Yesterday, I had the honor of presenting my experiences this past summer working on the Fermilab Holometer as well as my perspectives on STEM education at the high school level at National Instruments. Since my contribution to the Holometer project used National Instruments products and my family was vacationing in Austin, Texas, I offered to visit and share my experiences. I was a bit surprised when I was also asked to share my perspectives on STEM education in high school.
My presentation about the Holometer was pretty much the same as the one I gave the Global Physics Department. (I’ve written several posts about the Holometer.) I added more technical details on the NI products involved and how the signal analysis was performed to better match the audience.
At first, I didn’t feel qualified to address National Instruments employees, who work for a company that are amazing supporters of STEM in K-12 with their efforts with FIRST and LEGO. As a result, I started my presentation with disclaimers:
- I do not have a master’s degree in STEM education
- I am not a STEM education expert
- I have not attended conferences and workshops in STEM education
- I have taught at a one high school for five years
However, once I sat down and started thinking about what I would share, I realized that I, like most physics teachers, am qualified to at least share my perspective because:
every morning I get up and try to inspire students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics by leveraging my experience as an engineer, an interviewer, a supervisor, and a teacher.
In my case, I specifically left National Instruments and software development to become a physics teacher to make some small contribution by inspiring students to pursue studies and careers in STEM-related fields.
I structured my presentation around three high-level themes which I elaborated with photos, videos, and stories:
Inspire Students with Experiences
I shared that few students are inspired because of something they only read or hear or see; they are inspired by their experience doing it. I shared the experiences of my FIRST Robotics Team, Science Olympiad Team, and Physics Club. Physics Club is an after school, student-driven, low-commitment group that allows all students opportunities to play, inquire, create, share, and explore. I shared our past experiences with near-space ballooning and the ping pong ball cannon. The second theme is:
Inspire Younger Students with Older Students
The main ideas for this theme are that students respond best to other students and students can loose interest in science during middle school. To address this, Physics Club and the FIRST Robotics Team perform outreach activities where younger students see projects done by the older students and build their own smaller-scale projects with the assistance of older students. The third theme is:
Inspire the other 98% in the Classroom
I was somewhat disappointed when I realized that all my efforts with FIRST Robotics, Science Olympiad, and Physics Club only involve 2% of the students at my school. I shared that this is a significant challenge but the most important theme. Many changes to a traditional classroom are required to inspire students about STEM:
- Change Perceptions
- Change Mindset
- Change Pedagogy
- Change Culture
I shared the importance of bring professionals into the classroom to share their experience and helping students appreciate that science is an active process done by real people. Despite significant local press about standards-based assessment and reporting, I shared how critical it is in my classrooms. I talked about Modeling Instruction, guided inquiry, project-based learning, and Project Lead the Way.
At the end, I felt compelled to take advantage of this opportunity to encourage those in attendance to help inspire students about STEM. I charged them to:
- Be Aware
- Promote Reform
- Provide Support
I was honestly surprised at the level of interest in my presentation based on the attendance and the number of positive comments afterward. So, for those of you like me who are career changers, if the opportunity presents itself, share your experiences as a teacher with your former colleagues. We may gain more allies in the challenges that we face everyday.