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STEM Education: Teacher Approaches and Strategies Research Paper

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Updated: Mar 23rd, 2021

Introduction

STEM education is to provide students for the future to help them become long-life successful in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. According to Dugger, STEM is defined as “the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math into a new trans-disciplinary subject in schools” (2011). It is important to understand each area of STEM to give a full understanding of its meaning. Science explains the natural world and “is the underpinning of technology.

It is the interest of science, science education, and society to help students and all citizens develop a greater understanding and appreciation for some of the fundamental concepts and the processes of technology and engineering” (Drugger, 2011). There are many strategies teachers can use to incorporate the STEM education approaches into their classroom to help develop and broaden their horizons in STEM-related areas.

According to Smith and the other authors believe that every student can “learn and model good practices that increasing learning; starting with student experiences; but have high expectations within a supportive climate” to help increase students’ enthusiasm for STEM education. This will help “build inquiry, a sense of wonder and the excitement of discovery, plus communication and teamwork, critical thinking, and life-long learning skills into learning experiences (Smith, et.al. 2009). To produce the students needed for the 21st century requires educators to be familiar with different strategies and approaches to STEM education to help enhance their students’ interest and understanding of the topics that must be mastered.

The STEM programs should enable teachers with the knowledge required to equip the students for success, and the students should have the enthusiasm needed to become intrinsically motivated to continue their studies outside the classroom. “At the heart of any STEM program should be courses in which students create products, not just take tests. Those products should be exhibited to their peers, teachers, parents, and adult experts. This step requires smart scheduling, presentation space, invitations, practice time for public speaking, and attention to the design process” (Markham, 2011).

STEM education produces innovation for the future. Sparking students’ curiosity produces new things. “Education should focus on fostering innovation by putting curiosity, critical thinking, deep understanding, the rules and tools of inquiry, and creative brainstorming at the center of the curriculum” (Markham, 2013). Teachers have to produce an innovative mindset in their students. There are ten ways to increase the innovation mindset in their students:

  • Move from Project-Based Learning. “These methods include developing a focused question, using solid, well-crafted performance assessments, allowing for multiple solutions, enlisting community resources, and choosing engaging, meaningful themes for projects. PBL offers the best method we have presently for combining inquiry with accountability and should be part of every teacher’s repertoire” (Markham, 2013).
  • Teach concepts, not facts. Concept-based instruction overcomes the fact-based, rote-oriented nature of the standardized curriculum. If your curriculum is not organized conceptually, use your knowledge and resources to teach ideas and deep understanding not test items (Markham, 2013).
  • Distinguish concepts from critical information. Preparing students for tests is part of the job. But they need information for a more important reason: To innovate, they need to know something. The craft precedes the art. Find the right blend between open-ended inquiry and direct instruction (Markham, 2013).
  • Learning more skills is equal to knowledge. Teachers should use skills such as collaboration or critical thinking throughout the year, and incorporate them into their lessons. A detailed rubric should be used to assess their skills learned, and the students will be able to see how they are assessed.
  • Form teams, not groups. This will produce a network where students can work together to become “collective thinkers”. “Use specific methods to form teams; assess teamwork and work ethic; facilitate high-quality interaction through protocols and critique; teach the cycle of revision; and expect students to reflect critically on both ongoing work and final products (Markham, 2013).
  • Use thinking tools. Hundreds of interesting, thought-provoking tools exist for thinking through problems, sharing insights, finding solutions, and encouraging divergent solutions; such as Big Think and Visual thinking Routine developed by Harvard Project Zero (Markham, 2013).
  • Use creativity tools. These tools provide playful games and visual exercises that can easily be incorporated into the classroom. These tools promote and stimulate creativity in students (Markham, 2013).
  • Reward discovery. “Innovation is mightily discouraged by our system of assessment, which rewards the mastery of known information. Step up the reward system by using rubrics with a blank column to acknowledge and reward innovation and creativity” (Markham, 2013).
  • Make reflection part of the lesson. Reflection is necessary to anchor learning and stimulate deeper thinking and understanding (Markham, 2013).
  • Teachers should be innovative. This is the kicker because innovation requires the willingness to fail, a focus on fuzzy outcomes rather than standardized measures, and the bravery to resist the system’s emphasis on strict accountability. But the reward is a kind of liberating creativity that makes teaching exciting and fun, engages students, and—most critical—helps students find the passion and resources necessary to design a better life for themselves and others (Markham, 2013).

Enhancing Teaching Approaches in Learning STEM

Although learning institutions are yearning to have amazing outcomes in teaching sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics, emphasis on the appropriate strategies and methods of teaching these STEM disciplines is low (Karl, Tameka, & Monica, 2009). Each learning program comes with its challenges in terms of the methods and techniques that instructors must use to achieve positive learning outcomes among students.

