Theme of the month

Theme of the Month

Join us each month as we focus on a topic of interest to STEM Teacher Leaders with a webinar panel, open discussion, resources and blog post. 

Synthesis: America's Strategy for STEM Education – Why it is Relevant to STEM Teacher-Leaders

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The January Theme of the Month gave STEMTLnet participants an opportunity to learn more about the policy directive America's Strategy for STEM Education. The Panel was facilitated by Jeff Weld, Executive Director of Iowa Governor’s STEM Education Advisory Council and former Senior Policy Advisor for STEM Education at the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President of the United States.  Weld's blog post explained how the strategy was developed through extensive consultation with STEM organizations of all kinds, from teachers' associations such as NSTA to industry and governmental entities.  He suggested that this comprehensive process both provided unprecedented collaborative input, and broad buy-in for the strategy.  This should substantially catalyze its use across every segment of education, industry, and government that is engaged with STEM learning.

The Strategy has three key goals:
• Build Strong Foundations for STEM Literacy
• Increase Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in STEM
• Prepare the STEM Workforce for the Future

Commitment to transparency:
In order for the strategy to be as effective as possible, and encourage its use and improved implementations, the OSTP plan commits the federal agencies involved to operate with transparency and accountability.

As part of the webinar, the expert panelists each spoke to one key aspect of the strategy. Remy Dou (former Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow, currently an Assistant Professor in both the Department of Teaching and Learning & the STEM Transformation Institute at Florida International University) addressed STEM Ecosystems and Partnerships, Sarah Young (former Einstein Fellow and liaison for K-12 STEM interfacing between the Utah State Office of Education and the Utah STEM Action Center, currently the Digital Teaching and Learning Coordinator for the Utah State Office of Education) addressed computational literacy, K. Renae Pullen (recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics, Science, and Technology Teaching, currently a science specialist for Caddo Parish Public Schools in Shreveport, Louisiana) addressed Equity and Diversity, and Cindy Hasselbring (distinguished former teacher awarded both an Einstein Fellowship and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics, Science and Technology Teaching who went on to lead STEM programs for the Maryland State Department of Education, currently at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy where she is Senior Policy Advisor for STEM Education) addressed where disciplines converge.

STEM Ecosystems and Partnerships- Remy Dou
Remy Dou argued that as a society we can no longer afford to teach STEM content and skills to just the select students whom we believe will go on to pursue careers in those fields. To function in the political and social context of our society, individuals need an interdisciplinary understanding of STEM.  It would be unfair to require our teachers to cover all this content given their already crammed curriculum. Dou suggests that  influencing community partners to foster an ecosystem of STEM learning can offer students the critical learning they need to function in society and pursue STEM careers, as well as support and enhance what teachers already do in the classroom.  These STEM ecosystems and partnerships can embrace a wide range of out-of-school experiences— zoos, museums, even the home.  

"We can't just prepare only kids who are going to be in STEM Fields, but everyone else too. To prepare people to get  information, make use of it, and make choices for themselves  can't only be the teachers' responsibility, especially since much of the STEM issues we need to know about are  interdisciplinary. We need to take advantage of the fact that when school lets out, there can be a continuation of learning outside of school. To  make that happen, as envisioned by the Strategy document, communities can work to create a fabric of STEM learning from the beginning to the end of the day.  In some communities, this ecosystem is intentional and coherent, in others it's  informal and loose.  The STEM Strategy comes at a time when communities increasingly are ready to move  towards a more cohesive learning ecosystem, that starts in school, and doesn't end there."

In the discussion Dou adds: " I see STEM preparation more and more as a social justice issue, giving all students the right to wonder and appreciate the world they live in, participate confidently in meaningful conversations around issues that relate to their everyday lives, and if they so choose, to pursue jobs in those fields... I believe it will take voices like yours and those of other teacher leaders to contribute to changes in this culture. “

Computational Literacy - How do schools mirror society?- Sarah Young
Sarah Young focused on the computational literacy section of  America's Strategy for STEM Education, remarking that the report in robust is reflections and resources.  The term "computational thinking" has many definitions;  Young based her remarks on the one provided in the K-12 Computer Science Framework document: "Computational thinking: The human ability to formulate problems so that their solutions can be represented as computational steps or algorithms to be executed by a computer." Beyond this, the STEM Strategy refers to “computational literacy” expanding the concept to include digital citizenship, wellness, computer science and digital platforms.  Computational literacy brings diverse topics under a single umbrella.

Moving forward, key areas of focus should include:

  • Access to digital devices and the Internet for all students; in this respect, school needs to look like today, not yesterday.  This will require a comprehensive approach coordinated from the federal level — it can't be just left up to local authorities to find the resources and figure it out. 

  • Digital literacy should address the responsible and safe use of the vast opportunities that come with the burgeoning opportunities for digital learning.

  • Computational thinking is  important not only to computer science, but in every field, as students are given the opportunities and the tools to solve real-world, complex problems using data, starting from  an early age. It is important for all learners to engage with relevant content using digital tools and in doing so the schools can expose people to possibilities for the future.  Giving kids K-12 computer science opportunities is as foundational as math, science, PE, the arts, and the rest. 

