Stephanie is a first grade teacher at Foster Elementary, a Title I school in the Arvada Area. She has graciously penned this blog as a way to share her learning around how she has integrated STEM to transform the learning experience for primary students.
Follow Stephanie on Twitter @STEMphanieTime for more inspiring ideas!
Empathy Inspires Change
My love of STEM came about a couple of years ago. I was in my 11th year teaching, and it was the first time in my career that I was actually considering leaving the profession. I was unhappy, and my passion was gone; how could my students learn if I wasn’t passionate?
Everything changed during a school technology committee meeting when I was tasked with figuring out why teachers were not using our 3D printer. There was just one problem…I had no idea how to use a 3D printer. My school was, and is, a STEM school, but we were still in the very beginning stages of trying to figure out what that meant.
Ideas Create a Path Forward
I started little by little. First, I taught myself how to use the printer; then how to print something. Finally, I tried creating my own model to print. Everyday I was a little bit happier. It was fun, and I started including students in my learning process. We learned how to fail together and succeed together. It was a long and slow process, and I had a lot of help from Jacquie Adkins, a Jeffco TOSA who specializes in science. We found a program called Maker’s Empire that made creating and printing 3D models easy for first graders to use! Students’ behavior improved because they were engaged and motivated to design and print their own models.
Prototyping the Student Experience
I figured if changing the student task through 3D printing was working so well, maybe I should try adding other STEM-related tasks to my students’ learning experience. Through code.org, I learned coding and then taught my students how to code. The more I learned, the more I integrated it into my classroom. As a result, my students’ were more engaged and their behavior continued to improve. Students learned that failure is a part of the learning process and started using it to fix their mistakes. I also noticed that they were much more willing to take risks because they knew that our classroom was a safe place, whether their answers were right or wrong.
Flash forward to my class today; it looks a lot different than it did a few years ago, and my passion for teaching is back! At the beginning of this journey, I would use technology just because I wanted to see how it works. Now I choose digital tools that match my lessons' learning objectives. Students are held accountable with apps like Showbie and Pear Deck. They use the 3D printer for creating beginning of the year nametags, bringing characters to life, and designing products to sell for our economics unit. Our bulletin boards come to life with Augmented Reality, which shows our work and enhances our goals. Even when we aren’t using our iPads, our STEM philosophy always remains: we strive for learning from our failures, adjusting our thinking when something isn’t working, and using collaboration to help us see tasks from a different angle.
Testing our TEaching
STEM is changing the landscape of our teaching in a good way. It allows us to are create an environment where students can learn and fail forward without fear of receiving bad grades. It gives choice to students and encourages them to learn real-world skills that they will be able to transfer to jobs they will have in the future. Teachers can weave STEM into every content area and grade level. It's is not just a subject, it is how I teach and how my students learn. As educators, we need to take a risk to transform the task and continue to better adapt our teaching. STEM changed how I taught and I became a better teacher because of that.