Would Giving STEM Teachers More Leeway to Experiment Keep Them in Schools?

By Madeline Will — January 18, 2018 2 min read
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Unlike science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professionals who have the flexibility to pursue learning wherever it may take them, STEM teachers are often bound by curriculum and their administrators.

This week, the national network 100Kin10, which has pledged to train and retain 100,000 STEM teachers by 2021, announced $1 million in funding to five groups to try to answer the question, How can we empower teachers to experiment—and even fail—in their instruction?

“We need teachers to be empowered to create vibrant learning environments in their classrooms to attract and retain our greatest educators,” said Talia Milgrom-Elcott, the executive director of 100Kin10, in a statement. “The data show that this means we must give teachers permission to experiment in their teaching. There is no authentic STEM without experimentation; this can be true at every level in a school.”

In an Education Week essay last year on how to better retain STEM teachers, chemistry teacher Justin Louie wrote that teachers need to feel supported by their administrators throughout their career.

Teaching is exciting because a teacher learns alongside his or her students, Louie wrote. “But there must be room and opportunities for growth to happen,” he continued. “Teachers will not feel as though they have the space to learn by trial and error if they are fearful that an unsupportive administration will fire them.”

And in an interview with Education Week Teacher last year, Milgrom-Elcott said having more room to try new things could attract more millennials in particular to the profession.

“So many people look for careers and jobs where you can fail, and failing forward is embraced, as opposed to being sort of shunned,” she said. “How can they teach authentic STEM if they can’t experiment?”

The grant recipients are:

  • The Center for the Future of Arizona, a nonprofit based in Phoeniz, Ariz., which will work with schools that allow innovative STEM teaching practices and help transform them into “STEM Demonstration Schools.” Those schools will design “learning tours” to spark ideas for other educators.
  • The National Network of State Teachers of the Year, based in Arlington, Va., plans to establish an 18-month fellowship for master teachers, who will conduct research into systemic barriers to STEM teacher leadership. (NNSTOY also has a blog on Education Week Teacher.)
  • The Math Teachers Circle Network, based in San Jose, Calif., will offer professional development in inquiry-based learning to teachers in Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y.
  • ExpandED Schools, a nonprofit in New York City, will offer STEM training and support to both preservice and classroom teachers. Participants will receive mentors and will get to test and refine STEM instructional techniques in afterschool programs.
  • The Fund for Public Schools, which supports New York City’s public schools, will work with the city education department’s STEM department to integrate afterschool science programs into the classroom.

100Kin10 previously ran similar grant programs on creating more active environments for early-childhood STEM and computer science and engineering. Many of those projects centered around offering teachers more and better professional development experiences.

See also: STEM Education Is Facing Over 100 Challenges. Can $28 Million Solve Them?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.