6 Practical Tips To Foster Students’ STEM & Computer Science Skills

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You already know that preparing today’s youth for tomorrow’s workforce requires a focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—that is, STEM learning in school. But developing and implementing a strong STEM and computer science education program still poses a significant challenge for most institutions.

The key is to determine and align student needs with workforce demands, explains Jorge Valenzuela in his AudioSolutionz webinar, “The Intersection of STEM and Computer Science in Schools and the Workforce.” In the session, he outlines what good STEM pedagogy looks like in the classroom and introduces best practices for fast-tracking your efforts to upgrade students’ skills.

Focus on Computer Science

In 2013, President Obama implemented a 5-year strategic plan to improve STEM education and prepare students for tomorrow’s workforce. Obama also initiated Computer Science for All (CS for All) to equip kindergarteners to high schoolers with critical skills.

Computer science, in particular, is a rapidly growing segment of tomorrow’s workforce. What’s more, 91 percent of parents want their child to learn more computer science in the future, and 93 percent of parents  see computer science education as “a good use of resources at their child’s school,” reports a recent Gallop/Google study, Trends in the State of Computer Science in U.S. K-12 Schools.

Benefits: Computer science “helps nurture problem-solving skills, logic and creativity. By starting early, students will have a foundation for success in any 21st-century career path,” states Hour of Code.

Connect the Classroom to the Real World

So, yes, incorporating the core concepts of STEM and computer science into instruction will build analytic thinking and deeper learning. But what does that actually look like in the classroom?

Some common elements of a quality STEM program, according to Getting Smart, include:

  • Design-Focus: Use design tools and techniques to attack big problems or opportunity (challenge-based, problem-based learning).
  • Active Application: Apply knowledge and skills to real-world situations and construct solutions to meet specific challenges (maker, project-based learning).
  • Integration: Draw solutions from many fields—because real-world problems aren’t limited to a discipline.

Integrate Non-Tech-Reliant Learning, Too

You need more than just rubrics, though. Here are some practical tips to help you incorporate STEM and computer science learning at your school:

  1. Start early—and go outside. Don’t wait until high school to lay the STEM foundation. “It is never too early to start STEM education, and an ideal way to teach STEM is to go out into nature,” states Natural Start Alliance. That’s also an ideal place to start for young children. “Early childhood education should tap into children’s natural curiosity and give them ample opportunities to be active participants in their own learning.”
  2. Keep classrooms flexible. Abandon the concept of traditional classroom design. “A STEM classroom needs to be able to accommodate projects for science, technology, engineering, and math in addition to other subjects,” notes Stem Revolution. Practical tips: Use simple, lightweight furniture that’s easy to rearrange, stock up on portable white boards for easy collaboration, and provide ample storage containers for students to organize supplies and store projects, suggests Stem Revolution.
  3. Provide time to create. Complement STEM learning with activities that give students time to create, build, and make things. “When we are intentional about finding time to let kids make stuff, it leads to authentic engagement around STEM topics,” according to Getting Smart: This can occur during class hours or even after school, during school breaks, or at parent-student events.
  4. No technology, no problem. Not every school can afford a laptop for every student. The good news is that you can teach foundational computer skills without the computer! Resources: Get lesson plans and activities for tech-less learning from Unplugged lessons (Code.org) and CS Unplugged (University of Canterbury, NZ).
  5. Invest in your educators. Be sure you’re adequately preparing your team. “Shape a professional development program to tailor fit your teachers’ interests and challenge areas,” recommends Crescerance Inc. “For example, if you have teachers who are interested in robotics or coding, having subject matter experts come for a 2-hour training or holding a hands-on teaching workshop could be great ways to kickstart the excitement for the computer science program.”.

Bottom Line: Teach Students to be Creators

Finally, remember that there are numerous online resources you can tap to promote your efforts to improve computer science and STEM learning in school. For example, take a look at CS For All, Code To The Future, and CodeHS, all of which provide developmental resources for students and educators.

To prepare your students for their future, you must teach them to be designers (creators) instead of just end users (consumers) of technology, notes National Teacher Effectiveness Coach (NTEC) Jorge Valenzuela. That means teaching them the basics of programming and coding—because computing is a necessary skill in every field, he adds. Learn how to rise to this challenge by attending Valenzuela’s webinar “The Intersection of STEM and Computer Science in Schools and the Workforce.”

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