How Can Educators Navigate the STEM Technology Desert?

By Frankie Wallace

STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs are set to increase over the next year and likely beyond — demand has been growing for the past decade. Yet, there aren’t enough graduates pursuing STEM-related careers after graduation. Additionally, teachers who are skilled in these subjects and can teach them in a compelling way are few and far between.

STEM subjects are taught in schools everywhere, but students aren’t as excited about them as art, physical education, or theater (let alone lunch or recess). STEM classes are required, but electives and creative classes are what students get excited about. However, by approaching STEM education in a new way, teachers can show students just how thrilling STEM classes can be.

To start, they simply need to skim news headlines: From increasingly sophisticated AI finding its way into our classrooms to the possibility of insect droids pollinating Mars, what seemed like science fiction a decade ago is now reality. Technology of the future is all part of STEM, and giving learners a window into these developments is sure to spark interest.

But what can educators do once they’ve caught students’ interest? Let’s explore some ways we can improve STEM education in technology deserts.

Three Ideas for Better STEM Education

The best STEM lessons combine interesting, hands-on activities with computer-based learning. Without both components, students don’t get a well-rounded introduction to STEM. A common STEM lesson is the egg drop challenge. You’ve probably seen this in sitcoms, or maybe you’ve even designed one yourself. You have to build a vehicle that can keep a raw egg safe when dropped from a second story.

Thanks to technology, STEM lessons today can go far beyond this basic challenge (though it still may good to include in classes). Here are a couple lesson ideas:

  • Split students up into groups of four and have them compete in a design challenge. Assign them a specific task and then have them work together to plan, design, and build the solution. Lego Mindstorms makes a STEM education set for this type of lesson, combining hands-on design with computer science.
  • Hold a quiz competition similar to “Jeopardy.” This is even better is if you have the students design the game system. You can then populate it with questions.
  • Get your students involved in a robotics competition where they can compete against teams from other schools. Not only will students work together on a STEM project, but they’ll meet other students who share their interests. This may work especially well for introverts who feel left out of other types of school activities.

Teachers who evolve their lesson plans will prepare students for going into real world STEM fields. Adopting new technology into your classroom is and utilizing it to its full potential is a recipe for educational success — and doing so doesn’t even have to break the bank.

 

STEM Lessons Can Be Affordable

Despite the fact that STEM often includes new age technology, lessons and projects don’t have to be expensive. The Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem proved this with their “hack-o’-lanterns,” a month-long project where students created modified pumpkins using what they learned about analogue and digital inputs. The pumpkins had features like flapping wings, eyes that lit up, and dancing components.

The technologies used were open source and inexpensive, which made it affordable for the school budget and allowed students to take projects home with them. Students worked with Arduino boards, which are programmable “mini computers” that can be designed for practically any purpose. The school found that the project kept students engaged even when they were home — emails would come in in the middle of the night or early in the morning as the kids continued working on their pumpkins.

Combine STEM Lessons With Other Subjects

Students who can’t seem to get interested in STEM may find lessons more interesting if they’re combined with other subjects. Using STEM teaching tools can improve your teaching dramatically by helping you bridge gaps between subjects.

  • Connect with the English teacher and have students create 3D floor plans for a home that’s featured in a book the English class is reading. This is particularly helpful for literature set in historical or futuristic settings, where students may struggle to visualize environments within the text.
  • Students who love their history class can use the Scratch app developed by MIT, to write their own games. Students can then present their app to the class to teach them about specific events or people.
  • Partner with the art teacher and ask students to design a robotic arm that can paint on its own. Students could also recreate famous paintings on their computers.
  • Gym classes can have students wear fitness trackers. The information collected can then be used in biology class to demonstrate about how physical activity affects the body.

It’s important for students to understand that STEM education isn’t relegated to just the science or math classroom. In order to encourage them to pursue highly relevant STEM fields, it needs to be tied to real-world issues. A perfect example of this is bioengineering and environmental engineering, given modern industry’s focus on sustainability. Students should be given a broad range of knowledge about the many different ways STEM is used today.

