STEM, which denotes Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math, is an education strategy for undergraduate learners. This strategy was developed to fill the gap between training and the actual practice, which was evident in undergraduate studies between kindergarten and college. The strategy has also been credited with the improvements in technological capabilities for students.
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The concept is emphasized as being central to the development of an effective workforce and other policies that are important to the nation such as immigration and national security. Barr and Tagg (1995) reveal that STEM is an interdisciplinary approach to learning. It incorporates real-life experiences and lessons that are based on performance and problem solving in the real world.
The development of STEM was triggered by the observation of decreasing numbers of students taking up scientific and math-related courses. This situation was touted as a threat to the global leadership abilities. The strategy allows students to get used to problem solving early while helping them improve in math and other technical and scientific subjects (Seymour, & Hewitt, 1997).
Some of the subjects that are targeted in scientific literacy under STEM include chemistry, biology, and physics, with the technological literacy portion focusing on the development, the use and effects of technology to the United States and the world (Seymour, & Hewitt, 1997). For STEM to be successful, special teaching strategies and approaches are necessary. This research paper looks at some of the different approaches and strategies for teaching the STEM program.
Some researchers describe the current teaching strategies in STEM as being inadequate to educate the math and sciences students (Seymour, & Hewitt, 1997). The studies investigated the differences between the students that had left Science, Math, and Engineering (SME) program and the reasons that they had left (Seymour, & Hewitt, 1997). There were no significant differences in the abilities of the two groups of students. Most of them cited some of the reasons that they left the program as being the poor learning environments and the “chilly climate” (Seymour, & Hewitt, 1997). These studies show that the application of the learning strategies in the program is not as effective as planned nationally and at the policy level.
The teaching strategies in the current STEM structures are not effective in linking the student to the real-world situations. The many students who drop out consider the poor climate in the classroom. The students have difficulties in adapting to the classroom climate. This situation has led to suggestions of change in the STEM classrooms.
Other authors such as Hersh, Merrow, and Wolfe (2005) observe that there is an observed decline in the degree of higher education, specifically in STEM program. Therefore, there is a need to change the existing STEM education teaching strategies to ensure that students get the most out of the classroom. The future of scientific innovation and technology in the country is assured.
The current teaching strategies that are applied in STEM are not effective. Teachers and other members of faculty in institutions where STEM is applied have not been adequately trained on the effective strategies. In most intuitions where STEM is to be applied, the classroom control is like most of the other traditional approaches. Hence, there is no significant difference with the conventional teaching of other non-scientific subjects. The instructors have often been described as not being hands-on in the training of students as required in the policy that brought STEM into existence.
Teaching Strategies to Implement
The design of problem-based learning and cooperative learning is not easy. The application of the two learning systems into practice is even harder. This observation may reveal why the STEM classrooms rarely apply these strategies in their teaching. Some of the proposed teaching strategies and those in place include encouragement of active learning and formal cooperative learning groups.
In this form of teaching and learning, the goal is to have students work together towards achievement of a common goal. According to Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (2000), teachers may have students working in temporary groups, which should last for a predetermined time during class work. In this form of teaching, the teacher also gets the opportunity to identify any gaps in understanding in an effort to correct them. It also allows for the personalization of learning experiences, and hence a faster improvement for students. This model can be applied, with students being asked to discuss what they have learnt on a particular subject.
The process of breaking up lectures into shorter processing times for students allows room for the reduction of lecture times. However, the benefits for students are better. They are allowed to organize materials, summarize them, and explain the whole process. The teacher may use focused discussions in the lecture. However, according to Fink (2003), these discussions should be held at the beginning or end of the lecture. The tutors and other staff people may use interactive learning where they request the learners to turn to their colleagues and answer specific inquiries. For those who do not get the answers right, the questions may be rephrased and/or asked again until the students get the answers.
This form of teaching allows students to understand what is being taught. They are reported to learn faster. Active learning has been applied in many fields including aeronautical engineering and fluid mechanics (Martin, Mitchell, & Newell, 2003).
Active learning has also been described as being a form of learning that incorporates informal cooperative learning groups, with many researchers stating the efficiency of the employed concepts (Martin, Mitchell, & Newell, 2003). Another advantage of this form of teaching is that it allows instructors to take time to compose themselves while teaching. Active learning allows instructors to move around the classroom, listen to each of the student’s discussion, and understand the problems of each of them in class.
Formal Cooperative Learning Groups
Unlike the informal groups discussed above, instructors can also apply temporary and longer lasting groups to teach the classroom. According to Smith, Douglas, and Cox (2009), these groups are more structured. They are given complex tasks to carry out by the instructor. The groups were first created based on the social interdependence theory and the results of the cooperative research (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009). The collective interdependence presumption and the results of the research indicated five basic elements that are important to the accomplishment of these groups. The five elements include group processing, face-to-face promotive interaction, teamwork skills, individual accountability and responsibility, and positive interdependence (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009).
