The World Economic Forum ranks the United States 52nd in the world for math and science education quality. If that weren’t bad enough, according to the Committee on STEM Education, only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in STEM careers. What are we doing wrong? According to Professor Dale Baker, there are two reasons for the U.S. lagging behind: 1) decisions and funding depend on local control, making the quality of instruction uneven, and 2) teachers in other countries are better prepared. This week’s blog will overview best practices that can translate to STEM funding.
The Learning Environment and Challenging Curriculum
Funding requests should include the following best practices for a positive learning environment:
- Encouraged collaboration between students
- Topics that relate to student interests and the discovery process
- Integration of math, science, and technology to help students understand the importance and connections between these fields
- Focus on hands-on experience, not just textbook learning
- Students should be helped to understand that failure is a normal occurrence while learning, and under no circumstances should they be punished for failure
- Flexible curriculum that demonstrates and facilitates creativity
- Use of latest technology, visual aids, and laboratory kits to foster learning
- An inquiry-based experiential curriculum that is clearly defined and understood
- Real-world applications
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Student-centered plans to carry out investigations
- Students critiquing their own and their peers’ science practices
- Criteria that incorporate local, state, and national standards
Teacher Training on Inquiry-Based Learning
I would agree with Bill Gates, who said: “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.” Teacher training should be ongoing and provide the techniques to use state-of-the-art technology and experiential teaching approaches. The focus should be on how teachers and students can work together as active learners. Specifically, training should include:
- Outcome-based lessons, whereby teachers transform their classes to include components of their training
- Topics for classroom instruction, such as: inquiry-based science teaching, the frontiers of science, and the analysis of difficult problems
- Subjects that lead to inquiry-based science learning with embedded student experiments
- An emphasis on the importance of student diversity, individuality, and uniqueness
Defined Outcomes or Assessment
Your proposal should clearly identify goals and objectives, and success should be measured against them. These should reflect the short-, mid-, and long-term outcomes. The evaluation should include a mixed method approach, in which quantitative and qualitative information is sought. The resulting assessment must clearly demonstrate a continuous effort to improve the program and ensure that all students are reached.
Sustained Commitment from the School Leadership, Parents and Community
In order for any STEM program to be sustained, collective support should be a major factor. This should begin with the school leadership, who should encourage and reward teachers who practice inquiry learning. Just as importantly, parents should be recognized for being involved in their children’s education. The community can also become an active partner via the funding from private industry.
These elements need to be included in a funding request to the donor to win STEM education grants. Both the public and private sectors are now offering funding opportunities, based on the urgency of this problem.
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