How to strengthen your school’s STEM education program for a post-COVID world

How to strengthen your school’s STEM education program for a post-COVID world

Monash University

As teachers around the world are reimagining their local curriculum during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is an opportune time for teachers to take stock of your existing STEM education program. It all starts with building a shared vision.

Monash STEM Education experts have developed new resources to help kick off your discussions.

Create a shared STEM vision in your school

STEM education programs are as individual as each of the schools that run them.They are influenced by teachers’ understanding and confidence when teaching STEM, community engagement, and the support from school leadership. While it is useful to explore what other schools are doing, it is critical that the teachers within your school share a vision of what STEM education looks like in your learning context.

"STEM education is about enabling children to learn the problem solving skills that are required to build a better future."  Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith

Having a shared vision is a crucial factor when considering the sustainability of such programs within your school curriculum. It also allows teachers to contribute their own understanding and views on STEM education, which in turn leads to the development of a unique program that is designed in your context, for the students learning in that context.

From that shared vision, teachers can identify areas for their own professional learning. For example, teachers may be interested in further developing their knowledge and skills about integrating aspects of engineering and mathematics.

Tick off some quick wins

Once you’ve got your shared STEM education vision, it’s time to act. Research shows that some teachers can face challenges when teaching STEM. So be kind to yourself, and your colleagues. Wholesale changes are not needed right away — go for some quick wins.

"Even if you just change one thing, it’s a start. Have confidence in your ability."  Professor Deb Corrigan

These are small, achievable changes that can have a very positive effect. Think about how multiple small goals can contribute to a larger revolution, within your shared vision. These could be:

  • Adding a STEM element to your planning template
  • Purposefully including some aspects of design thinking into your classroom
  • Allocating some existing planning time to thinking about incorporating STEM
  • If you are in a leadership position, find out what support teachers need to realise the STEM vision.

While small, these four examples can have a significant impact on the enactment of your STEM education program.

Consider the link between diversity and STEM Education at your school

The link between diversity and STEM education is important, and requires careful reflection and critical questions about your shared vision.

Does the vision target particular students? Does it include an element of equity? Is your vision inclusive of all the students in your school? Are girls’ interests being fostered and developed?

"It begins at the age of four ...There are all these little moments that happen to girls. Such as not getting to the resources, being pushed away, or having them taken out of their hands." Professor Marilyn Fleer

We all bring different understanding to the issues and problems that we encounter everyday. STEM requires a collaborative approach where we can listen to the different voices and experiences and arrive at multiple possibilities. There is no right or wrong answer here. Regardless of what the ideas are, we all have our own interpretations of those ideas — largely based on our experiences and beliefs. Girls, boys, Indigenous, Asian and European students will have a different understanding about an idea like bushfire prevention based on their beliefs and experiences of fires, bush settings and so on. Each perspective can bring insights that others have not thought of and in this way we strengthen possible solutions or actions rather than narrowing them down. At the same time, everyone is involved. The COVID-19 response is a perfect example of what can happen when everyone works together collaboratively.

Talk, discuss and debate your STEM education program

Sustaining a STEM education program in a school is a complex feat and it is achieved through a collaborative effort. Prioritise collaboration, even if it’s difficult to find time to work with other teachers, especially those outside your area.

When teachers try to realise the STEM vision alone, in their own classrooms, with their own students, it may be successful in the short term. However, it is in danger of not being sustainable long term, lessening the impact of the intended STEM learning.

"Be curious, get in there, get your hands dirty. If you get it wrong, it doesn’t matter." Danny Summerell

This kind of collaboration enhances the planning and teaching of STEM education and offers unique teacher-to-teacher professional learning. Research shows these collaborative conversations within schools have positive effects on a teacher's professional knowledge and practice.

Engage your community

Quality STEM experiences often come from engaging your students in relevant problems that have the potential to positively impact the local community. It can be laborious and time consuming to find these kinds of experiences, especially for teachers who are already time-poor. But the benefits of community engagement and real-world problems for your students makes it worth it.

"STEM is for every student, every day, in every class." Rachael Lehr

STEM education lends itself to actively seek out community engagement and involvement. Start by considering the location of your school. Are you near any local parklands or waterways? Perhaps you’re near an industrial area? Reach out to the local environmental bodies or to local organisations to see how you might be able to collaborate on a shared STEM problem. Adding this extra level of authenticity is sure to be a great way to engage your students in real world STEM problems.

Resources to kick off discussions at your school

Monash Education has worked with teachers to develop a suite of videos to get the inspiration and discussions flowing in your school. The series is called ‘Let’s Talk STEM’. Each episode is four-six minutes long.

Our experts — both teachers and industry experts — tackle the big questions in STEM. Each video also has a series of resources and talking points that have been developed to support these discussions.

Getting started is the first of a four-part video series developed by Monash Education to support teachers.

Visit our Let’s Talk STEM website for the full suite of videos, and to discover more study and professional learning tools to help you navigate the complexities of integrating STEM education.

References

Carpendale, J., & Hume, A. (2019). Investigating practising science teachers’ pPCK and ePCK development as a result of collaborative CoRe design. In A. Hume, R. Cooper, & A. Borowski (Eds.), Repositioning pedagogical content knowledge in teachers’ knowledge for teaching science (pp. 223-250). Singapore: Springer.

Nelson, T. H. (2009). Teachers' collaborative inquiry and professional growth: Should we be optimistic? Science Education, 93(3), 548-580.

Timms, M. J., Moyle, K., Weldon, P. R., & Mitchell, P. (2018). Challenges in STEM learning in Australian schools: Literature and policy review. (pdf) Australian Council for Educational Research.