This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >


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With all the push for STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education, I think sometimes what we really want out of STEM education gets lost. STEM education came out of the need for more students in the fields of STEM. As scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, we want more students to find passions in these content areas and ultimately become leaders in the field. However, we can often get too focused on the content. We must remember that the pillar of STEM education isn’t just the content but also the mindsets behind it. 21st century skills are a critical component to STEM education. We want students who think critically, creatively, and collaboratively within the content areas of STEM. You can’t have one without the other. In fact, one of the critical mindsets that STEM education can foster is using failure as an opportunity to grow and learn.

Design Challenges
One of the key components of STEM education is design challenges. With these design challenges, students might work individually and in teams to solve problems ranging from robotic challenges to bridge designing to physics puzzles. By default, students will try out ideas that do not work completely. This is where great learning can occur. Because a STEM design challenge is set up with multiple opportunities to test ideas in a safe way, failure is viewed as an opportunity to learn. The design process takes time and therefore provides multiple opportunities to try and fail. In other academic environments, students often only get one shot at an assignment, which creates a fear of failure. With STEM design challenges, there is safety in failure.

Deeper Learning through Failure
When we “fail forward” we ask more questions—that is, we move forward and delve deeper into the inquiry process. For example, when students first design a bridge and it crashes to the ground due to weight issues, they will inevitably ask, “Why did this happen?” “How much weight did it hold?” “What new idea might I try out?” These questions require students to not just know that the idea wasn’t quite on track but also to understand why it wasn’t on track. These failures in STEM design challenges foster deeper learning through questioning. Students will then need to seek out further instructional resources from experts in the field, books and online readings, and their teacher. Failure fosters more learning; it doesn’t hinder it.

Failure in the Real World
We know that students learn more when they see how their learning connects to the real world. Often in STEM education, we partner with experts in the field to learn from them. Sometimes these experts aid in a design challenge or provide feedback and information on an assignment. For these STEM experts, failure is a natural part of their work. They are constantly failing and innovating. By working with STEM experts in the real world, our students can experience this type of failure and discover that it is just a natural part of both learning and life.

When we consider the components of the ASCD Whole Child Approach, we can see a clear and strong connection between STEM education and the safe, engaged, and challenged tenets. Students who recognize failure as an opportunity to learn experience a safe place to learn. They are engaged because failure opens up multiple paths and opportunities to learn in real-world contexts. And finally, they are challenged because STEM design challenges require complex thinking and problem solving.


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This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >

 


community-group
A public audience is a crucial component not only for a PBL project, but also for authentic and relevant learning. We know that the quality of student work increases when we have students share their work with an audience outside of the classroom. We also know that it can help keep students accountable in getting the work done. While it’s powerful to bring in the experts at the end of a unit or project, having them there along the way is helpful in providing authentic feedback. Of course, bringing an outside audience into your classroom can be a challenge — not to mention finding them first. Edutopia recently updated its Building Community Partnerships resource roundup, which includes some great videos, blogs, and ideas on how to connect with members of the community in different ways. Here are some further strategies you might consider.

Just Ask
I know it may seem simple, but just ask! Sometimes there is a strange fear associated with asking. Yes, it can be a little awkward to reach out and connect with someone outside of the classroom, but we need to be willing to take the risk. The worst answer you’ll get is, “No.” The best answer could be, “Sure, and let me bring in 20 of my colleagues!” You never know what the possibilities might be. In fact, many businesses and organizations require that their members spend time doing community service or even specifically volunteering in a school. Start early — the sooner you think you might need an audience, the sooner you should contact that potential audience member.

Ask Parents About Their Work and Lives
Parents are critical partners in learning, and they are also experts in their own right. One strategy I have employed is to send a quick survey home to parents asking them, “What do you do in your work or career?” and “What are some of your hobbies or other areas of expertise?” This gives me a list of parents that have at least two areas of expertise I can address. In fact, the more teachers in my building who ask, the more experts I have on my list. I encourage you to build a comprehensive list at the grade or school level. This list can be organized and curated by a teacher leader or even a parent community liaison.

Be Specific
Instead of asking parents or community members if they can come in on a certain day, be more specific. Tell parents and experts exactly what you would like them to do. Do you want them to provide feedback? Do you want them to ask questions to probe student thinking? Both? Either way, having very specific tasks and objectives for these community partners is crucial to making their connection not only more valuable, but also more meaningful. Provide a rubric or give them questions or prompts to drive feedback. Don’t forget to give them a context for the visit. Also, offer time slots to make it more possible for a visit to occur. It’s much easier to find an hour or two, rather than a full day. Instead of asking, “Can you come on Friday the 8th?” say, “I have six 30-minute time slots where I’d like to have students receive feedback. Are you available for any of these times?”

Use Technology
Technology can be used to make the walls of the classroom and school more permeable by way of virtual visits and meetings. Use message boards and blogs to get feedback as formative assessment from experts. Record videos from experts and from students, and exchange asynchronously if you are having trouble scheduling synchronous time. Skype is another tool that you can use to get experts into your classroom virtually. If you aren’t able to visit the expert or parent at their workplace, then consider a virtual field trip. Even with minimal technology, teachers can connect with people outside of the classroom.

Have Experts Ask Their Colleagues
In your request to experts and parents, ask them to ask their colleagues at work. When one teacher was looking for a subject matter expert to support a wing design project, he asked his colleagues and got around 20 volunteers. Parents and experts have amazing connections through their friends, spouses, relatives, and colleagues. If you try this, you could build a network of audience members that you never thought possible.

Now, I’m not saying that these strategies will bring every expert or parent that you ask into your classroom, but it can’t hurt to try. In fact, you should be excited even if you get just a few people to support your work. It’s generous of anyone to donate his or her time to support student learning.

What are some of your strategies to bring outside experts and parents into the classroom?


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