Preparing Teachers for the New STEM Educational Standard

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Preparing Teachers for the New STEM Educational Standard
From Richard C. Larson

Dick LarsonSTEM is perhaps the most important four-letter word in current education conversations. Nationally, there is bi-partisan support for improving the education of young learners, leading to more engineers, scientists, mathematicians and computer scientists in the years ahead. Currently there are hundreds of thousands of open positions for STEM specialists and not enough qualified applicants. Even for those who will not become engineers and scientists, it is widely felt that a literate 21st Century U.S. population, one that can collectively make intelligent choices for the country, must be STEM-literate as well as reading-literate. Exacerbating the current shortfall are the accelerating retirements of “Baby Boomer” engineers from such companies as Boeing, Ford Motor, Raytheon and the entire geo-science (oil and gas) industry. There is little time to waste.
Thinking that the textbook-oriented, fact-based methods of teaching and learning are not adequate to educate and inspire the current and coming generations of young people, the nation has been on a mission to change radically the way STEM courses are taught and learned. First, in mathematics, there are the new Common Core State standards. Quoting from the mission statement,

“The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.”

These standards have been accepted by all but a small number of states and are in the process of being implemented.
Even newer are the emerging standards in science, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). They should be stabilized by mid-2013 and ready for full implementation for the academic year 2014 -2015. The standards move away from rote memorization and from viewing learning as the digestion of numerous facts. Rather, fewer topics will be covered but in more depth. Scientific and engineering practices will be integrated with core ideas, leading to the development of critical thinking skills, problem-based learning and seeing the relevance of science to the students’ own lives. The focus is less on memorization of facts and more on obtaining deep understanding of core principles in relationship to science practices. These goals of NGSS are 100% compatible with the goals of our MIT BLOSSOMS project. .

Here is an immediate very real problem: Current high school STEM teachers have generally not been trained in the ways of teaching that are espoused by NGSS. Professional Development (PD) in this new way of STEM teaching and learning is sorely lacking. If the teachers do not know how to do this, then the effort will be a failure.  MIT BLOSSOMS has been asked by STEM educational leadership in Massachusetts to help. We are now starting a new project to create ten new BLOSSOMS lessons targeted at the new emerging science standards, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). We will use the BLOSSOMS framework for teacher training (Professional Development) and for adding important new lessons to the BLOSSOMS repository.

Here Are the Specific Tasks of the Project:

  1. Enlist a Working Team to guide the project.
    The Working Team will be composed of STEM education experts at MIT and the Massachusetts Department of Education. This Working Team will meet periodically to provide feedback and guidance throughout the course of the project.
  2. Identify existing BLOSSOMS science lessons that fit closely with NGSS. We currently have about 60 science lessons in the BLOSSOMS repository. Many of these fit nicely with the NGSS framework. Once so identified, their MIT-based Open Source web sites will be augmented appropriately to show clearly their close relationship to NGSS. We estimate that at least 20 of the current BLOSSOMS lessons will satisfy the NGSS closeness criteria. Coupled with the ten new lessons to be created under this program, we will eventually have at least 30 NGSS BLOSSOMS lessons with which to work. MIT and the Massachusetts Department of Education will promote and link Massachusetts educators to these NGSS-aligned lessons.
  3. Conduct four live and webinar PD training sessions in Massachusetts, featuring both the NGSS and the BLOSSOMS pedagogy and repository. These four live sessions will demonstrate NGSS teaching through the current BLOSSOMS lessons and will also instruct teachers on making their own lessons in line with the NGSS framework. Well-respected highly engaging pedagogical approaches from the literature will be included such as the “5E” instructional model and problem-based active learning. These training sessions will be conducted in four different parts of the state, covering it geographically from east (Boston) to west (Springfield) and from south (Fall River) to north (Lawrence).
  4. Design and create at least ten new BLOSSOMS lessons focused on the NGSS. A team comprised of science content and concept experts, including the members of the Working Team, will collaboratively make the selection of science topics for 10 new BLOSSOMS lessons. The new BLOSSOMS lessons will be created by selected Massachusetts STEM high school teachers and also by volunteering MIT faculty and students. It is likely that selected topics will be those found most difficult to teach in the new NGSS framework and yet so important to developing deep understanding of that field of study.

    While MIT faculty and graduate students may create some lessons, our intention is to have most of the new lessons designed and made by talented and motivated Massachusetts STEM high school teachers. We will encourage lessons made by teams of two or more teachers and/or by teams comprising teachers and STEM workers in Massachusetts companies. The announcements regarding this program will be made at the PD sessions and on the project’s web site. In the budget, provision is made for an honorarium ($1,000) for each teacher or teacher team that eventually creates a new BLOSSOMS lesson.

  5. Assess success by on-line questionnaires and face-to-face interviews. We plan to design and administer both an on-line survey questionnaire and to conduct a limited number of face-to-face interviews to assess satisfaction with the program and to learn from ‘customers’ how the program can be improved.
Richard Larson is the Mitsui Professor of Engineering Systems at MIT. He is also the Director of MIT LINC and the Principal Investigator of MIT BLOSSOMS.

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