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Where Are the ‘T’ and ‘E’ in STEM?

June 13, 2008 3 min read
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Increasing attention is being paid to science, technology, engineering, and math education and the roles of those so-called STEM subjects in helping students develop the skills they need to compete in a global economy. That topic is the focus of Education Week’s recently issued Technology Counts 2008 report, for example. But some ed-tech experts are concerned that policymakers are overemphasizing the math and science parts of STEM at the expense of technology and engineering. A recent online chat on edweek.org brought together experts to talk about how technology and engineering education fit into the big picture. The guests were Raymond V. Bartlett, the co-director of Strategies for Engineeering Education, K-16; Yvonne Spicer, the director of the National Center for Technological Literacy; and Mary Ann Wolf, the executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, or SETDA.

View the full transcript. Here are edited excerpts from the discussion:

How can technology education help schools meet No Child Left Behind Act goals?

Mary Ann Wolf: Data shows that technology can support the following:
• Closing the achievement gap by providing access to software, online resources, and virtual learning aligned to academic standards for instruction and learning.
• Supporting the development of highly qualified teachers by providing online courses, communities of practice, and virtual communication that ensure flexibility and access.
• Enhancing data systems to ensure that educators can utilize real-time data to inform sound instructional decisions and ensure that schools meet adequate yearly progress (AYP). SETDA produces a national trends report each year that is available at www.setda.org and provides information on how all states are utilizing NCLB Title II, Part D funding (Enhancing Education through Technology) and how the use of educational technology supports NCLB goals.

What are three effective ways that technology and engineering can be incorporated into a program for middle school students?

Yvonne Spicer: I would ask why just middle school? I would certainly start at elementary school so you are building on an established foundation of understanding in technology and engineering. Planting the seed early. I would focus on the following:
1. A deep understanding of problem-solving skills and the engineering design process.
2. Collaborative teamwork in solving technological problems in the real world (e.g., renewable energy, transportation).
3. Focusing on the value of using math and science to solve technological and engineering problems.

Are there schools out there that are role models for integrating technology and engineering into STEM education?

Raymond V. Bartlett: I am not going to claim knowledge of the entire nation, so I will just cite one school that is an exemplar for doing just what you suggest, and that is the Chantilly Academy in Fairfax County, Va. I’m certain there are others. Chantilly has successfully integrated technology and engineering into the everyday curriculum, and brought a number of programs into the school.

How can we do a better job preparing preservice teachers to integrate technology into learning?

Wolf: This is a very, very important question. I think the simple answer is actually practicing what we ask teachers to do, which is to utilize the technology when learning pedagogy. Most of the students in undergraduate studies today are comfortable using technology—they use it in their everyday lives constantly, whether instant messaging, social networking, or other Web 2.0 applications. However, knowing how to use the technology does not translate into using technology effectively in instruction. We often say that those of us who work in ed tech don’t sit around talking about technology—we talk about teaching math or teaching science or using data to individualize instruction. Preservice and in-service professional development also must have a focus on instruction and learning—but it must be ongoing and sustainable.

What curriculum changes would enable students to grasp the necessity of all four STEM subjects?

Spicer: An integrated approach to STEM education. The K-12 content has traditionally been taught in silos, with the exception of elementary school. For example, high school is organized in specific content areas, with rare opportunities for collaboration between teachers in specific fields. I believe until our students are graduating with a deep understanding of content as well as how it is applied in the real world, we will continue to fall short in education.

Compiled by Kevin Bushweller

A version of this article appeared in the June 09, 2008 edition of Digital Directions as Where Are the ‘T’ and ‘E’ in STEM?

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