Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Learning at the March Oklahoma STEM Consortium Meeting

This afternoon for lunch and after lunch, I had the wonderful opportunity to join our 6th and 7th grade science teachers at the bi-monthly meeting of the Oklahoma STEM Consortium facilitated by Anissa Angier (@AnissaSmiles). Anissa is the “K12 STEM Instructional Facilitator” for Edmond Public Schools, and has been helping organize and lead this group of STEM-focused educators for the past year. This is the first time I’ve been able to attend one of their meetings, and although we had to leave early for one of our teachers to get back to class, I picked up a number of tips and resources. I also enjoyed the conversation about many of the challenges facing STEM educators and STEM proponents in our schools. I created a “Twitter Moment” collection of my tweets from the meeting, and will summarize some of my reflections and learning takeaways in this blog post.

The most thought provoking part of today’s meetings involved discussions about what constitutes high quality STEM learning. As some schools encourage the integration of STEM skills and activities across the curriculum and grade levels, it is important for teachers to develop the independent capacity to both IDENTIFY as well as DESIGN engaging STEM lessons. Several of the schools and school districts represented at today’s meeting are utilizing or planning to utilize Project Lead the Way curriculum (@PLTWorg) to equip teachers with both skills in professional development as well as lesson resources to bring STEM learning experiences into their classrooms. PLTW and Engineering is Elementary (@EiE_org) are two of the STEM curriculum programs I have heard the most accolades for since I served as a 4th and 5th grade STEM teacher in 2013-15 and have continued my advocacy for STEM and STEAM learning the past three years as a school technology director. When I led a 3 day STEM Institute for teachers in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in March 2016, I led teachers through a series of STEM lessons which drew upon different curricular resources as well as individuals, including the always inspirational Brian Crosby (@bcrosby). Whether schools provide designated STEM courses led by STEM teachers, or ask teachers to integrate STEM learning into “regular” courses and course activities (or a combination of both) I definitely see the value and importance of adopting STEM curriculum. Hopefully, like other curricular “tools in the instructional toolbox,” these lesson resources can guide instruction and also help teachers design rich STEM experiences for students which are multi-disciplinary and encourage authentic inquiry into learning in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematical domains.

What is STEM learning and what should high quality STEM learning look and feel like? Participants at today’s STEM consortium meeting discussed this question, and how STEM activities should NOT constitute “Pinterest STEM.” I interpreted this to mean quality STEM learning can’t just be taken out of a single box, shared as a crafty lesson in 45 minutes with students, photographed for Pinterest, and then put away until the next “STEM time” arrives. Instead, quality STEM learning is almost always messy, leads directions neither the teacher nor the students expected, and is both open ended and generative in terms of the questions it encourages students to ask and pursue through inquiry.

We discussed how a harmful pedagogic mindset of some classroom teachers is to expect and even demand “lockstep” lesson procedures which are coordinated at a whole-class level. “Don’t work ahead, because the rest of us are not ready. Wait!” Perhaps this mindset is more common at the elementary level, but I think this can be found at all levels. These issues go to the heart of not only the question, “What is a high quality STEM lesson,” but also to the essence of a teacher’s own pedagogy of quality classroom learning. Elective choices, the freedom to ask questions, to inquire, to take learning beyond the printed lab or activity procedures… all of these instructional concepts should find their way into STEM learning.

While Lakeshore has (as was discussed at our meeting) put together some useful STEM kits for classroom lessons, it is critical to develop instructional understanding and capacities among teachers for STEM learning which go far beyond the “craft lesson in a box” mentality.

Our discussions today about high quality STEM lessons reminded me of Chris Moersch (@lotiguy) and his helpful “Levels of Technology Integration” or LoTI framework. (Shout out to Miguel Guhlin @mguhlin and Dean Mantz @dmantz7, who both helped me learn more about LoTI through the years!) Does a LoTi framework exist for STEM lessons? What modifications could LoTI have for it to be applied successfully within STEM and not just “technology integration” contexts?

The centerpiece of Chris’ advocacy with LoTI has, in my understanding, always focused on teachers looking behind the tools or the technology, and instead focusing on the student learning as well as engagement. This is vital for us to remember as we not only consider STEM lessons and STEM integrated lessons, but all learning which involves different kinds of tools and technologies.

I’d value any feedback or related resources you might be able to share along these lines, because I think these questions remain vital and will continue to be discussed as STEM education and STEM integration continues to gain more currency in educational circles as the twenty-first century marches on.

Here are a few other items worth mentioning that were discussed at our meeting and in our car ride to and from Edmond today.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education released (in January 2018) new standards for computer science education. You can check out these proposed standards online. They are scheduled to be presented to the state board for consideration on March 22, 2018. The always constructively disruptive and inspirational Levi Patrick (@_levi_) is the person at the center of this conversation we should all follow on Twitter. The proposal and (hopefully) implementation of these standards is both promising and positive for our state and STEM education generally.

“STEM in Action kits” are another classroom STEM resource to check out and consider if you’re searching for both lesson ideas and specific curriculum / supply resources to support STEM learning. I hadn’t heard of those before today’s meeting.

Finally, the Merge VR Cube (@MergeVR) is a latest “cool kids gadget” bringing a variety of augmented reality and virtual reality content via smartphone and tablet apps into our lives. We played a bit with a Marge VR cube at today’s meeting using the free “Galactic Explorer” iOS app.

The visual presentation of the planets in the app is very cool and engaging, but the actual content included is rather shallow. Still, this is something worth checking out, especially since (as we learned today) the Merge VR Cube is sold by WalMart under a limited contract for just $1 each at local Oklahoma stores instead of the normal $8.

Coincidentally, I saw this March 6th tweet from my friend Felix Jacomino earlier this week, and ordered my own MergeVR cube from Amazon that just arrived today. I’m eager to explore it more with its associated apps.

Thanks to Anissa for the opportunity to participate in today’s Oklahoma STEM Consortium meeting! I look forward to more opportunities like this to collaborate and learn together with other STEM advocates in our state.

Oklahoma STEM Consortium - March 2018 by Wesley Fryer, on Flickr
Oklahoma STEM Consortium – March 2018” (CC BY 2.0) by Wesley Fryer



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