Whereas learning is a pragmatic process that relies on several interrelated factors to its accomplishment, proper learning begins from the classroom, which forms the most imperative part of the learning environment (Karl et al., 2009). Instructional delivery and assessment of learning progress among learners have been a constant problem among instructors who wish to accomplish effective STEM learning. Stohlmann, Moore, and Roehrig (2012) believe that success in every learning program largely relies on an effective instructional delivery, one that is capable of motivating learners, enabling them to learn easily, and help learners to model good practices, and increase their learning capabilities.

Enhancing Instructional Delivery

The practice of coaching learners through traditional learning techniques that emphasized test-based and examination approaches has of late become inappropriate as teaching practices transform (Asghar, Ellington, Rice, Johnson, & Prime, 2012). The best way to enhance STEM disciplines is to improve the mode of learning and instructional delivery. “Integrated STEM education is an effort to combine science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into one class that remains based on connections between the subjects and real-world problems” (Stohlmann et al., 2012, p. 30).

To ensure successful STEM learning, the instructional setting of instructors must aim at developing strategies that help learners to solve real-world problems. One significant instructional strategy that may enhance the learning of STEM disciplines is the backward design process that uses efficient instructions and assessment techniques (Karl et al., 2009). The backward design process emphasizes improving feedback and assessment within an instructional setting. The backward design process of learning involves three major components that instructors must include during the planning of learning instructions.

Problem-Based Learning

Without enough exposure to various problems that broaden the cognitive reasoning of students, the learning process may not prove effective. Effective classroom practices involve exposing learners to challenges and helping them to provide appropriate solutions to the developed quandaries (Asghar et al., 2012). Problem-based learning strategy is one of the most preferred instructional techniques that instructors have shown considerable interest in. Instructors believe that problem-based learning in STEM education fosters an understanding of relationships among skills, principles, and concepts taught (Asghar et al., 2012).

It enhances curiosity and creative imagination among learners as instructors develop critical thinking amongst students. Problem-based learning also helps students understand and experience different situations as it involves dealing with a variety of scientific inquiries (Asghar et al., 2012). Problem-based learning normally encourages collaborative learning and interdependence among learners as well as fostering a connection between thinking, learning, and acting (Kelley, 2010). However, there are different strategies that instructors in their instructional planning can use while promoting problem-based learning in classrooms.

The Backward Design Process

The backward design approach entails identifying desired outcomes as its first stage, which involves setting objectives and purposes of the learned subject or class session (Karl et al., 2009). The intent of the backward design process does not only confine to what instructors should improve in the instructional setting, but also focuses on examining what learners should be able to achieve at lesson end. During the planning process, instructors should be able to develop innovative ideas and learning practices that have permanent value beyond ordinary classroom practices (Karl et al., 2009).

During learning preparations, the process of identifying learning outcomes should involve identifying ideas and topics that are vital to the subjects taught and identifying ideas and topics that seem complex and uneasy for learners to grasp. The backward design process advocates for the assessment of learning progress that involves determining whether learners have achieved the set goal. Instructional planning is the last and foremost part of a backward strategy where instructors develop pedagogies.

The Embedded Approach

The issues behind instructional planning are broad, and another significant instructional planning approach that may ameliorate the learning of STEM disciplines is the embedded learning approach. According to Roberts (2012, p. 112), the embedded STEM instructional method is an educational strategy where learners acquire the main knowledge “through an emphasis on real-world situations and problem-solving techniques within social, cultural, and functional contexts.” Robert (2012) postulates that the embedded learning approach in the STEM disciplines is very important as it emphasizes practical learning to build knowledge and skills necessary to understand science, technology, mathematics, and engineering in the most pragmatic manner.

Exposure to a real learning approach through an embedded instructional strategy in STEM disciplines helps learners to build skills that reflect real-life issues and make them increase their understanding of real-world problems (Stohlmann et al., 2012). The STEM embedded approach emphasizes technology than the other four components, and this helps learners to deal with functional learning in which technology has supported in problem-solving.

The STEM Integrated Approach

Teaching STEM requires an understanding of how the four subjects in the STEM, and how they can help each other to enhance learning outcomes. According to Roberts (2012), an integrated strategy to STEM learning involves removing separations between each of the content areas of STEM and integrating the concepts into one subject to enhance standard-based learning. Integration is a systematic approach of combining subject concepts into a single instructional system, which enables students to develop different skills for solving problems. Roberts (2012, p. 113) asserts that “integration enables a student to gain mastery of competencies needed to resolve a task.”

