What to Look for in a STEM Program

Do you have a child or student that is bored at school or consistently fidgets or shows no interest in the subjects they are learning? Yet, they will play for hours making movies on their smartphone or playing computer games or quoting obscure facts. 

Perhaps they need a challenge, and this is where STEM turns a below average student, even a potential dropout to a doctor, scientist, Software developer, an engineer or an Occupational Therapist, or anything in the tech field. And, careers that have not even been thought up that are just around the corner. Someone needs to program and maintain the driverless cars and robots coming our way soon.  

What is STEM? It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. And some ad in an A for STEAM for the art and design component. It may be hot now in the high-end schools and ignored in the low performing schools, but it is not new. In fact, STEM was devised 120 years ago during the advent of electricity by the “Committee of Ten” at Harvard University. They saw that if they did not change the way they educate, there will be a societal crisis. There would be no one to apply this new finagled electricity that had so much potential. No one to design and engineer the equipment, let alone service and even use. How would you like to live without refrigeration or electric appliances, cars more advanced than a Model T, and so forth? Schools had to step up or society will lose out. And we are at a new major cusp in our civilization where new tech will change the way we live. Just consider what smartphones have done in just ten short years.  

STEM does not start in college. Nor is it just for us science geeks. All students as early as first grade need to be inspired and fifth grade and above must be prepared to understand the new world of tech and be taught in a way it inspires and challenges them. 

What to look for in a STEM program 

There are two basic ways educators engage STEM from Middle School to High school. One, it is a specialty school, usually an academy or private school, all the school’s main curriculums funnel into the program. The second approach is an elective class that takes the math and sciences the students are learning and have labs with various apparatus like robots to make what they learn applicable. But, usually, it is an elective where a science teacher uses coding or robotics or other lab equipment to challenge students. Which is best? If you have the resources and you have a real tech geek, and they want to go the MIT or Cal Tech, then they will be better served in the academy approach. But, there are usually hard to get in and cost prohibitive for most. However, for most here is what to look for: 

  • Make sure the School has a “heart” for STEM. That is the administration and teachers fully realize its importance and provide the classes and teachers. These are the blue ribbon high performing schools and charter schools that are STEM oriented like Method Schools who fully engage this. Our students learn by doing, yours should too.
  • Make sure they have great teachers. The unexceptional school will have its teachers just lecture. An above average teacher will explain the how and why. The good schools hire and encourage their teachers to also demonstrate. The exceptional schools will have its teachers also inspire!
  • Make sure the school has hands-on learningthat is project-based. The teacher inspires, the student engages the learning by doing it themselves and in groups. This is best done with Robotics, and learning to code a computer or gadget.
  • Make sure theteachers are excited about and understand science. That they can conduct scientific experiments, and motivate the students to research.
  • Make sure that STEM is not an afterthought, that the curriculum is intertwined with other courses. Such as when I teach, I also include the history and real-life occupational applications. So, they apply their algebra and logic, and think about what happens after they graduate.
  • Make sure the school is not a one pony show. That is, they do more than one thing like robots and use other platforms. At Method, we have the latest Robotics as well as 3D Printers, Hydroponics and more.
  • Make sure the teachers are in the mix, encourage and inspire, not leave a book and walk away to do something else or monopolize the classroom so the students never engage learning themselves.
  • Make sure if it is a High School, they offer AP Classes that are NAACP approved too, like AP Chemistry, not just introductory courses.
There are many STEM schools; however, few are great like High Technology High School in Lincroft, NJ, or School for the Talented and Gifted in Dallas, TX, or California Academy of Mathematics and Science in Carson, CA, or KIPP San Francisco Bay Area that offers innovation labs and coding clubs. And of course, Method Schools that start their STEM in Early Elementary; while those are High Schools only.
 

Remember, STEM is not just for the nerds. I teach STEM courses in Method Schools and others and had girls who had no interest in robotics or coding light up and even change their mindset what they will do as adults. STEM challenges the mind in so many areas, especially with critical thinking. Helps the student work independently and collaborate with others on projects. Even if your student never ventures into the tech world, they will learn how to reason, problem solve and think through issues better than if they never learned how to integrate and apply logic and science to life.

A good STEM will help expand your child’s mind and make learning fun and amazing! That is what Method Schools and other great schools offer.

 For a school that can help you and your child’s success and help you create a supportive learning environment, look here: http://www.methodschools.org/

 

Dr. Richard Krejcir is an Author, Researcher and the Director of a nonprofit that does educational training in third-world countries. He is also a Homeschool Coordinator at Method Schools and an instructor in a STEM program and a father of a son with autism.

 


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To further personalize and adapt learning to individual students, check out our customizable and mobile-friendly online curriculum. Built by curriculum pros at Method Schools, we call it SmartFox. High quality, low cost, and, as mentioned, built by a school, not a vendor. 

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