I was recently asked in an application what my interest in K-12 STEM education was. Here’s my response, along with an additional paragraph with some questions I am considering right now:
I remember the fascination I had in high school when I took physics and chemistry. I remember watching and being absorbed in the first trip to the moon, and I also remember vividly the Challenger explosion. I remember my older brother getting me interested in science fiction and loving to think about the ideas I was reading. I remember the expression on my Kindergarteners’ faces when playing the back-to-back Duplo game and they realized how important precise language was. I remember how much fun 9 college hours of Integrating Physical Science for Elementary Teachers (IPSET) was at UVA. I remember being a V-QUEST teacher, charged with helping other teachers find excitement at exploring and hypothesizing and looking for patterns and relationships in both math and science. I remember teaching simple machines through my antique eggbeater collection to Kindergarteners and seeing their interest–and their skills at observing and classifying–grow as they figured out how the eggbeaters had changed over the years.
I also remember sitting on my deck on September 12, 2001 and looking at the night sky and wondering how our world would change if air flight had to always be restricted. I know how much I, as an adult, suddenly understood the world’s time zones better from seeing my Aussie tweeps saying goodnight as I was rising to get ready for work. I know how crucial life experiences are to understanding–deeply understanding–events and concepts such as oil spills and seasons. I know how much kids like exploring sounds, gears and how things work.
So why don’t all kids have those experiences? Why don’t all students have teachers who are passionate about learning and exploring and discovering ? Why don’t all kids have an opportunity to explore digital fabrication, or to visit UVA when Hod Lipson is explaining what is being done in that field in the real world? I rode on a bus full of 10 year olds back to school last spring thinking that these children had a better sense of possibilities with digital fabrication than any of their parents. I thought about the fact they had had this experience–but it was only HALF of our fifth grade. There wasn’t room for everyone, so some kids got left out. How many of those kids could have envisioned the next big use for digital fabrication–or looked at the three-D fabricator and built another, yet just as powerful, machine for envisioning potential help in the future?
Not only do I believe in the power of STEM thinking and activities to support other areas of learning, and to promote deep thinking and figuring, but I also am a firm believer in providing equitable opportunities and lessening–no, eliminating– opportunity gaps. To help students be able to reach their potential, we need to provide them opportunities to question, to learn, to explore and to think about the world, both in all its glory and in all its messiness. And we need to make sure ALL kids have these opportunities!
So, how do we do that? How do schools set themselves up to make sure all kids get exposure to not only similar activities, but also life experiences they haven’t had? How do we make sure every child has the same opportunity to learn the “guaranteed and viable curriculum” so that his or her education does not depend upon which path of adults s/he has had going through school? How do we reduce the variance between teacher and classrooms to ensure equity of potential outcomes while encouraging use of strengths and passions and allowing, and even encouraging, differentiation and variation in teaching styles? How do we assess and teach and learn so that students don’t leave our classes with major holes, but having had authentic learning experiences? How do we provide choice, how do we eliminate the opportunity gaps, how do we ensure all kids have equal opportunities for real learning?
(See “What Does Reducing Variance Mean in Education?” from @beckyfisher73 for more food for thought.)