…in Boston last year was an amazing (and a bit overwhelming) experience for me. It was the first national conference I had ever attended. I had no idea what to expect from it or what I was getting myself into. I will say that I felt much more prepared attending the conference in Chicago this year, thanks to my experiences in Boston last year. It may seem silly to write about a conference I went to a year ago, but I learned so much from it. I wanted to share some of what I got out of the conference (and I didn’t have a blog back then…so there).
I was able to attend the NSTA conference in Boston last year as a member of my district’s STEM team. The STEM team is looking at ways to implement STEM education across our K-12 district. We were attending the NSTA conference to get ideas on how best to implement it.
One thing I learned quickly was it was always best to have a back up session in place for several reasons. One reason, the session may end up being cancelled or the presenter doesn’t show. Another reason to have a back up is because the session may be full. Finally, that session may not be what you thought it would be (don’t stick around, use the time wisely and go to a session that will benefit you and, ultimately, your students). I tried to have several options for a certain time slot, and if possible, make those options close in proximity to each other (these convention centers are huge!…and sometimes sessions are in neighboring hotels).
I was amazed at the variety of ways that schools were implementing STEM. Some were outright STEM schools (either charter or private). One session that I learned the most from was a school that was slowly implementing STEM in their elementary school. They started by looking for teachers willing to volunteer to try implementing STEM in their teaching. They felt they would get better buy in if teachers volunteered, rather than were told to do it. They would feel more comfortable taking the risk in teaching a new way, and then share their experiences with other teachers. They were starting with lower elementary grades and slowly working their way up. They were seeing positive results with this.
I think the most important thing to do when it comes to STEM is to find a starting point that works for your classroom first. Try doing a STEM lesson perhaps once a quarter or even once a semester. Talk to other teachers who are doing STEM lessons in their classroom, or go observe them if you can. You just have to take that first step and do it. It may not go as planned, but then isn’t that what we should be teaching our students? That we may not be successful at first, but we learn from our mistakes and move forward. Try again. If things don’t go well during a lesson, I sometimes have discussions with my students about it. “Wow, that didn’t go well at all! Let’s try this instead,” or “What could we do differently since this isn’t working?” It is their education after all…shouldn’t they be included in the presentation of it as much as possible?
This is the beauty of STEM in my opinion. Students can learn from their mistakes. They also learn from collaborating with other students on projects. STEM projects are usually open-ended, so their imagination (and resources available for the project) is the limit. They can apply what they have learned in other subjects to the project. Most importantly, it’s authentic learning and assessing of what they have learned. Much better than a worksheet or multiple choice test. The students are fully engaged in the task at hand. And they are the creators of it. It doesn’t get much better than that!