4 components to bring more equity to STEM education in distance learning

Incorporating interdisciplinary learning, design principles, real-world connections, and skill-building can address pervasive equity issues in STEM
By: | August 11, 2020
Photo by Jeswin Thomas via Unsplash.

Jessica Kesler is a professional development facilitator at TGR Foundation, a Tiger Woods charity.

While STEM has been a part of the education landscape for decades, there are still pockets of students unable to access meaningful STEM experiences regularly.

The U.S. Department of Education’s STEM education plan was meant to help prepare more students for career-ready jobs in STEM fields. While students are graduating with STEM-related degrees, many lack the skills that companies desire.

But, through proven strategies and intentional practice, educators can help students build these critical skills and thrive in STEM fields.

As we continue planning for fall 2020 and beyond, let’s consider the components of STEM education, and how to include them in your distance learning initiative.

To address pervasive equity issues in STEM, no-cost professional development resources can help educators consider essential questions related to STEM education: What is your current definition of STEM education? How does it look in the classroom? As an educator, what is your role in teaching it? Our updated definition of STEM outlines four components:

Component #1: Interdisciplinary learning

STEM is often taught in siloed subjects. Students may attend science class for one hour, then math for another hour. They might choose an elective technology class, or participate in an afterschool robotics club. While this approach may feel “traditional”, it doesn’t provide authentic learning experiences to students.

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An interdisciplinary approach, on the other hand, embeds multiple concepts from different subjects into a single lesson. By combining math, science, and art into one project, students can build their skills for use in the real world.

Interdisciplinary learning is especially helpful during distance learning, where classes may be shortened. To start, try incorporating 2-3 different subject areas into an activity. You may be surprised by the results!

Component #2: Design principles

When STEM professionals solve problems in the workplace, they follow a design process (you may recognize it as the Engineering Design Process).

Students can leverage the same design principles to solve problems in multiple subject areas. While there’s no single “right” design process, I recommend using the following to get started:

  • Step 1 – Define the problem
  • Step 2 – Design solutions
  • Step 3 – Create or prototype
  • Step 4 – Refine or improve
  • Step 5 – Communicate results

TGR EDU: Explore has a variety of STEM design challenge lessons available – feel free to use them as-is, or to inspire your own design challenge activity to incorporate in your distance learning initiative.

Component #3: Real-world connections

As you already know, preparing students for success means making real-world connections in the classroom. There are a variety of ways to make these connections during activities, including:

  • Relevance: Make a connection between the activity and students’ lives and personal experiences.
  • Student voice: Support student voice by encouraging learners to express their ideas, concerns, and opinions.
  • Student choice: Allow students to be the decision-makers, which can range from what they learn to how they learn. This helps students take ownership of their learning.

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When students are learning remotely, they may feel less engaged than they would in the classroom. Use the suggestions above to help them feel more invested in activities, and continue to hone their STEM skills using real-world examples.

Component #4: Skill-building

By now, most of us have heard about the importance of the “four Cs”, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

These skills are crucial to success in college, the workforce, and life itself. While STEM may feel technical in nature, fields like IT and engineering need candidates who can effectively communicate and collaborate.

No matter the subject or activity, the four Cs should be a focus. Help students hone their communication and collaboration skills through group projects, which can be done via video call, and offer plenty of opportunities to think critically and be creative.

STEM applies to all educators, not just math and science teachers. By incorporating these skills throughout instruction, we can ensure every student has an opportunity to pursue a career in STEM.

Jessica Kesler is a Professional Development Facilitator at TGR Foundation, a Tiger Woods Charity. In this role, Jessica helps develop and implement professional learning experiences focused on STEM-based, student-centered learning practices. Jessica’s passion is to empower educators to create engaging and effective classrooms that will foster future leaders.