I’ve been a Science, Maths and Information Technology teacher, and Education Leader for years. Back before the turn of the century I was saddened by the steady demise of those subjects in schools. The overly rich curriculum being offered was crowding out the subjects that I love. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a rich curriculum per se but even research was showing an eminent shortfall of Scientists, Mathematicians, Engineers, Technicians and generally technological innovators. The problem was that the subjects responsible for enthusing and training the next crop of potential scientists and technologists were turning the kids off by the dray load.
Kids found more interest and stimulation in the rich wealth of other subjects on offer. Real world advancements, like computers, mobile phones, tablets and the internet were affecting the way kids observe the world and the way they learn. Heavens, TV in the late 20th century had changed education forever, and now there were multiple platforms accessing a plethora of knowledge on the internet.
Science and Maths teaching methodologies were generally old fashioned, stayed and based around text books. Hey, I was one those teachers delivering the droll versions of our beloved subjects. I knew little else. Inovators had to fight for funds in systems that generally didn't support such innovatiion. If an innovative methodlogy got traction, often the funds dried up well before great outcomes were achieved. Sure, there had been attempts in the late 20th century at teaching those subjects by investigation and discovery learning but in my mind the attempts were thin, wishy washy attempts with little systemic support. I also had a beef about the advent of Middle School across Australia. It seemed to me that scientific specializations were being watered down by being poorly included with social studies type subjects. At one school I taught at in the NT, Science, for example, was being ‘sosified’ as we called it. My wife was the laboratory assistant at the time and she tells the story that almost from the start of Middle School her job load was halved. Few, if any, ‘Science practicals’ were done by the Middle School students. The demise of those areas of the curriculum was in full swing and joyful engagement in scientific, mathematical and technological pursuits was heading to the bottom at a rate of knots. Governments and systems began to sit up and take notice.
The STEM acronym was introduced in 2001 by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF). In the early 2000s in the US, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics became increasingly integrated following the publication of several reports. Rising Above the Gathering Storm (2005), a report of the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, emphasized the links between prosperity, knowledge-intensive jobs dependent on science and technology, and continued innovation to address societal problems. Gradually the notion of STEM Education developed that linked educational outcomes to work force requirements. The light had come on! Other governments began to recognise that the idea of STEM could heal similar issues in their own countries.
So what is STEM? The acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. In education, STEM heralded a new era in educational practices. With recognition at the highest level of Educational systems the money and resources began to flow. Educational Innovators were now combining what were once independent and relatively droll subjects into challenging, cross discipline learning activities that opened learning to the kids natural curiosity. Give kids the knowledge, the resources and a good lead, and they will create something that you will be amazed at. The trick is to not undersell their innate curiosity and desire to learn about their surroundings. STEM teaches kids about problem solving; what resources they need, how to frame the right questions and how to solve those questions in a reliable way.
The Educational Resource market for STEM grew at a phenomenal rate with some great products, and quite a few mediocre ones. Robots and Electronic Kits became the in thing. Makeblock developed great learning resources around their Robot offerings and produce the best STEM Resources. Robots like the Makeblock Codey Rocky, and the mbot and mbot Ranger gave kids the chance to invent solutions to scenarios, and learn to code them as well.
It wasn’t just about building a kit to a pre-determined plan, these robots allowed kids to experiment with different solutions. The kits come with sensors to test surroundings, such as voice sensors, light sensors, IR sensors, temperature and just about anything else you can sense for. They have powerful motors, a CPU to process commands, and coding modules. So, they are not only for coding, a smart teacher can use them in Science, Social Studies, Language, Maths and so on. Gone is the boring tedium of problem set after problem set or question after question to ensure the kids know the concept. Now they can prove their mastery by designing real world solutions. The ultimate robot kit is now the Makeblock Ultimate 2.0 10-in-1 Robot kit. It has over 500 parts that kids can use to make pre-set designs (yes, 0 of them), but also offers huge scope to design a multitude of STEM solutions.
And then came drones! Drones have almost swamped our senses. You will find a news item about a Drone just about every second day. Just recently I read an article about drones delivering a transplant kidney, and another about mapping ice caves as a prelude to exploration on Mars. Drones are being used to track poachers of endangered species in Africa, as well as criminals in America. Sure, we hear about negative uses of drones as well but this author is pleased to note that if you look beyond the nightly news hype, that drones are being used for very positive outcomes. The Drone Age is upon us. We need to ensure that our education systems are preparing kids to work and play in the Drone Age. STEM education is the very vehicle for this. DJI manufacture 3 great drone models that are among the best STEM Resources and can be used in a variety of roles; DJI Ryze Tello, DJI Tello EDU and the themed DJI Tello Iron Man Edition. These drones can be coded to perform a variety of actions, but crikey, just teaching about drone flying and safety as well as privacy, and other moral issues around STEM, have great merit. Their use in the teaching of Science, Geography, Photography etc will be of great benefit to teachers and students alike.
STEM in all its guises has brought Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths Education out of the dark ages. Kids are really engaging again in the scientific pursuits and this can only augur well for our world as kids grow up with great knowledge and skills to meet the challenges of mankinds future.
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