10 questions to fuel K12 STEM decisions

There's more to successful programs than merely supplying resources
By: | September 14, 2017

Not long ago, I was visiting with a highly capable, senior-level district administrator when he said to me, “There are so many STEM initiatives, resources and vendors out there. I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but I am not even sure of the right questions to ask.”

As I considered this administrator’s confusion—and the many compounding variables, such as decreasing budgets, increasing expectations and the rapid pace at which education leaders typically have to make decisions—I wondered how I might help him and others differentiate the many STEM choices available today.

After all, preparing students for the new workplace is part of our mission.

STEM professions are much broader than the terms science, technology, engineering and mathematics might imply.

Some of the top-paying STEM professions are financial and management analysts, information security officers, accountants, civil and mechanical engineers, computer network architects, psychologists, IT managers, environmental engineers and software developers, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Who knows what the top-paying jobs will be five or 10 years from now?

The questions

I came up with these 10 questions that busy administrators might ask to help them quickly and confidently make decisions about STEM ideas that deserve an additional look. These questions are designed to provide an initial framework from which to expedite STEM decisions with confidence and consistency.

Within each district, administrators will add their own critical questions to address the needs of their teachers and students. Discuss these questions with your team and try to answer as many as possible.

The goal is for all involved to be on the same page about what you hope to accomplish with your STEM initiative and to determine the best processes to get there. See how these processes can apply to your own STEM initiative and what other concerns they raise.

1. How likely is this initiative to help us increase the number of students, especially those from underrepresented groups, who pursue STEM in college or careers?

2. How will this initiative bolster your STEM learning environment? How will it impact students’ interactions with the teacher or each other?

3. How will this initiative integrate instruction across—or beyond—the four STEM content areas? How will we assess and measure this impact?

4. What percentage of students will benefit from this STEM initiative and how likely are we to continue this initiative in future years?

5. How well does this initiative address current skills and workforce needs?

6. How will this initiative help us engage students in STEM practices? How well does it develop the dispositions and work-related behaviors fundamental to STEM professionals?

7. How does this STEM initiative increase students’ exposure to the real work of scientists, engineers and other professionals? How does it bridge the gap between theory and practice?

8. How likely is this STEM initiative to increase students’ opportunities to create solutions to real-world problems?

9. How will this STEM initiative address teachers’ delivery of content knowledge? How well does it align with and augment current work being done in our schools and district?

10. How well does this STEM professional development support the teacher actions necessary to create a STEM classroom?

Success in STEM is not just about providing access to resources or programs; it is about providing access to high-quality learning opportunities that deepen students’ understanding and that can serve as springboards for college and careers.

Judy Zimny, Ed.D., is the vice president of the National Institute for STEM Education (http://nise.institute), which offers certification programs in STEM best practices and pedagogy for both teachers and campuses.