Wednesday, November 28, 2012

S.T.E.A.M. : What Comes Out of my Ears When I Hear About Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math

I recently attended a Board of Education meeting in my hometown of Glen Ellyn, IL. to discuss district wide changes to the K-5 teaching platform to incorporate a new system of learning called STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) into our children’s daily lives.

After an hour long presentation and numerous testimonials, it was clear to me and the 200 other concerned and angry parents that in exchange for an educational system that delivered excellent test scores and strong bonds between students and teachers, we would be getting an unapologetic plan with no details, fancy acronyms, and multiple benign but exciting words like collaboration, innovation, leadership, and 21st century learning.  My guess is that 21st century learning is looking for solutions to problems that don’t exist. (Thank you for the line Bruce.)

I am not an expert in STEAM but it sounds like beating a child over the head with the scientific method and then letting them recuperate in music to “harness their creative side” and apply their newfound whimsy to the rest of their daily activities. I realize that as a country we need to find innovators and critical thinkers to close the technology gap between the US and India or China, but is the function of grade school to find a better job or stimulate the economy?

Four year old Chinese students can memorize the Periodic Table, but my 4 year has a difficult time engineering the button on his pants. One is employable and the other thinks outside the box performing the butt shuffle. Both are creative although one of these choices is slightly better for the economy. I know science and math need to be emphasized more today than ever, but there is no plug-in solution to develop innovation or inspire creativity.

The new teaching approach also involves multiple teachers having a specialty and children moving between classes, like in Middle or High School, and with mixed grade levels (2&3) and (4&5). Does placing children in more mature settings help them learn better or does it separate the “innovators” from the herd? How much learning time will kids lose in class roaming the halls 4-5 times a day? How much will kids miss because they are being taught at a higher grade level?

The answer is a class called WIN or What I Need. It serves as a time for the specialist to meet with children who are having difficulties with a subject and provides exactly what all mature, bright, and confident children need to succeed.

Unfortunately, I don’t know any kids that fit that description. Grade school kids need a teacher. The relationship between a teacher and students between the ages of 5-11 provides not only learning, but motivation, security, confidence, achievement, and the potential spark of creativity. Kids don’t need specialists to unlock deep seated creativity, but dedicated teachers who impart knowledge and indulge their students to use that knowledge to form their own ideas.

I remember as a very young 6 year old, I was told by a friend of mine that he had an invisible plane, like Wonder Woman, in his front yard. I was, and still am, a big comic book fan and could not wait to see it or more importantly touch it. As I walked through his yard with my arms outstretched, my friends and many parents laughed at me. Slowly I realized that there was no jet and I ran home crying. I was told to get over it and came to terms that superheroes didn’t exist.

I told my teacher about it and she told me she didn’t think it was dumb. There were no dumb ideas. Maybe someday there would be an invisible plane. Ms. Klein was not a specialist, but a teacher. I didn’t need a deeper understanding of stealth technology, but a validation of my ideas and thoughts. And if I had to run from class to class and worked with five different specialists, I would have never asked the question. I’d be stuck in the box.

Teachers make the difference and they always will make a difference. My district is blessed with wonderful teachers and my daughter has had a tremendous experience with superb educators. I grew up in Glen Ellyn and came back because of the history of excellence in teaching and I know many parents feel the same way. I sincerely hope the Board of Education will find the wisdom to simply let our great teachers do their jobs.

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