About a month back I was attending a Title 1 elementary school’s, a school with “high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families” (1), 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 households materials like aluminium foil and cardboard. From my observations, the activity seemed to focus on the building aspect of the roller coaster without tying in any scientific principles.
Without tying in concepts such as kinetic and potential energy, friction, and gravity, one cannot fully appreciate nor understand the concepts behind roller coasters. Rather, all they’ve built is something that looks cool and students subsequently will file away the experience since they didn’t attain that WOW moment from understanding the science behind it.
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 the curriculum simply doesn’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.