So, I know that I promised a follow-up on thoughts on STEM and I'll get there. But, I really need to reflect on and digest all that I heard today at the California STEM Includes conference. It was sort of a last minute invitation to myself and many of my TOSA colleagues, but boy am I thankful that many of us were able to attend.
Here are three takeaways from sessions and conversations today:
- The power of mentoring cannot be underestimated. Our opening keynote speaker, Dr. Sylvia Hurtado, shared research data to support what we know informally to be true: having a mentor significantly increases the likelihood that students will complete a STEM degree and remain in the field past 10 years. This was echoed over and over again in different breakout sessions and follow-up conversations. So, the question becomes, how can we in the K-16 world partner with business, industry, and higher education to provide these mentorship opportunities. The good news is that brilliant people, like Ben Alemu from SENDforC, are doing some pioneering work in this field.
- It's okay to look backward and forward, but don't forget to first look inward. My wise colleague Jenner Rasic from PYLUSD pointed out that as a system, we look backward to often place blame for our students being ill-prepared. And we look forward to justify our practices as "preparing students for the next level". But, we don't often times look inward to understand our role in the system. We have a responsibility to the children (or adults) in our classrooms right now: to provide them with rich, rigorous, and relevant learning opportunities. Until we stop trying to put the blame on someone else, we'll not make the progress we could otherwise. We have to own it.
- Access to high-quality STEM education is a serious equity issue. This is something that has become increasingly apparent to me in my work as a Teacher on Special Assignment or TOSA. In conversations with teachers all over, I'm often times told that there's just not time for science or STEM because students need dedicated ELD time or RtI time or ____ [insert name of genuinely valuable program here]. And our students do need those support programs. But how do we balance meeting those needs with ensuring that they have the STEM skills they'll need to attend a 2- or 4-year college down the road so that they are better prepared to enter the workforce? The data shared by Marco Molinaro this morning shows that the gap between underrepresented minorities (URM) and non-URM students is persistent and possibly growing. At least within the K-12 world, maybe it's time (I'd say past time) to pay closer attention to work that breaks down the barriers between isolated programs or silo'd disciplines. We have to recognize, for example, that science is a literacy-intensive discipline and that the research suggests that science instruction is a significant lever for language development (See: The Education Trust). And that's just the teeniest of pieces of the puzzle.
Today's conference was a great reminder at how complex the STEM education system really is. Only by having all of the stakeholders at the table can we begin to work together to change how the system components interact in order to take our inputs - our students - and produce our desired output - a STEM-literate citizenry and a STEM-ready workforce. Events like this are a step in the right direction! My head is already swimming from today, so I can't wait to see what's in store for tomorrow!