STEM as process

"Whenever designing STEM activities, the real world should be the main entry-point" (Hill, 1998).

Whether we start with a historical fact or with something that happened yesterday in the playground, the connection that the students stablish with the activity will dramatically affect their perception and involvement in the task (Dejonckheere, Vervaet, & Van De Keere, 2016). Gender issues and developmental maturity of the children should also be taken into account in order to be sure to arise the curiosityof all students in the classroom when designing the motivational entry-point (Gömleksiz, 2012) (Juuti, 2005). Even though we are integrating the learning in all four subjects, the teacher should have a clear idea of what needs to be learned from both the knowledge and the skills viewpoints for all four subjects and for each of his students (Stohlmann, Moore, & Roehrig, 2012). This idea should be transmitted to the children in such a way that they can reflect about their own learning and be aware of what the activity will add to their learning proces.

The problem that needs to be tackled should always include elements that the children did not know before starting the work. We have to keep in mind that we’re aiming at improving their inquiry skills, their ability to formulate questions and test their own hypothesis as well as analyzing and questioning their own results (Asghar, Ellington, Rice, Johnson, & Prime, 2012). On the other hand, the unknown elements should have the right level of difficulty that will let them be able to learn with very little or no help from the teacher (Dejonckheere, Vervaet, & Van De Keere, 2016).

Teachers need to adjust activities to their particular group knowing what moves them, what challenges them and what each of the children can contribute to his team (Committee on Highly Successful Schools or Programs in K-12 STEM Education, 2010). Balancing the groups according to their creativity, their ability with mathematics, or their knowledge of a foreign language are just examples of different grouping criteria that could be applied depending on the activity. It is also important to notice that collaborative-work does not mean that groups should always work together (Opdenakker, 2012). Saving time for the children to work on their own or assigning different roles allows also the children to interiorize, memorize or learn by repetition, which is a inherent part of their individual learning process.

Working in STEM is not a goal in its own, but a tool to reach them. The teacher needs to have clear goals for each activity and be explicit about them with the children.  

While the student should be the main character in his own learning, the teacher has the critical role of orchestrating each child’s learning process (Crawford, 2000). Using a sports metaphore, the teacher should feel less like the captain of the team and more like a coach during a match: allowed to watch and guide, but not to intervene. The teacher’s questions should provoque deeper thinking and make new questions arise (Mant, 2007). In fact, he should avoid giving closed answers that might transform the work of the children into a search of the “right” answer that the teacher already knows (Dejonckheere, Vervaet, & Van De Keere, 2016).

All throughout the process, both the teacher and the students need to keep in mind the importance of assessment (Hodgson, 2010). Self-evaluation through rubrics help students understand what they are learning and achieving. Peer-evaluation allows them to reflect on their teams’ work, but also on their own performance. On the other hand, the teacher –who has become a coach- can (and should) dedicate to observe the children and give them feedback on their work. The teacher should talk with the children in order to both test and improve their understanding of the concepts they are acquiring, as well as the skills that they are developing. (Zemelman, Daniels, & Hyde, 2005)