  • Digital Platforms need to be used more effectively for teaching and learning. Beyond the values for students, such platforms can provide enriched professional learning for teachers, as they transform their practice in response to the demands that this Strategy envisions. Teacher Leaders will have  capacity and leverage for advocacy, as well as access to resources because they can draw ideas and sources from the Plan and the Progress Report. 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. K. Renae Pullen
K. Renae Pullen addressed the broad and extremely important theme of increasing diversity, equity and inclusion which  is fundamental to ensuring that all Americans have lifelong access to STEM learning.  This in turn is fundamental to American innovation and competitiveness. It is especially  important to give people who have been marginalized by the educational and economic system  access to rich, high-quality stem learning.  Such learning can open many possibilities, including the possibilities for STEM study in college;  life-long learning for personal enrichment and citizen engagement; and access to STEM careers. 

Jeff Weld commented that the Strategic Plan makes clear that "there is no longer any ambiguity that we are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM."   The Strategic Plan identifies 3 groups that have been under-represented in STEM, historically: women, people with disabilities, and people of color, in particular African-Americans, Hispanic and Latinx people, and the Indigenous nations.  It's not only that they have not had access to opportunities that they should have.  It's also that we are missing their talent. 

All will benefit as access is increased, and will result in  impartial learning spaces, equitable workplaces, and entrepreneurship.  Our national security will be enhanced by the needed diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. It has been shown that an inclusive climate is more productive, more peaceable, more creative, and more healthful.  Such a climate makes it more possible to implement new programs, seek outside funding, and participate in implementing new policies.  One area of critical importance for this effort is in rural communities, where distance creates barriers to opportunities and the formation of partnerships.

Where Disciplines Converge. Cindy Hasselbring
Cindy Hasselbring addressed the theme of convergence. Convergence is the way that innovation within STEM fields will be generated. The the challenges we face are at the intersection of many traditional fields of research.  We need to help our STEM learners think in terms of convergence, and learn how to work across disciplinary boundaries. Hasselbring highlighted three pathways to help kids become convergent, real-world thinkers:

  • Entrepreneurship and innovation. Kids know how to create — we need to  give them more tools to  imagine, and  to problem-solve.

  • Make math a magnet. We have to find ways to help kids see math as more applicable to them. How can we help students feel it's more accessible? Perhaps the K-12 math curriculum should allow some to engage with different, applied branches of math as an alternative to the traditional curriculum leading through calculus.   Perhaps the pathway should  lead to statistics and incorporating computer science.

  • Encourage transdisciplinary learning. This is a way to really make STEM more interesting -- real-world, and applied.  Kids really need to get into solving problems from a transdisciplinary mindset— using the science to talk about the statistics, etc.  This lends itself to engaging with problems that matter, in a way that has a strong social dimension. 

As the OSTP moves ahead with the implementation of this Strategy, they are going to be asking for what people need in the field? Do they need lesson plans?  Professional development?  STEM Resources? Textbooks are going away in a lot of places.  OSTP staff are developing a STEM webpage for teachers, a one-stop shop for resources to support this new strategy. With this community,  STEMTLnet, policy makers working on the implementation of the Strategic plan can get feedback from teacher leaders. Teacher leaders can also ask questions and get answers from those involved in creating this document and from each other. Keep checking this website!

For policy makers.The experts on the panel, who have been deeply involved in the interpretation and implementation of education policy,  agreed with the facilitator's statement that “it's the STEM Teacher Leaders who set the course for change at the classroom, school, district, and community levels, - where the real magic happens.” A high-level policy vision like this Strategy for STEM learning must pass through many hands, to turn it into practice.  Teacher Leaders are important to the success of this complex process, and so policy makers at state and local levels should make sure that they include Teacher Leaders in their planning, their implementation, and their evaluation of the Strategy in their area.

For STEM Teacher Leaders.   Several of the panelists mentioned specific ways that the plan can be of value to Teacher Leaders  in their support and advocacy for school improvement and enrichment of teacher practice for the 21st century.

  • The strategic plan can bolster Teacher Leaders'  advocacy for their schools' forming and strengthening community partnerships.

  • Teacher Leaders can use the Plan as evidence as they advocate for making the STEM ecosystem in their communities more coherent and intentional.

  • Teacher Leaders can support their colleagues by networking with others, for example through STEMTLnet, to find out about programs and resources that support the implementation of key components of the national strategy.

  • Teachers need dedicated time  and this report provides support for those advocating for it. Time is a key resource for teacher effectiveness and improvement in teacher  practice. It enables collaboration and  professional development that enhances content knowledge, technology; pedagogical approaches, and the building of , and  participation in,  STEM ecosystems. Advocating for time is an important element of advocating for a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive vision of STEM.  The Strategic Plan is not about maintaining the status quo. Change  of this kind is not easy.  Teacher Leaders can play an important role in the way this Strategic Plan unfolds and succeeds.