STEaM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics, is not simply a list of subjects that are to be taught, but more of an educational approach to teaching and learning. Although there are several models of implementing a STEaM program, we have developed a model based around the Engineering Design Process (EDP). Although the EDP is typically used in the professional field, we have formatted the process in the context of K12 education.
The Engineering Design Process is a five step cycle where teachers create an inquiry-based learning environment that stimulates students to learn through questioning and doing. The five steps are the following: Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create and Improve. Within each of those steps, and transitions, there are teaching and learning strategies that help facilitate the process. Below describes the cycle in the context of K12 STEaM education.
Although the first step in the cycle is to ask the right questions before beginning any process, teachers often begin with step 3, the Plan. In K12 education, it is not uncommon to teach with the “plan” as the focus, and inadvertently bypass two important steps of what are we trying to do/learn, and giving students opportunities to imagine the topic/problem in question. When one skip steps 1 and 2, what often occurs is that teachers give away what we call the “formula” or “step-by-step” plans of solving problems. While understanding the steps are important skills, it is only one part of the process of learning. Students who are simply given the formula in the book are fixated on how to systematically solve an equation and not taught how to truly problem solve. Instead of developing critical thinking skills, the unfortunate outcome is that students are taught to memorize steps and practice rote techniques.
|Dan Meyer (http://perplexity.mrmeyer.com/) is a teacher who models how to engage students in math before jumping to the formula in the textbook. He offers several examples in how to introduce math concepts by allowing the students to ask the right questions, allow opportunities to imagine and formulate the problem (without giving it to the students), and leveraging multimedia tools to enhance the experience.|
The first step in a solid STEaM program is to build a curriculum established on asking the right questions. Fundamentally, we are trying to provide insight on common questions found in STEaM studies, such as “why am I learning math?” And if you are in middle school math or above, why am I studying Algebra? It is important to build curriculum that puts Algebra or other mathematical concepts in context of real-world applications. In helping guide those questions, a well-thought out socratic seminar will put the context around Step 3 (Plan) and give opportunities for divergent thoughts around the same topic.
It is in Step 2 (Imagine), that teachers give students opportunities to ask questions that will guide them to formulate the problem that needs to be solved. In this context, students are discovering the learning, and not given the answer. Strategically, a teacher will guide the questions and divergent thoughts into converging ideas, ultimately leading to Step 3, the Plan. The work and effort to get to Step 3 gives students the foundations and context of the formula, rather than searching for the formula in the textbook.
|Step 3 Differentiated: Using Blended Approaches
To provide more personalized instructional approaches to learning, a blended learning model can help facilitate Step 3 in a more efficient manner.
The first 3 steps of the Engineering Design Process remain in the theoretical framework of learning. In order to provide experiential opportunities, a well-rounded STEaM program will need to integrate the application layers of the model, which are Steps 4 (Create), and Steps 5 (Improve). Once students have established theoretical proficiency of content, teachers can elevate the learning experience by introducing project-based activities around the content. It is in Step 4 that students experience STEaM in its fullest by providing opportunities to transform the theory into practical hands-on experiences. In this level, students are building, designing, creating, and experimenting with the content in ways textbooks could never provide. It is important to develop a strong project-based curriculum that strategically brings together the theoretical frameworks into practical design applications.
The last step of the Engineering Design Process is giving students opportunities to improve upon their creation. In a test taking culture, we often create an environment of a pass-fail mentality. Step five is the opposite of that mentality, where failure is looked upon as an opportunity to improve the design. The ideal EDP fosters a culture of trial-and-error and that improvement is a sign of self-direction and evaluation. When students are in the improvement level, rubrics and portfolio-based assessments help guide the evaluation process. If designed correctly, students would be documenting the process right from the beginning in a portfolio that can be referenced, improved, and edited along the way.
The culmination of the Engineering Design Process can lead to three desired outcomes for any given topic. The first outcome is referencing back to the original question that the project asked and determining if it was appropriately addressed. The second outcome is determining that the original question was just the beginning, and that one has to ask a higher level of questions to get to the desired outcome; therefore going through the EDP again. The last outcome is what engineers call innovation, the creation of something new that addresses a problem. In K12 education, an important last step of the EDP process is providing students a platform called Mountain Top to share all their hard work, no matter the outcome. The Mountain Top can present itself in many forms, such as digital portfolios, competitions, debates, showcases, science fairs, videos, and more.
|Big Ideas Around the Engineering Design Process
Step 1: Ask to Step 2: Imagine
Step 2: Imagine to Step 3: Plan
Step 3: Plan to Step 4: Create
Step 4: Create to Step 5: Improve
Step 5: Improve and Beyond
There was a time when technology departments were just seen as technical support, district compliance (also known as “control”) and managers of information. It was the office filled with “geeks” who knew very little about teaching and preferred to speak in bits and bytes. It was often treated as a separate entity responsible for making sure equipment was working properly and protecting the data in the network. While the work of support, installation and maintenance are still a vital component of tech department services, it can no longer live alone in our 21st century learning environment.
