environments where mistakes are valuable, and can lead to evolution of thought or creativity.

Consider libraries and media rooms as spaces where educators can encourage experimental explorations of subjects like English or history.

3. Innovate student assessments

It’s time to rethink how we test students, the report says.

Instead of standardized tests, new technology promises more interactive and personal ways to determine students’ mastery of content.

If we’re going to encourage student learning beyond the classroom, we should find ways to credit them for work outside of school, the report says.

Emerging technologies such as “digital badging,” help credit student learning outside of school hours. Technologies that “gamify” testing represent another innovative approach.

4. Inspire student innovation through real-world ‘grand challenges’

Successful STEM projects encourage students to solve real-world problems.

But, the report proposes larger, integrated learning projects. For example, challenge students to invent a potential solution to global warming by combining aspects of math, science, and technology lessons.

Similarly, students can tackle humanitarian, political, or philosophical crises through project-based assignments in their history, English, social studies, science, and other classes.

“Undertaking a grand challenge also gives students an accessible entry point as well as the freedom to tinker with ideas because there is no one right answer to solving these issues,” the report says.

What programs are you implementing to encourage innovative, STEM-based learning in your schools? How has technology changed your approach to teaching? Tell us in the comments.

Want more ideas on classroom innovation? Read Is your classroom the next Uber?

About the Author

Todd Kominiak
Todd is Managing Editor of TrustED. Email: tkominiak@k12insight.com.

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