I am a science teacher. I taught science exclusively for 21 years—from 1990 to 2011. Each September, I introduced a new crop of students to my classroom, my curriculum, the practice of cooperative team learning, and my focus on science process skills and the nature of science. During the first 2-3 weeks, I used a series of activities with each class before jumping into the first of four terrific science kits that comprised the year’s curriculum. I also shared several quotes or expressions that I repeated throughout the year and were supported by the science we did in class and the science activities I encouraged them to seek out and participate in outside of school. None of them were remarkable in any way. “Science is everywhere and in everything,” was one that I frequently referenced and sought to demonstrate throughout the year.
I found that I had to fight against students’ belief that science was just another class; that science was just a subject studied once a day at school; that science only happened during 5th Period or inside my classroom. I did my best to communicate and prove to 11 year old students that science concepts were basic, fundamental, and actually fairly easy to understand and master if they were approached in an engaging, strategic, properly scaffolded manner. This was the first time that students had the opportunity to experience science that was scheduled for every school day in a classroom that was dedicated solely to doing science.
You can read elsewhere on this blog about science instruction in Delaware and how elementary science in particular for the past decade has been given short shrift and relegated to any time left over in a schedule that has become totally focused on reading and math, reading and math, reading and math. Delaware has not been alone in this misguided attempt to bring up reading and math scores.
And, now, as Gomer Pyle famously said: “Surprise, surprise, surprise!” Folks around the country are throwing up their hands and shouting from the rooftops that STEM is the new, best pathway for education. Well, duh. Trust me, I am not surprised that in the 21st century, someone finally imagines that our students’ schooling should have a significant amount of time and energy focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—hence the acronym STEM. What may surprise many is that the Delaware state science curriculum, adopted by school districts across the state as their own, from kindergarten through grade 8, already incorporates a great deal of standards-based, nationally-renowned, developmentally appropriate STEM-focused, constructivist science. If only they would allow the teachers to teach it!
From the kindergarten kit on trees, to 1st grade’s study of solids and liquids, to 2nd grade Balancing & Weighing, to the 3rd grade kit on chemical tests, to the 4th grade kit that demonstrates the structure-function relationship of living things, to the 5th grade kit Motion & Design, to the 6th grade kit that exemplifies how scientists study human health, to the 7th grade kit on the Delaware River watershed, to 8th grade Forces & Motion, technology, engineering, and math are prominent and essential to instruction and learning.
In an article, Full STEAM ahead: Arts, STEM and 21st century learning, from the ASCD Smartbrief (an on-line compendium of recent publications), Doug Haller offers a justification of why STEM lessons should include the arts, a tip-of-the-hat to the notion that the acronym should be expanded to STEAM, a move intended to re-focus attention on the importance of the arts in education. [I only wish that somebody had raised a similar fuss when science and social studies were relegated to the backseat about ten years ago.]
What caught my attention was Haller’s suggestion that not only should the arts be part of future education—STEM or not-STEM—but, the arts should also incorporate STEM. Art and music classes should integrate science, technology, engineering, and math into their own curriculum and lesson planning.
Haller is right. It cuts both ways—art in science / science in art. Imagine for yourself the possibility of making explicit use of STEM in any art class or music class. The possibilities are endless. If you buy into my simple-minded statement that science is everywhere and in everything, then, there you go. It’s everywhere; it’s everywhere.