Category Archives: STEM

The Evolution of an Idea

This past Saturday was a hugely successful EdCamp NYC — thanks to everyone who came out and made it a fun and educational day. I mean, seriously — look at that session board!

One session that I got to sit in on was one on Rube Goldberg machines that spanned the digital and physical worlds, run by Jaymes Dec and Dylan Rider. It was a great session with lots of hands on work, and it stressed the importance of collaborating, ideating, and having fun in the classroom. Take a look at what happened below and tell me that there wasn’t real learning going on, even in the midst of fun, balloons, and lots of trial and error.

YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image YouTube Preview Image

Did we ultimately reach our goal of popping the balloon? Not exactly… though we did build a terrifying contraption that got part of the job done.




As it turned out, our spiky friend did his job. I mean look at this balloon… not so smug after we found several small but deadly puncture holes in his side. Success!



Approaches to Teaching and Outcome-Based Plans… and STEM again



© International Baccalaureate Organization 2012


I’ve been trying to come up with talking points for expanding our lower school STEM initiative into a broader K-8 program, and, as my previous post gave away, hopefully re-framing it into more of a holistic approach to both technology integration and the intersection of those specific subjects into the rest of the curriculum. Moving this program into our middle school is going to be a challenge because we’re not only expanding past self-contained classrooms for a bell schedule and roving packs of students, but also because we’re now looking at eight separate disciplines of the IB Middle Years Program instead of cross-curricular Program of Inquiry in the Primary Years Program. Yesterday, I noticed that all four of the new program models released earlier this year have Approaches to Teaching in the concentric circle closer to the learner. This felt like opportunity to re-center the discussion around how we teach instead of what we teach, if only I could find more information about what the IB’s definition of Approaches to Teaching actually meant.

Unfortunately, I can’t find much.

From the announcement of the new program models, it seems that the definition shifts slightly from program to program.

  •  PYP: “The three components of the PYP curriculum cycle (written, taught and assessed) nowembodied in Approaches to Teaching, aligns with MYP, DP and IBCC programmes. It
    reinforces the PYP pedagogy of authentic learning that is inquiry-based and conceptually
  • MYP: “Approaches to teaching—this emphasizes the MYP pedagogy, including collaborative, authentic learning through inquiry.”
  • DP: “Approaches to teaching and learning are included in the inner circle of the model demonstrating the DP’s commitment to particular pedagogical approaches to teaching and to developing particular skills for learning.”
  • IBCC: There isn’t anything that specifically addresses Approaches to Teaching in that document.

At least in the PYP and MYP, which coincidentally happen to be the grades we’re looking to expand our STEM push throughout, there is a focus on inquiry and authentic learning being at the heart of teaching and learning (though I must admit to being a bit discouraged at not only the lack of information but also the lack of standardization of how Approaches to Teaching – or is that Approaches to teaching? – is treated as formal terminology, and how the Diploma Program seems to only give it a passing glance). It sure sounds as though if we keep doing what we’re already meant to be doing, we shouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel. This doesn’t have to become something where our lower school and middle school teams (and high school beyond them) need to fuss with criteria, transitions, and formalizing something new, and it instead can help us focus on the intersections of subjects and how we purposefully incorporate technology, not to serve any particular disciplines but instead because it’s how we want our students to learn.

If programmatic differences aren’t going to be a problem in widespread adoption of our STEM initiative (or any other initiative to come down the road), I think we’re going to need to redefine success. In broad strokes, we should be able to identify the outcomes that we expect our teaching and learning to conform to and define how a student at our school will learn on a daily basis and trust that we’re already doing a good enough job meeting our program criteria to remove that as our daily foci. “Students are encouraged to create something every day” or “Every classroom will be a safe space to learn from mistakes” or even “Each unit of study will sit at the intersection of at least three subjects” might be better ways to measure success on a school-wide level than referring to any bulleted list of standards to adhere to, especially when we’re supposed to be doing that anyway. How else can you make the transition from a school that meets requirements to a school that transforms what teaching and learning looks like?

So… any IB educators care of weigh in on the definition of Approaches to Teaching? Or is this simply too broad (and important) to be contained in just one part of a model of learning?

STEM: just a bunch of letters

Jatropha hybrid - Stem (110 DAS) Last week, at the NAIS Annual Conference, Cathy Davidson made a somewhat offhand remark in her keynote that by focusing on STEM in our schools, we’re going to raise a generation of kids who hate STEM thinking. Though I loved her entire keynote, that’s the thing that really stuck with me and I wanted to find out more about why she said that.

In a piece published in the Washington Post last year, Davidson and others argue that “[s]cience and technology are meaningful when interwoven with all of the other modes of learning. A STEM, without its bloom, quickly withers in the forest of everyday life.” Amazingly true – think of all the arguments for reconsidering the way we think of technology use in our schools, how it needs to be more transparent, ubiquitous, and purposeful, like the pencil is. As amazing as I think computers are, they’re nothing unless they’re used to engage and create. Much less my forte, I think science is the same way. Science is amazing because of what it makes possible and how it literally makes up everything around us. If I studied any of the sciences with that in mind instead of as independent disciplines, I bet it would make much more sense to me. And don’t even get me started on math. Even though it pains me to say it, the real world relevance and applications of math can’t be disputed. We need to start treating independent disciplines more like interconnected puzzle pieces, coming together to provide the full picture, instead of separate puzzles in their own right.

With the nation’s focus on STEM , it’s easy to think that the things that every school should focus on are science, technology, engineering, and math. It’s happening at the school that I work at, where a very specific STEM initiative has been rolled out this year, with plans to increase its footprint in the coming years. But STEM isn’t enough. Those subjects aren’t enough. So we throw a little arts in and we get STEAM. And then we decide to throw a little wRiting (or is it reading?) in there to get STREAM. When does it stop? We’re going to run out of words to morph that concept into. Shouldn’t we be rethinking this very narrow emphasis?

The warning from Davidson and her colleagues to everyone infatuated with cultivating science and math teachers is clear:

How shortsighted it would be if our nation’s community colleges — so busy right now gearing up to provide the necessary training in STEM subjects — are unable to supply these men and women with exposure to the literature and history that might help them face life’s obstacles.

I can’t think of many people who don’t want to see a student-programmed robot dance. If it weren’t for the technology that my school (and others) emphasize, I’d likely be out of a job. But the higher commitment has to be towards a more holistic approach to blending disciplines together to provide better better educational opportunities for our students instead of to emphasizing certain parts of a curriculum.

Isn’t that what learning is all about?

CC-licensed photo by tonrulkens