TEM From An “S” Guy
When I first saw the June STEM Tuesday June topic, Shining the Light on the TEM in STEM, I did a double take. Being a scientist, I felt left out. I threw stuff. I cursed. I ranted to my friendly Aeromonas bacterial cultures in the lab about feeling left out.
Fortunately, my cultures are good listeners and the wise bacteria kindly pointed out the fact that, if looked at from a neutral eye, the “S” in STEM actually does get a lion’s share of the STEM attention. I took this prokaryotic wisdom into consideration, returned the agar plate to the incubator, and went home to contemplate the need to shine a light specifically on the technology, engineering, and mathematics side of STEM.
It turns out that the science component of STEM does appear to hog the limelight and push the TEM to the shadows. The “T”, the “E’, and the “M” often get a bad rap. So I’ve changed my tune. Welcome to June, TEM! Glad to give you guys a moment in the electromagnetic energy waves of the solar spectrum.
But I also want to ask the TEM what we can do better to present and teach technology, engineering, and mathematics so they don’t seem quite so foreign to the majority of us. What can we do to make these things easier for young people to grasp? What can we do to help the young people who gravitate toward the TEM?
TEM Brain Muscle
TEM thinkers are often put into their own lane from the time they are young and kept there safely in that lane as they mature. Instead of expanding their knowledge base and widening their talents, TEM thinkers are often pigeon-holed to their specific skill set. Is this because they look at the world through the somewhat unique lenses of logic, design, and formula? Is there a certain level of trepidation for us to guide others down this TEM path when we ourselves are uncomfortable guiding them in those subjects?
What can we do to draw the non-TEM thinkers into at least an understanding of basic ideas and power of technology, engineering, and math? On the other hand, how can we develop TEM thinkers without slotting them down a narrow, pocket-protector lane in life?
Both TEM-phobics and TEM-philics need to be given problems to solve instead of shown the solutions. Allow them to develop their brain muscles and unique skills through problem-solving rather than simply giving them the names and uses of the tools in the toolbox. They need the space to try. They need the freedom to fail. They need an environment where mistakes are a step in the learning process and not an environment where the learning process is gauged solely by counting the mistakes.
I’ve been preaching for years that the scientific method is not a series of lifeless, formulated steps but is a full technicolor philosophy of problem-solving. It’s scientific storytelling! The scientific method is to problem-solving as plot and story structure is to a writer. It gives us a plan. It gives us a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Instead of looking at TEM as solely a conglomeration of code, circuits, calculations, and formulas, we should look at the code, circuits, calculations, and formulas as tools we use to tell a story.
Unfortunately, we often get caught up and confused by the tools instead of focusing on telling the problem-solving story. The story/solution is more important than the tools. For example, what’s more important when writing a simple program to calculate the slope of a line, the programming logic or the programming language? The language is the tool we can reference or find as needed, but the logic and the design are where the real magic lies.
Is it enough to only know that the Slope = (y2-y1) / (x2-x1) or can we be a better problem solver by understanding that the rise and run of the line numerically define the slope? By defining the slope in measurable terms, we define the characteristics of the line. Once we understand the characteristics of the line, we can use that knowledge to develop a ramp to help Mrs. Hays transport her gigantinormous suitcase of books easily up the school stairs and into her classroom each and every day. Now that’s a story!
Framing the TEM (and the “S”!) in terms of telling the story of the way something works or how a problem is solved can help young thinkers expand their STEM skills without getting tangled up in the sometimes confusing toolbox.
Novel engineering is a pretty cool concept I first learned about at the 2017 nErDcampKS. I wandered into this session with no idea what novel engineering was, and as a non-teacher, no idea of its power. The concept is surprisingly simple. The teachers use a text or a story and assign the students a problem to solve from the story. The students then work in groups or as individuals to analyze, design and build a solution to the problem. Makerspace rooms or areas in the schools can be set up to give the students the resources needed.
Linda Sue Park’s A LONG WALK TO WATER was a popular choice for middle school novel engineering projects. The teachers in the session talked about how the kids worked out solutions on how to find, carry and store water more effectively.
Another upper-elementary teacher gave the example of how she used the Rapunzel fairy tale in her classroom as a novel engineering project. The goal for the students was to design an alternative system for Rapunzel (a Barbie doll) to escape the four-foot tower built in the classroom without the aid of any knights in shining armor. This teacher said her students really got into the project and came up with great solutions, including an adventurous escape from the tower on a zip line.
Thinkers & Tinkerers
In the classroom, in the lab, or in the home, let young minds be thinkers and tinkerers. No matter what letter of the STEM acronym these young minds gravitate toward, they need the platform and the space to learn. Provide books and lessons and leadership to promote a maker environment for our STEM learners. Teach them to how to use the tools of code, structures, pathways, classifications, circuits, calculations, and formulas, to help them solve problems, not get trapped or intimidated by them.
The tools don’t solve problems, problem solvers do.
Thinkers and tinkerers rule!
Now back to work. Hopefully, those Aeromonas bacteria will allow me some of my own thinking space to work through the experimental problems I’m currently experiencing.
Have a great TEM month!
Mike Hays, STEMologist, Class I
The O.O.L.F Files
The Out Of Left Field files this month focus on the TEM of STEM. I have to admit, there’s some pretty cool stuff listed below to check out. Readers and teachers, if you have any interesting O.O.L.F. files links you’d like to share, please leave them in a comment below. The STEM Tuesday community appreciates it! We’re all in this together!
- Novel Engineering: An integrated approach to teaching Engineering and Literacy
- Makerspace for Education
- NOVA episode “Inside Einstein’s Mind”
- There are so many things to love about this episode of NOVA. The part that stuck with me, though, was Einstein’s thought experiments.
- Indigenous STEM
- American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s mission is to substantially increase the representation of American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, First Nations and other indigenous peoples of North America in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) studies and careers.
- I think this is pretty darn awesome!
- NASA engineering
- Hour of Code
- What a cool organization! And the Hour of Code apps and lessons are an open door for non-coders and coders alike.
- The Pythagorean Society
- The followers of Pythagoras are…how do we say this nicely? I’ll go with “interesting”.