RE@L Guest Blogger Don Rawitsch Says We Need More Effective STEM In K12; Problem: "Tomorrow's STEM Careers Need New Curriculum Goals Now!" Here's How!

RE@L-logo_Corp_TM_New-Tag_8-15-17_CMYK-300x127RE@L is pleased to present RE@L VP Don Rawitsch and his insightful Guest Blog answer to a clear and better path for K12 students as they consider STEM Careers. There has been much discussion on the best way to approach this needed change.

Don-R2Don suggests flipping the Educational Levels from “Elementary School to Middle School to High School to College” to a Career and turn it upside-down for a more helpful answer.

Why? We must let our vocational goals in life determine the learning steps to make them happen.

Don’s Guest Blog makes great sense to us at RE@L. Read on for his ideas:

 “A Clear Path to STEM Careers.”

“Ten years ago, as the concept of STEM began surfacing in schools, it was not uncommon for school staff to respond something like this: “We offer courses in science and mathematics, and we make computer technology available to our students.  If we can add a little engineering to the curriculum, we’ll have a STEM program.”

As time progressed, educators came to realize that STEM was not just a collection of courses, but an approach that included not only content, but an understanding of concepts, skills, processes, and insights.  This got people thinking about STEM curriculum structures that overlaid the usual categorizations of courses and subjects.  If you like graphic depictions of conceptual models, just do a Google search on “STEM curriculum framework images.”  There are many to choose from! 

Global AllianceI personally favor models that include the important thought processes essential to STEM work. For example, in December, 2016, the Global STEM Alliance of the New York Academy of Sciences published its STEM Education Framework. (Click the graphic to the left for more extensive information).

Five essential skills highlighted in this framework are critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration.  While a school district mathematics program might specify certain topics for each school grade (e.g., 8th grade algebra, 9th grade geometry, etc.), the five essential skills can develop in every grade, with each skill becoming more sophisticated as the students get older.

Representatives of business and government have been claiming that the U.S. is facing a difficult issue in trying to develop enough people skilled in STEM content and methods to meet projected job demand.  How do we prepare these people?  

The right answer is a negative response: NOT by including in school curriculum STEM activities in a few selected grades.  Instead, we need new programs that build STEM interest and expertise during the entire educational process of their pre-career lives. See the table shown below:

DonChart

The focus of RE@L’s initial STEM Investigations product line is the middle school level, with an emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving, investigation skills, the integration of the four STEM fields, and communicating project results within the school and the community. (Click here for RE@L’s overview on STEM LearningProducts™).

For RE@L’s  STEM products to contribute maximum value to schools, they must be designed for a smooth transition from and to the surrounding educational levels.

What does that require of us?  For an answer that we know works, let’s turn the traditional table above upside down!

  • CAREERS: government agencies and industries should define their future career needs.
  • COLLEGES should offer coursework that fits those specific needs.
  • HIGH SCHOOLS should define what they expect in STEM skills background from their first-year students, providing guidance to middle school planning.
  • MIDDLE SCHOOLS should suggest helpful elementary school experiences that encourage student interest in STEM topics of all types.
  • ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS should present the experiences where vocational dreams begin with “I want to be….”

Not all students will develop a career interest in STEM work, but for those who do, we need a coordinated approach to the development of their perspective, knowledge, and skills.  More joint planning across the educational levels is clearly in order.  

A new set of Task Forces is in order again, as they were back when the “No Child Left Behind” clarion call was first released 40 years ago. Back then we learned a lot about what doesn’t work and what works only for a few. 

This we know: Far too many learners are still being left behind. What’s needed now is a new and better plan of what works for each learner, STEM learners included.

We at RE@L know that developers of educational STEM learning materials would be grateful for this new initiative! RE@L will be a first adopter!”

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In closing, RE@L adds: Both students and teachers will be grateful for this new answer! Thanks to Don Rawitsch for his experienced insights. 

RE@L stands ready, willing and able to join this new planning process.

Coming soon:

Our many, new RE@L STEM-based LearningProducts™ that “Leave No Learner Left Behind™” .

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, was his visionary response to educational reform needed in K-12 schools. Saturn was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom served as an experienced high school mathematics teacher, a school administrator at Saturn School and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. Tom is also a member of the RE@L Team ----- Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L, Inc and one of the founders of MECC, Inc - the Minnesota company that brought “Oregon Trail” and more than a hundred products to millions of K12 students across the world. His work in building new paths for MECC’s “consumer” market” was instrumental in the start of an Industry in K12 EdTECH: including school-markets, students, teachers and parents. RE@L Inc continues to serve K12 as a LearningProduct "launching pad" for schools, online learning and the rapidly growing STEM market as a whole.