STEM project-based learning has been a hot topic of conversation among educators over the past decade, and has been widely implemented in schools across the United States. As STEM continues to be a focus of interdisciplinary studies, how is it changing professional development for teachers? What strategies are teachers using to effectively teach STEM curriculum?
Traditional vs. interdisciplinary STEM
Traditional curriculum focuses more on the silo effect, meaning that each area of study is independent and is not correlated with other curriculum. In contrast, interdisciplinary STEM curriculum integrates different areas of study into project-based learning that has real world applications. As project-based learning through STEM continues to develop, teachers are finding that PBL students exhibits better retention and skill development than students in silo-based traditional learning models.
How is STEM changing professional development for teachers?
Professional development with STEM curriculum is completely different from professional development for traditional classroom subjects, because STEM requires an integrated environment where teachers cover a wide range of academic concepts. It can be a paradigm shift for teachers who are used to traditional learning, as STEM curriculum means instructors have to embrace a variety of topics at once.
Researchers are finding that teachers who have more time to plan the integration of STEM and have advance access to the technology they will use in the classroom are able to more successfully implement the interdisciplinary curriculum.
STEM appears to be most effective when teachers are able to form professional learning communities in their local districts. Teachers are also more satisfied with their careers when they are able to collaborate with other teachers.
From the initial training through subsequent summer conferences and institutes, embracing a STEM-focused curriculum can have an impact on teachers' professional development in several different ways. And teachers learning how to implement STEM curriculum in the classroom don't have to go it alone, as many tools, learning communities, and ongoing educational programs are available to support them as they learn to help their students succeed in STEM.
Teachers guide the learning experience
The focus of STEM curriculum is active learning. Therefore, teachers guide the students learning experience to build problem solving and critical thinking skills. While teachers may initiate the learning process, it is the responsibility of the student to learn.
Instead of using a traditional lecture format, where the instructor disseminates information to the students, STEM places a strong emphasis on hands-on learning to help students see the real-world application of abstract concepts. This changes the focus of the learning and requires a different set of teaching skills from the teacher. Thus professional development in STEM is geared toward helping teachers develop the skills they need to guide students through their own exploration.
How teachers are effectively applying STEM
In districts and schools all over the country, classroom teachers are rising to the challenge of interdisciplinary STEM teaching. Through their STEM training, ongoing professional development, and connections with a supportive community of STEM educators, these teachers are learning to reframe lesson planning so they can guide the learning process, implement integrated learning concepts, and use technology effectively in the classroom. As a result, students are finding themselves at the center of learning and becoming actively involved in the classroom. It's clear that professional development for STEM teachers will continue to expand and deepen in the next decade, opening new learning strategies and rewarding teaching experiences for educators.