In practically all fields, understanding STEM concepts is a major help. For example, even working artists should have some concept of STEM in order to market their work or streamline their processes by using analytics and data collection. Students who live in rural communities may not have access to the same technology as those in more urban areas, but things like social media and video conferencing can still connect them with companies and other students to increase their learning potential.

 

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

A Lie All Teachers Should Believe

What is the most empowering belief a teacher can have? 

That’s a question I was recently asked. A few answers came quickly to mind:

All students can learn.

I make a difference.

The credit belongs to the man who is in the arena.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I believe the most empowering belief a teacher can have is a lie.

How, you might wonder, can teachers be expected to believe a lie when they know it’s a lie?

The same way we walk around believing all sorts of lies in spite of knowing the truth.

For example, we believe we’re better than others in all sorts of ways, even though our logical brains know how unlikely that is. Researchers have found that we rate ourselves above average on everything from our driving ability to our academic performance to the quality of our personal relationships.

We persist in the belief that more money will make us happier, even though increased happiness has not followed previous pay raises and despite the fact that we’re aware of the research showing the happiest people on the planet do not live in the richest nations and that after about $75,000 per year, money doesn’t increase happiness. 

Many of us still believe in the American Dream, that if you work hard enough you can be anything you want, even though we’re also aware that opportunities aren’t equal and the data show that fewer than 8 out of every 100 kids born into the lowest economic quintile will ever earn enough to place them in the uppermost quintile.

We believe that having children makes us happy. But when Nobel-prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman asked working women in Texas to reconstruct their days and rank each of the activities on a happiness scale, they ranked spending time with their kids about the same as vacuuming. (Source) And then there’s the below graph, which shows how happy we are throughout our lives. It speaks for itself.

So there’s a pretty good precedent when it comes to believing stuff that just isn’t true.

Why do we do it?

I believe it’s because we have a choice between internalizing the truth or the lie, and internalizing the lie is often more likely to improve our circumstances.

There’s research to back up such a belief. Research by Carol Graham (and subsequently confirmed by others) found that individuals who were optimistic about their futures tended to have better health and employment outcomes. Graham writes:

“Those who believe in their futures tend to invest in those futures, while those who are consumed with stress, daily struggles, and a lack of hope, not only have less means to make such investments, but also have much less confidence that they will pay off.”

Read more here: Is The American Dream Really Dead?

The American Dream might be a fantasy, but believing in it makes it more likely you’ll achieve it.

Consider a child who dreams of becoming the next Tom Brady. For that matter, consider a six-year-old Tom Brady. Young Tom, as he was growing up, surely became aware, somewhere along the line, of the long odds of becoming an NFL player. The odds of him becoming an NFL quarterback were even slimmer. The odds of becoming the greatest quarterback of all time were so infinitesimally small that they could legitimately be considered impossible. Had Brady internalized those odds, he would have quit. None of us would know his name. Instead, Brady chose to believe the fantasy that a relatively unathletic mop-headed California kid could grow up to be the greatest signal caller in history.

We believe those lies that have the potential to benefit us. We lie to ourselves to protect our egos, to provide us with a sense of volition, to enable the illusion of control and self-determination.

Which is why the most empowering belief any teacher can have is this:

Everything that happens in my classroom is my responsibility.

Teachers who believe that lie believe that when things go poorly, it’s their fault.

When their students don’t get along, it’s because of the culture they’ve built.

When a routine isn’t followed, it’s on them.

When students don’t learn, it’s because they didn’t teach well enough.

Everything that happens in their classroom is their responsibility.

It’s a lie, as easily disproven as the American Dream.

In truth, things go poorly for many reasons outside the control of the teacher. Students sometimes act like jerks because all people sometimes act like jerks. Routines don’t get followed because humans are forgetful and easily distracted. Sometimes a student doesn’t learn because she hasn’t eaten, or he broke up with his boyfriend the night before, or she didn’t get any sleep because her baby sister cried all night, or because he just doesn’t give a damn about the Reconstruction Era (and really, can you blame him?).

But just because it isn’t true doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe it. Like the American Dream, you’ll do better if you buy the lie.

Believing that everything that happens in your room is your responsibility makes you a better teacher, just like equating more money with greater happiness makes you a better American (can you imagine what would happen to our economy if everyone actually acted on the fact that more money doesn’t make us happier?)

