STEM at 276

It was Earth Day on Saturday. A bit of history.  Earth Day was “officially” started in 1970 as a way of bringing in disparate environmental groups that were active at the time.  The idea was to use this day (the same day as Arbor Day — a day dedicated to planting trees) for teach-ins and social action to defend the environment.  It seems appropriate, then, that the March for Science was scheduled for Earth Day this year.  Once again, we need teach-ins and organization for social action for science and the environment.  I marched (briefly) with the march that started at 72nd and CPW on Saturday.  Reading the different signs, looking around me at Central Park and the real estate of the NYC skyline, and thinking about a book I recently read about Henrietta Lacks (the HBO movie aired this weekend) and how her cancer cells have led to cures for cancer and other diseases, focused my thoughts on the importance of science in our daily lives. (I also realized I had not used the science behind weather forecasting and my iPhone to tell me to bring an umbrella.)  From medical cures to horticulture to skyscrapers and weather forecasting, science and technology are deeply integrated into our daily lives.

Last Friday morning, Rachel Lewis and I shared our school’s vision for STEM. (Here is the link to our slide show:  STEM at PS-IS 276 .) At 276 we want to make sure that our children are using technology to learn, think and act in informed and critical ways.  It is not enough that we teach the students to code because the code language we teach this year may be out-dated by next fall.  Instead, we need to use a variety of tools to help children learn to analyze, to break information and tasks down to their component parts, and then to design new solutions drawing upon multiple skills.  We want our students to be flexible, responsive thinkers and creators. The ISTE (International Society for Technology Education) standards refer to these outcomes as computational thinking, innovative designers, creative communicators and knowledge constructors.  These are the higher order skills we want to help our students develop.

But, these skills don’t all have to happen at a keyboard.  When our first graders build boats and birdhouses with Construction Kids and our third graders build windmills with milk cartons and styrofoam balls, they are analyzing component parts and designing innovative solutions.  The habits of mind these experiences nurture prepare our students for more complex (and hopefully more digital) creative endeavors down the road.  Best of all, these hands-on, minds-on higher order tasks are amazing entry points for universal access to our curriculum.

As we continue to refine our curriculum, our goal is to include more opportunities for students to build these types of skills. We will be integrating more technology use into our middle school math program next year.  Rachel Lewis, as the technology teacher, will be teaching our students more technology skills.  Classroom and specialist teachers who are continually building their own proficiencies in using coding and using various apps for creative tasks will join Rachel in building the creative skills we want all our students to have.