The STEM integration strategy involves two important approaches to integrative instruction that include interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary integration. The multidisciplinary segment of the STEM integrated approach requires the faculty members to help learners to combine and connect different learning contents from various subjects and at different classes and teaching sessions (Roberts, 2012). Interdisciplinary integration involves the incorporation of cross-cultural content with knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving techniques to conclude on a problem.

Cooperative Learning Groups

One of the most important and effective strategies in modern learning is collaborative learning that allows learners to share ideas, opinions, and arguments of subjects and concepts (Karl et al., 2009). From a scientific standpoint, the fields of engineering and technology, mathematics, and sciences are dynamic in that learners may find themselves unable to comprehend some important aspects of concepts taught in their classrooms (Asghar et al., 2012).

Cooperative or collaborative learning technique has remained undervalued in the STEM classrooms and instructors hardly practice this approach. Formal cooperative learning groups are important in solving tough problems in the field of engineering and technology that often seem to prove to challenge for learners. According to Stohlmann et al. (2012), “STEM education includes making students better problem solvers, innovators, inventors, self-reliant, logical thinkers, and technologically literate” (p. 29). Formal and informal learning groups, as instructional strategies in the classroom, make learners be independent and enable them to enjoy interactive learning that supports building cognitive skills.

Professional Development for Instructors

Changing or improving instructional planning in classrooms and schools during the teaching of STEM disciplines is barely enough to improve the success of learners, as the professionalism of the instructors is an important educational success factor. According to Stohlmann et al. (2012), it is important to consider the fact that STEM education is a new approach of learning within institutions and many existing instructors still have inadequate skills to deal with STEM effectively. As the instructional setting is increasingly becoming complex and with different viable instructional models, instructors are finding it uneasy to keep with such transformations.

According to Stohlmann et al. (2012), teachers must embrace professional development to keep up with the changing dynamics in STEM education, enhance their knowledge of best learning practices, and work by the goals of STEM education. Professional development, as an aspect in STEM learning, helps instructors to enhance their knowledge about problem-based learning, instructional development, and tackling curriculum challenges that may affect STEM learning.

Embracing Educational Partnerships

Apart from focusing on what teachers need to effectively teach STEM education, improving the institutional partnerships can be one of the most important aspects that may spur proper STEM learning within institutions (Stohlmann et al., 2012). Since teachers have different backgrounds, expertise, and licensures, teacher collaboration may enhance knowledge sharing. A new learning model such as STEM education requires different approaches; including finding external support to accomplish the program aims. Schools that have embraced STEM as an educational approach must form partnerships to share ideas, opinions, and challenges associated with teaching STEM (Asghar et al., 2012).

To enhance the expertise of teaching STEM in a modernized manner, institutions with this form of learning program can form partnerships to share ideas on coaching and mentoring. According to Asghar et al. (2012), the field of engineering, science, mathematics, and technology seem broad, and with different challenges; hence, sharing ideas between different institutional professionals may be an important approach in enhancing STEM education.

Conclusion

STEM education is becoming an emerging development in the academic world, but its achievement largely relies on the strategies and approaches that instructors use to inform learners. STEM educators must acknowledge the essence of adopting problem-solving strategies that ameliorate modern learning through effective approaches to acquiring knowledge, skills, and building cognitive skills among learners.

To enhance learning outcomes in STEM education, the backward design approach, the embedded learning approach, and the integrated approach are some important examples of problem-based learning techniques. Forming collaborative groups of learners, motivating them, and enhancing the professional growth of instructors are important strategies that support effective STEM learning.

Collaborate learning also results in building great teamwork and communication skills that enhance students’ engagement and participation in classroom activities, two aspects that enhance learners’ performance. Forming institutional partnerships to help teachers increase their professional expertise in teaching and instructional setting, share knowledge and skills, and share STEM resources can enhance the learning of STEM education in institutions.

References

Asghar, A., Ellington, R., Rice, E., Johnson, F., & Prime, G. (2012). Supporting STEM Education in Secondary Science Contexts. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 6(2), 85-125.

Dugger, W. (2011). STEM: Some Basic Definitions. Web.

Karl, A., Tameka, C., & Monica F. (2009). Supportive teaching and learning strategies in STEM education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2009(117), 19-32.

Kelley, T. (2010). Staking the claim for the ‘T’ in STEM. The Journal of Technology Studies, 36(1), 2-9.

Markham, T. (2011). . Web.

Markham, T. (2013). . Web.

Roberts, A. (2012). . Web.

Stohlmann, M., Moore, T., & Roehrig, G. (2012). Considerations for Teaching Integrated STEM Education. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research, 2(1), 28–34.

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