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Positive interdependence occurs where instructors teach students that their group members must also be successful for them to be successful in their studies. This exposition encourages students to work together to attain the common goals that they have set with the help of the instructor. An example of the use of this concept in the formal cooperative groupings is where the instructor tells students in each group to first agree on the answers to questions before they give them out (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009).
Each of the group members should be able to explain how the group got the answer. This strategy enhances the understanding of each group member. Another way that may be used to structure or enhance positive interdependence in a group is structuring similar rewards for all group members. Instructors may award the same grade for an assignment that the group carried out together.
One-on-one Promotive contact
After accomplishing positive interaction, the next step is making sure that learners in a group are able to help each other attain their tasks’ objectives. In this concept, students are expected to explain to their fellow students the route that they took to attain the solution to a particular problem (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009). This strategy contributes to the students’ learning, with the silent students being encouraged to interact with their counterparts in the class and group.
Individual Accountability and Responsibility
The steps above are supposed to make each of the students in the class stronger as an individual. Working in groups can lead to some of the students becoming lazy. Therefore, there is the need to ensure that each of the students is held accountable for his or her learning (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009).
Under this concept, the students are assessed on individually, with their performance being scrutinized. Students in groups are also held accountable. They are required to do their own share of the group work (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009). The group members are encouraged to recognize the individual members who require greater attention and time. Each of the groups is instructed not to allow hitchhikers, with measures being put in place for any violation.
Teamwork skills are necessary in any strategy in the education sector. For the STEM policy, instructors should teach skills such as conflict management, leadership, and communication as any other academic skills (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009). In teamwork skills, the teacher encourages students to cooperate in their learning. He or she assigns different roles for individuals within each of the groups (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009). The teamwork skills that are required of the students are those that may be beneficial to their future interaction with their colleagues at workplaces and/or in the society. These skills help the students to coexist while at the same time developing their individual capacities.
Instructors in any classroom need to encourage students in special groups to discuss how effective the learning interventions in use are in terms of helping them achieve their goals. Teachers and other faculty members are also expected to evaluate how effective the group strategies are in ensuring improvements for students in their respective groups. The actions that are helpful and/or unhelpful to the attainment of the goals are discussed in groups, with the students giving their feedback. The teachers and other members of staff should engage on a fact-finding mission on a regular basis. This plan should be aimed at establishing the effective methods of developing each student in his or her respective groups.
Problem-based learning is important as a learning strategy in STEM just like in other disciplines such as medicine. Problem-based learning is applied where the teacher or any other faculty member presents a problem for students to solve. The path taken to develop the solution to the problem is supposed to be educative to the participants (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009). This form of learning allows students to develop confidence and problem-solving skills (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009). The skills that the students use in their problem solving are usually relatively new to them. Therefore, they learn how to solve future problems based on this strategy.
According to Smith, Douglas, and Cox (2009), problem-based learning allows students to solve problems that are new to them. These researchers view it as “an important skill since few STEM professionals are paid to formulate and solve problems that follow from the material presented in the chapter, or have a single right answer that one can find at the end of a book” (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009, p. 29).
Students are also assisted to develop models to solve problems in problem-based learning. They are able to understand the problems, explain how they occur, and even predict them in the future (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009). When the instructors endorse schooling through the face-to-face interpersonal contact, the learning that comes up is superior to what would be achieved through any other training technique.
In problem-based learning, students work in the direction of understanding the problems and the possible solution. This learning method has a predetermined cycle that is followed by the students as they seek to find solutions to the problems. The cycle starts with the problem being posed to the learners. Afterwards, the learning issues are identified after which individuals or small groups are identified to solve the problems (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009). The next step after identification of groups or individuals is the application of learning, with this step being followed by a reformulation of the problem (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009).
Problem-based learning is part of the broader challenge-based strategy of learning and teaching in institutions. Some of the other components include “case-based learning, inquiry-based learning, and project-based learning” (Smith, Douglas, & Cox, 2009, p. 29). These teaching strategies have been the subject of numerous studies. They have been described as being effective in the implementation of the policies in the STEM disciplines (Bransford, Vye, & Bateman, 2002).
The teaching of math, science, and technical subjects for undergraduates is considered important to the growth and development of the United States and other parts of the world. As a result, policy makers developed the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) policy that is to be applied in the teaching of undergraduates between kindergarten and college.
The paper finds that although the policy is in place, there is inadequate use of effective teaching strategies and approaches to facilitate its operation. Some of the effective strategies and approaches to apply in STEM have been described in the paper. They include trouble-based education, the support of vigorous learning, and the development of recognized mutual learning groups. The application of these strategies will ensure that STEM is successful in the respective institutions.
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Fink, D. (2003). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco, SA: Jossey-Bass.
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Johnson, D., Johnson, R., & Smith, K. (2000). Constructive Controversy: The Power of Intellectual Conflict. Change, 32(1), 28–37.
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