“Tech support must combine with professional development, technology vision and strategic technology planning for successful integration.”
I believe there are three core services the technology department has to provide in order for successful technology integration in K12 schools/districts. And all three are equally important and can no longer be left without the other two. The three core services are Support Services, Professional Development, and Strategic Planning, Research, & Documentation.
The objective of support services is to maintain and install infrastructure equipment in the classrooms. Tech support is a thankless job often, and it requires a certain fortitude to be successful with mounting odds. I have seen some outrageous numbers of computer to technician ratios. Nevertheless, support services is a critical component to building trust in technology. No matter how talented a teacher is with technology integration, without working equipment, it could prove difficult. Timely and efficient support services goes a long way with school buy-in of technology. It is important as well to develop a tech support culture of empowerment and not control.
“Successful technology departments are not troubleshooting day-to-day tech support tickets, but rather empowering users and providing structured professional development.”
Putting technology in the classroom without proper professional development = money squandered. You can invest in tons of equipment, but without proper training and structured professional development, much of the equipment can sit there acquiring dust. Professional development is the key driver in any technology integration as it creates the culture needed for technology adoption. As a side note, the more technology proficient our K12 users are, the less tech support tickets are submitted.
“Implementing changes in technology requires thorough planning and strategy when dealing with such a diverse user base.”
Strategic Planning, Research and Documentation
With the rapid changes that occur in technology, the tech department has to be actively planning and researching what is available for K12 schools. There needs to be a continued focus in emerging technologies and a culture of life-long learning. In just the past few years, developments in technology have “changed” the game in how technology can be infused in the classroom. Without strategic planning with academic departments, the tech department can be left with programs to support that don’t align with technology vision. It is more and more critical that the tech department collaborate with other departments and develop plans that are aligned across all stakeholders.
- Cloud computing has eliminated many in house IT needs and made IT operations web based.
- EdTech understands the teacher and classroom needs.
- EdTech has experience in both education and technology.
- District budget costs – merge the two departments.
- Traditional enterprise IT environment doesn’t fit open collaborative school environments.
- Security concerns are not as stringent as corporate sectors.
- Network requirements are not as comprehensive as corporate sectors.
- IT departments should model 21st century learning environments.
- Web 2.0 applications are simple, effective and affordable to use.
- Finding a computer operations technician to fix everyday hardware issues is cheap.
- No need to maintain own servers anymore.
- Many teachers can run their own technology environments with proper training.
It has dawned on me that schools require a new bread of Information Technology than the traditional enterprise network. From my experience working and selling to corporate IT, the closed hierarchy lend itself to politics of control, security and money. I have tremendous respect for IT departments who have to manage secure enterprise networks spanning across the globe. However, when I look at schools, especially K12 communities, the secure enterprise network model doesn’t seem to fit the nature of a school. Obviously, we need to protect student information systems that house confidential data about our populations, but overall I feel instructional institutions need to embrace an open & collaborative environment focused on integrating technology into the classrooms.
This is where I feel the traditional IT Director may not fit the bill for school technology infrastructures. Simply put: “Whoever is in charge of educational technology should be in charge of the direction of information technology at the school.” I still believe there needs to be IT ground workers who take care of day to day technology support, but the Director of IT should be an Education Technologist who has classroom experience to bring to the table. We are at a point in education where technology is a paradigm shifting tool in our classrooms, and we need experts in both education and technology to lead the way.
I would like to coin the new department as EdIT (Education Information Technology). The EdIT director has to envision a school infrastructure that fosters 21st century skills and invests in products & training that lends itself to empowering teachers to use technology in the classroom. Why keep the two departments separate? EdTech should be driving the decisions on infrastructure, such as moving to a Google Apps environment for communication and collaboration. Not only does moving towards a cloud environment lend itself for better collaboration between teachers, it will also save money and time from an IT perspective. When we moved to this environment at our site, we saved plenty of money and time working on tech support issues while also creating an environment that supported effective real time communication.
The EdIT director will spend more time working with teachers and administrators to create the ideal integrated technology classroom environment. This will lend itself to focusing on products such as Doc Cams, SMARTboards, and Netbooks for classroom integration. It will also focus on collaborative web environments focused on wikis, microblogging, and other social media apps. The cloud computing sector has evolved to a point where traditional IT processes & job duties are no longer needed, and less time is needed to support our users. Moreover, the web 2.0 environment has evolved to make it easier for non-tech savvy users to integrate technology with little tech support. The role of EdIT director would focus primarily on professional development training with focus on technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK).
As our schools are evolving and continually to embrace educational technologies into the classroom, it only makes sense that Educational Technology should merge with Information Technology. But it will only work if the EdTech people make the decisions in the direction of all technology being put into the school.