By Scott Sterling
These days, a teacher cannot go 10 minutes without reading an email, tweet, or Facebook post about STEM. It’s understandable if you’ve been overloaded on the subject.
That being said, Dr. William Bender’s new book, 20 Strategies for STEM Instruction, is not your typical discussion of STEM’s place in education. Instead, it offers concrete details about how to bring those ideals into any classroom. It’s practical, not political.
In Bender’s point of view, STEM instruction is more of a mindset best described as “If you’re going to do STEM, do it right”. What is right? He offers six ideas that form the basis of the strategies discussed later in the book:
- STEM should focus the scientific method on real-world problems and issues. Students working on problems that hit close to home (that they’ve selected, preferably) increases engagement and the chances of retaining the skills learned when tackling the problem.
- The engineering design process should be used. Iteration, prototyping, and design should all have a place in a STEM lesson, as the engineering process is becoming more ubiquitous in the world of college and career.
- STEM lessons should facilitate open-ended exploration of the issue and take a hands-on approach. At least in the beginning of the iterative process, all ideas should be welcome and encouraged.
- Collaboration and communication are key aspects of a successful STEM lesson, reflective of skills students will need to develop in order to compete in the working world. All efforts should be made to have students work together to solve the problem.
- STEM lessons should require rigorous math and science content, often delivered in an interdisciplinary way. Although the strategies in the book can be used by a single teacher in a single classroom, STEM has been proven to be most successful when approached cross curricularly.
- There is no one right answer to a STEM problem. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, the process of failing helps the students learn even more than by being successful on the first try (which is rare).
If some of those ideals make you feel uncomfortable, you shouldn’t worry. If you don’t know much about engineering, for example, Dr. Bender discusses the latest tools and technologies, such as CAD design and 3D printing, and how to best include them in your STEM strategy.
All of the 20 strategies incorporate those six ideals in solid, actionable steps. You will see other familiar strategies discussed, such as project-based learning. But just like STEM, this book goes past the theoretical into the practical, day-to-day application of the strategies. Multiple real-world classroom examples are provided with each strategy, so you can see just how other teachers are making the concept work.
Although the entire book is a valuable read, the author himself invites you to skip around to the strategies that are of the most interest to you and come back to the ones that may not have any application for you (yet). With a 300+ page book that goes into so much depth, that’s probably wise advice.
Overall, 20 Strategies for STEM Instruction has something for everyone. If you teach a STEM subject but are using more traditional methods, the book will give you ideas for branching out into more modern strategies. If you already work within a STEM program, the book will help you refine your approach and take your ideas past the conceptual.
This renewed focus on the STEM subjects is worthwhile and valid. American students are falling behind their international competition in these subjects. But to provide actionable lessons that will help grow the STEM students’ minds, teachers need tools like 20 Strategies for STEM Instruction.