While education used to tout reading, writing and arithmetic, the industry is now saying STEM, STEM, STEM and the pressure is on for schools to rise to the challenge.
“STEM is a growing interest across the United States, especially in our region, says Jason Braddock, instructional supervisor for secondary math and K-12 STEM at Mahoning Educational Service Center (ESC) in Ohio. “We are always looking for the most effective options to teach STEM education and we strive to be at the forefront of this conversation.”
Braddock works with 21 different school districts in the area, all of which make an effort to implement STEM education in some way. This ranges from schools with self-contained STEM classrooms to schools that introduce STEM concepts through traditional science courses. However, Braddock wasn’t seeing a solution that made an effort to link STEM with other subjects areas like English or Social Studies, so he began to search for a platform with a more holistic approach.
“We really needed something that everybody could share across grade levels and subject areas,” Braddock says.
A few years prior to Braddock’s search, the county above his used a grant to implement curriculum from a company called Defined STEM. It turns out the county below him had followed suit and it wasn’t long before Braddock received a call from a company representative. The Defined STEM platform is unique in that it uses project-based learning and real-world applications to introduce students to STEM education. Braddock was impressed with what he saw and set out to find the funding to pay for it. He applied for a two-year e-textbook grant through the Ohio Board of regents and iLearnOhio. Braddock then got nine districts in the ESC on board for a pilot.
What really impressed Braddock about the Defined STEM platform was the way it addressed all subject areas with its integrated project-based learning approach.
“Rather than separating the projects, saying this is one’s for English class and this one’s for math class, Defined STEM focused on cross-curricular instruction,” Braddock says. It was also key to his vision for how STEM education should be approached.
Armed with new e-textbooks, Braddock gathered teachers from the nine participating ESC districts and held a two-day professional development session that took place over the summer. During the session, teachers from all disciplines worked together to come up with ways they could integrate the STEM projects into their curriculum.
“It was so fun to see our English teachers and even our gym teachers trying to brainstorm ways to tie this curriculum into their classrooms. It’s pretty common for those teachers to feel marginalized when we’re talking about STEM so I was glad this conversation could include everybody,” Braddock says.
This is the first full year the ESC districts have had the Defined STEM platform in place, but the teachers have already found interesting ways to implement it. Braddock recalls a recent project that was taken from an idea students found in Defined STEM. The students created a Shark Tank-like game show called “Wildcat Tank.” Students were assigned a region in the United States and had to create a self-sustaining restaurant for that area. They then presented their business plan in front of a panel of judges that included Braddock and local businesses in the community. Nearly every subject area was involved including:
- Social Studies: Students researched demographics of the region to determine what kind of restaurant would make sense for their customer base.
- Science: Students identified the compound and renewable energy sources they could sue to cut back costs and carbon footprints for their restaurants.
- Math: Students came up with equations to set the most fair, profitable prices for their restaurants to charge.
- Choir: Students wrote a catchy advertising jingle to promote their restaurants.
- English: Students wrote the business model for their restaurants, as well as a pitch to investors and potential B2B partners.
“I was really impressed with the students’ creativity,” Braddock says. “The kids seemed thoroughly engaged with the project and really did a nice job with it.”
The cross curricular and collaborative nature of the Wildcat Tank game show exemplified what Braddock sees as the the core of the districts’ Defined STEM platform.
“It takes everything they know in multiple subjects and helps them apply it to real-world situations,” Braddock says. “It also allows them to collaborate with others who may have different skill sets, which is so important for 21st century learning.”