About a month back I was attending a Title 1 elementary school’s, a school with high levels of poverty, STEM night. My club was doing STEM booths in conjunction with the school’s teachers. During that time, I took the time to go visit the school’s STEM activities in hopes of getting some ideas about how Title 1 elementary school teachers approached STEM. When I saw their activities, I was shocked.
One of the activities featured was a roller coaster building project in which students built roller coasters out of basic materials. Intrigued, I asked a teacher what principles they were incorporating into the activity. The teacher responded with “We’re building roller coasters and rolling marbles down them.” I then proceeded to ask if they were going to incorporate concepts like kinetic and potential energy in. The same teacher replied with “That’s something we might consider, and you probably know about that more than we do.”
There were two things that I gathered from this encounter. First, the concepts of potential and kinetic energy are key to understanding how to build a proper roller coaster. There are reasons why roller coasters have hills and this is all due the basic principles of energy. The teachers seemed to lack understanding of the concepts involved. The second thing I gathered was that these teachers seemed unprepared, merely hosting a STEM event to get students involved in activities that appeared to involve STEM principles. At one point I figured that these classes simply turned into a do it yourself class and the teachers pulled their activities from the internet.
This issue is prevalent across many schools and curriculums. Students are involved in activities that fundamentally should involve basic STEM principles, but are instead told to blindly use formulas or simply to believe that a phenomenon occurs just cause. Granted, sometimes the underlying concepts require some advance understanding of certain concepts like calculus, but a majority of the time teachers simply don’t take the time to thoroughly explain concepts, resulting in a gap in student understanding.
Take for instance my geometry class. Our class didn’t even go through the concepts of postulate and theorems which are basics to geometry. Students were simply told to write geometry proofs without understanding how theorems and postulates build upon one another. We simply accepted that the shortest distance between any two points was a line and that was a theorem. That isn’t true. In fact, the shortest distance between two points isn’t necessarily line (as Einstein proved with relativity) and is a postulate.
Forget teaching Java and blindly giving students formulas to use on tests. We need to thoroughly go through the process of all formulas, dervivations, and principles. By taking concepts at face value, students lose the basic understanding and principles of various STEM concepts, setting them to fail.