Today’s students need to be prepared for technology and engineering jobs that don’t exist today. STEM education is awesome! It builds students’ problem-solving skills that will benefit them in any future STEM career (Click here for more information on STEM-based education). But… How do you choose a great middle school STEM curriculum? What should you look for? What should you avoid? Read on for tips below!
5 middle school STEM curriculum look-fors
1. The focus is on problem-solving
STEM Education is not simply doing activities related to math, science, engineering, and technology. STEM is using the engineering design process along with skills and knowledge related to math, science, and technology to solve problems. Quality STEM programs may focus on a more narrow discipline, such as computer science, robotics, or civil engineering, but the engineering design process should be the backbone of any middle school STEM curriculum.
2. Students encounter real-world problems
Middle school STEM programs should allow students to consider and solve real-world problems. You can plan fun engineering projects based on made-up or silly scenarios, but middle school students are fully capable of grasping and engaging in local and global issues. These authentic challenges give students more of a sense of purpose in their work. They also help move students from a competitive mindset to a cooperative mindset. If someone comes up with a great idea, it’s not a threat, because it helps move everyone forward in developing a solution to this real-life problem. A program that focuses on real-world problems gives students a more accurate understanding of STEM professions.
3. The work is student-centered
In any STEM program, the educator should act as a facilitator while students should do the heavy lifting. As they engage in problem-solving, students will learn so many other 21st-century skills, including critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. These important skills are transferable and benefit students throughout their academic careers and beyond.
4. The focus is on the process, not the product
Failure is an important part of the design process. Many, many, many times prototypes will not work as expected. This causes some students a lot of stress because they are used to receiving a grade on their final product in other courses. However, in a STEM course, students should be assessed on how they engaged in and documented the design process, not how their prototype performed during the presentation. All the learning and “engineering” is happening when they are brainstorming, researching, participating in cost-benefit analyses, testing, redesigning, etc.
5. There is no one right answer
As long as students are designing a solution that addresses the problem and considers the project criteria and constraints, then their answer is a good one. This is another area where students can struggle. Some students look to the teacher for step-by-step instructions on how to create the prototype. Others think that if someone else in the class creates a “good” prototype then they should change their own to match. It’s important for a middle school STEM curriculum to guide students to the understanding that there are many different ways to correctly solve a problem.
What do you think?
Are there other important look-fors you’d add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.