Believing the lie makes you a better teacher because it compels you to try to solve problems. By attempting to solve problems, you might actually solve some of them. Things will improve for the simple reason that you believe you can improve things.

The Other Side of the Coin

The problem, of course, is the same as the lies about wealth, parenthood, and the American Dream. The lie, while it benefits each of us to believe it and act accordingly, can be used by others to harm us.

If the American Dream is possible, then people born into challenging circumstances have no one to blame but themselves for not making it.

If we believe that wealth ought to make us happier, then we assume there’s something wrong with wealthy people who are miserable.

If we believe that parenthood is the best thing that can happen to a person, then postpartum depression becomes an existential threat rather than a rational response.

 

Teachers should believe the lie that everything that happens in their classrooms is their responsibility. Such a belief will make them better teachers.

But the rest of us should show more understanding and recognize the truth: There are a number of things teachers can’t control, and failures in their classroom are as likely a result as those things as they are anything the teacher has or hasn’t done.

 

Teaching Financial Literacy: How to Help High Schoolers Care More

Lizzie Weakley

 

Financial literacy is something that many teenagers do not have a firm grasp on, and it is something that many parents and teachers overlook the importance of. Young people need to understand the importance of financial literacy so that they are able to properly tend to their money in the future. The following information provides a closer look at three helpful ways to help high schoolers become more well-informed on the subject and take it more seriously.

Budget Simulations

Encouraging students to complete budget simulations will allow them to think more deeply about their future income and spending habits. It will also allow them to create clearly defined financial goals for themselves that they can potentially work towards later on in life. Examples of criteria that could be included in the simulation include practical money skills, financial independence, and paying bills, such as utilities. You can even provide them with fake checkbooks to balance each week, which will give them a deeper insight into personal banking.

Smartphone Apps

There are various smartphone applications available for download that could also be beneficial for students in order to help them learn more about personal finance. They can enable you to track your spending habits, improve budgeting skills, and create a plan for paying debts. These could be used in conjunction with the budget simulation in order to create a more interactive and realistic experience.

Games

Games are another way to create a more interactive experience. Typically, most students will learn more if they are engaged in activities that are fun and allow them to think creatively. You can develop your own games tailored for your students that will align with your personal finance lesson plans or even encourage them to play existing games, such as Monopoly, which actually offers various learning opportunities when it comes to money management.

Overall, getting students interested in financing and budgeting doesn’t always have to be challenging. You just need to find an approach that captures their attention and gets them interested in the learning process. The tips above make excellent starting points for any educator hoping to boost their student’s interest in financial literacy and help them to care more. These methods will provide students with highly beneficial skills that they can utilize throughout their lives in order to make more financially sound and well-informed decisions regarding their income and spending habits. You just need to remain diligent and find which learning styles appeal most to your specific students.

5 Foreign Language Language Activities That Students Actually Look Forward To

Lara Smith

 

In the world that we live in, we now need to learn foreign languages to broaden our horizons.  Not only does it seem cool if you know another language, due to globalization, being bilingual or knowing a foreign language often gives you more opportunities to get better jobs within your own country and abroad.

Apart from that, due to a free market, most large scale businesses have collaborations with counterparts abroad and they require a workforce that they can communicate with. Here are a few activities you carry out with your student to have fun and learn more efficiently.

 

  • Practical Application

 

Gone are the days when people used to get books and read them. People often want results in a small amount of time, and that is only possible with the practical application of what they are learning. For this, you can have a collaborative class every week. For example, if you are teaching your students Spanish, you can call a class of Spanish people learning English to come and interact with your students. Not only will it give them a hands-on experience but because it is in a closed room with a limited amount of people they will not hesitate as much.

 

  • Plan A Trip

 

The best way you can get your student to register and then help them is to plan a trip to the country where that second language is spoken. While it can seem to be overwhelming at the time and may sound a bit over the top, it will be an incentive that students can’t refuse.

 

  • Shopping Mall Activity

 

While this may sound cliché and students may feel out of their comfort zone, this is one of the best ways to learn language specific to a particular scenario. Not only can they get knowledge of the language in general, but they can also start recognizing the underlying structures. For example, the prepositions Por vs Pora are often hard to understand, and no matter how many times you go over them in class, students will learn adequately when they are exposed to respective situations.

