Thursday, August 4, 2016

What STEM professionals could do in my classroom and for my classmates and teachers

A high school student's perspective...

In high school, many students groan about having to take STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) classes and wonder when trigonometry will ever be useful in life. Sometimes it can be hard for students to get excited about these classes because they are often taught in a bland, abstract way without any context to how they may ever be applicable in the “real” world. This is where STEM professionals could step in. STEM professionals would add context and excitement to my STEM classes. These professionals could educate students about how what they are learning is useful and how much more exciting and relevant their studies are to real problems and understanding the world than the words written in their textbooks. Providing us with ideas of the endless and unimaginable contexts and discoveries that can be made using tools and knowledge we are only beginning to learn. STEM professionals could accomplish this by giving us interactive and engaging presentations about their jobs, explaining their research or their role in their company. Giving us students examples of different types of STEM careers could potentially inspire us to follow in their footsteps. Additionally, by STEM professionals incorporating a demonstration into their presentations they could excite and engage more of us. Interactive presentations are important because they can leave a more lasting impression than a typical lecture which is key to holding students interest in STEM programs.

Unfortunately, as exciting as it would be to have STEM professionals in classrooms it is far from a reality. So far in high school I have had one STEM professional come into my class. He was one of my peers’ parents that volunteered to come in. I don’t know if the limited number of STEM professionals in classrooms is due to the setup of school curriculums or the availability of these professionals to teachers or both. Obviously changing the school curriculum could be a difficult change to initiate. However, if curriculums could be designed to accommodate having guest facilitators it would be beneficial to the students. In addition to a curriculum change, creating a place where teachers and STEM professionals could communicate to set up presentations or collaborations would be very valuable for the students. If STEM professionals were easily accessible to teachers I believe that my teachers would be extremely interested in working with them. It can be hard for teachers to find STEM professionals that are willing to come in, and often times they don’t know where to start looking. I think, having a place to easily contact or be contacted by STEM professionals would help solve this problem for a lot of my teachers.

Similarly a more in-depth collaboration between teachers and STEM professionals would increase the impact of the professional’s presence in the classroom. A collaboration could mean many things. For instance, the professional and teacher could together design an activity, project, or experiment for the class to do over a given amount of time. They could help the class set up and come back periodically to check in and review. The activity could be centered around the STEM professionals’ line of work and could involve the types of equipment that they use in their job on a daily basis. This would allow students to dip their toe in the water of what STEM jobs are like and help kindle their interest in STEM careers. Furthermore, if STEM professionals could offer opportunities outside of the classroom for interested students it could allow us students to gain experience in the field and assess if the particular career could be right for them.

Students like me would value these interactions and partnerships to add more richness, depth and interest to my class rooms. I hope that programs like InsightSTEM's High School Scholars program, Insightful Teachers program, and projects in the area of Expert-Instructor-Learner-Communicator partnerships will have great impacts in this area.

To join InsightSTEM's High School Scholars program visit here:
To nominate (or self nominate) and Insightful Teacher visit here:

Nina O'Brien is a High School Student at the Catalina Foothills High School in Tucson, AZ; Nina is participating with InsightSTEM through the High School Scholars program and has a summer internship with InsightSTEM to work on the development of World STEM Exploration Week.

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