Learning about the “T” in STEM

In the 2nd Newsletter – Academy of Aerospace and Engineering that I sent out by email this week to all of the academy’s parents and students, I mentioned how we are getting a variety of technology items to use in the classroom. In some previous posts, I had already described the HotSeat Chassis Edustation flight simulators and the UDI R/C 4-motor helicopters with cameras.

One more recent item is the Vernier LabQuest 2 handheld computers and sensors – the photo shows an anemometer, or windspeed gage:

Vernier LabQuest 2 handheld computer and anemometer
Vernier LabQuest 2 handheld computer and anemometer

Another new item is the Orion Observer 60mm diameter refractor telescopes, shown here:

Orion Observer 60mm refractor telescope
Orion Observer 60mm refractor telescope

What is the point of all this technology? How will the students and I use it? First, our academy is a STEM program, and the “T” in “STEM” stands for technology. The purpose of a STEM program is to integrate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics so that all of these subjects are covered in every class. Instead of the traditional sequestering of each subject with each taught and learned in isolation from the others, we will discuss and use topics, concepts, and skills from each class in every other class. Therefore, the students will use technology as an integral part of all their academy classes, just as math will be integrated into all of them, as will science and engineering. In other words, students will learn to use technology whenever and however they deem it to be appropriate. I will guide them to be comfortable using all of these items I have shown, and the students will have broad guidelines on how to use these items safely and appropriately. After that, they can choose to use any item at any time. This approach differs from a traditional approach where, for example, a teacher might set up a lab with all of the microscopes in place and tell the students exactly what to do, with little deviation or exploration allowed. This approach is appropriate if students rarely use an item of technology, and they need specific guidance. But in our STEM classroom, the students will become comfortable and skilled enough in the use of various technologies that they will eventually decide on what to use and how to use it, exploring various ways to use each item. I will just oversee their activities to ensure safety of the students and care of the equipment. The students will develop a lifelong skill to learn to use technology in innovative ways following their own ideas.

My next blog post will discuss our approach to learning math in the coming year. Have a great summer!

Author: Bryan Holmes, Physics & Math Teacher, STEM Competition Mentor

Starting at Thomaston High School in Thomaston, Connecticut, in fall of 2018.

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