 

  • Movie Translations

 

Another thing you can do is watch a Spanish movie together. What you need to do is let them watch the whole movie without subtitles and then ask them how much they have understood. The chances are that they will have a reasonable idea of what is going on. After that, start playing the movie scene by scene and ask each student to translate what’s going on in the picture.

 

  • Music Therapy

 

New research shows that music can help foreign language learners with pronunciation and vocabulary. You should arrange a dance class with Spanish music and explain to them the essence of the song and ask them to dance. Ask a choreographer to help you prepare a performance that they can do later at their graduation ceremony. This will surely help them out with many little things that they still seem conscious about with regard to language.

 

About the Author:

Lara Smith has worked for Wall Street English for 20 years. After studying at Stanford University and subsequently doing a CELTA course, she began her career in teaching. She is obsessed with languages and currently writes blogs at https://www.mimicmethod.com/.

4 Important Ways to Help a Grieving Student

4 Important Ways to Help a Grieving Student

A guest post by Meghan Belnap

 

As a teacher, watching over the mental and emotional health of your students can be difficult. Students who face tragedy are often in need of comfort and extra support, but it can often feel as if your options are limited in regards to how to help. 20 percent of all kids will grow up experiencing the death of someone close to them by adulthood. Even though helping a student through grief is the primary responsibility of parents, rather than teachers, students will look to their teachers as authority figures for guidance and sympathy. Here are just four big ways that you, as a teacher, can help your students through a painful loss. 

Making sure basic needs are met

When children, teens, and young adults experience grief, they can often become withdrawn and lethargic, lacking the energy or even motivation to meet many of their basic needs. Eating, especially, can be hard for them to make a priority, as anxiety caused by grief can constrict the stomach and make food unappealing. One way you can check up on these students is to talk to the cafeteria staff to see if the student is getting lunch. Consider keeping some light, easily digestible snacks in your desk to offer them before or after class if you find they are neglecting to eat at lunchtime, and be aware of any extreme weight loss that may necessitate action from the parents. 

Consult with Parents and Guardians

Being able to openly discuss their feelings is a major part of the grieving process, but children and teens can feel worried about bringing up depressing or uncomfortable topics. Make sure that the student knows your office hours when they can come and talk to you if they need a compassionate ear, and make sure they are aware of the services offered by your school counselor. If you notice them feeling overwhelmed during class, discretely allow them to step outside or to the school counselor immediately. It can also be greatly beneficial to consult with the parents to get their perspective on how their child is handling the loss and what can be done to help them. Whether it is the passing of another student or a family member, each child deals with death a little differently and may need unique accommodations. 

Giving parents counseling information

When a student is grieving the death of a loved one, their parents are often going through a similar process and may not be aware of the resources they have for their child’s grieving. Giving parents phone numbers, addresses, and pamphlets for local psychiatrists and counselors can help ease the burden on the family and provide the student with professional guidance. Grief counseling for young adults has become more widely available as rates of suicide in teens has increased. Services like these can help a grieving student find comfort, educate parents on healthy coping mechanisms and emotional outlets, and even detect signs of depression and anxiety that the student may be repressing. 

Homework extensions and test makeups

Another way teachers can help grieving students is to provide alternative assignments. While their formal education is important, it can often take a back seat when the student is overwhelmed from the grieving process, and the last thing they need is for that grief to create further stressors through falling grades. Extended deadlines, make-up days, and a pass on quizzes can help a teen keep up with the workload and maintain decent grades. A little leniency, particularly early in the grieving process, will relieve stress from the student and make them aware that the authority figures in their lives make their mental and emotional wellbeing a priority.

As a teacher, there are limited options for how you can get involved in the personal lives of your students. This does not mean that there is nothing to be done, however. The simple act of directing a student to professional aid and showing a little extra compassion can go a long way in ensuring that the student is able to make their way through the grieving process in a healthy manner. Whether they want to admit it or not, students of all ages are greatly affected by their teachers, and they will appreciate even the little gestures of compassion you show.