A Focus on STEM Education

A Response to Pros and Cons of STEM Initiatives for Gifted Learners

As I read the “Pros and Cons of STEM Initiatives for Gifted Learners” by Dr. Stephen T. Schroth which appeared in the NAGC Insider on March 6, 2018, I was reminded that one’s perspective is often based upon individual experiences. The author posited that STEM educational initiatives often come at the expense of instructional time for other disciplines. However, in my 30 years in education I have been a strong proponent of STEM education, science education in particular, and observed the opposite. This article provides a counter perspective to Schroth’s 2018 article.

As a high school science teacher for 14 years and a gifted education teacher (K-8) for 6 years, I experienced where science fell in the school discipline food chain. Additionally, I entered higher education as a curriculum coach for a USDOE grant-funded project where I worked with elementary teachers on a STEM initiative. Through these experiences in classrooms, I found that science was rarely taught in elementary schools and when it was taught, it was often through reading about science as opposed to actually doing science. This finding is supported throughout the professional literature, with empirical understanding that elementary school administrators demand more classroom time devoted to English-Language Arts than other disciplines as depicted in Figure 1 (Brand & Moore, 2011; Buczynski & Hansen, 2010).

The author also commented that STEM initiatives may eliminate creative and critical thinking skills, however; quality STEM programs focus on developing these thinking skills through various instructional models such as problem or project-based learning (PBL), engineering design and “maker” pedagogy, and inquiry-focused learning. When students have the opportunity to experience STEM initiatives it is often through active learning curricula designed for them to apply creative and critical thinking processes while engaging in solving real-world and authentic problems. Through collaborative groups, students critically think through problems and use creative thinking to develop innovative solutions. However, because of time constraints and limited focus on science, educational programs that allow students to become immersed in authentic STEM problem-solving are limited.

A reality of modern education is the segregation of individual disciplines. Subjects are often taught in “silos” as opposed to an integrated approach to learning. When students are faced with challenges in the real-world, they will not solve a problem using only content and skills from their social studies classes. Instead, they should be able to draw upon knowledge and skills across disciplines to form a solution. As John Dewey said…

              One trouble is that the subject-matter in question was learned in isolation; it was put, as it were, in a water-tight compartment. When the question is asked, then, what has become of it, where has it gone to, the right answer is that it is still there in the special compartment in which it was originally stowed away. If exactly the same conditions recurred as those under which it was acquired, it would also recur and be available. But it was segregated when it was acquired and hence is so disconnected from the rest of experience that it is not available under the actual conditions of life. It is contrary to the laws of experience that learning of this kind, no matter how thoroughly engrained at the time, should give genuine preparation. (Dewey, 1938/1997, p. 48)

With Dewey’s words in mind, educators can create and deliver curriculum for gifted students that addresses multiple content areas through authentic problem solving using creative and critical thinking skills, collaborative learning, student-centered learning, and in-depth content.  With this type of curriculum, students will be better prepared to face the many challenges that they will experience outside of school and be able to view the disciplines as a connected web of understanding the world instead of a disconnected hierarchy of discipline-specific knowledge and skills as depicted in Figure 2.

 

ELA

Mathematics

Social Studies

Science

Art           Music

PE

Foreign Language

Other

Figure 1: Hierarchy of Disciplines in School Curriculum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 2: Web of Disciplines in School Curriculum

 

Debbie Dailey is an assistant professor of teaching and learning at the University of Central Arkansas. Dr. Dailey has also been a curriculum coordinator, Peer Coach for the Javits-funded STEM Starters, and a high school science teacher.  She is the current STEM Network chair-elect.


References

Brand, B. R., & Moore, S. J. (2011). Enhancing teachers’ application of inquiry-based strategies using a constructivist sociocultural professional development model. International Journal of Science Education, 33, 889-993. doi: 10.1080/09500691003739374
Buczynski, S., & Hansen, C. B. (2010). Impact of professional development on teacher practice: Uncovering connections. Teacher and Teacher Education, 26, 599-607. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2009.09.006
Dewey J. (1938/1997). Experience and education. New York: Kappa Delta Pi/Touchstone.
Schroth, S. T. (2018, March 6). Pros and cons of STEM initiatives for gifted learners. NAGC Insider. Retrieved from http://www.nagc.org/pros-and-cons-stem-initiatives-gifted-learners