Revamping STEM Education in California Schools

When the schools reopen this year in Tracy, California, the teachers will go in equipped with a completely new approach to STEM education in their classrooms.

As with most schools around the world, the ones in Tracy too had a system where “science, technology, engineering and maths” which make up STEM were taught separately. The new approach will integrate different disciplines.

These changes are being incorporated by the guidelines given in the NGSS ( Next Generation Science Standards). NGSS was released in its current form in April 2013.

Educators are hopeful that the new “hands-on” approach to science where students will need to use multi-disciplinary skills to complete projects will result in more girls and coloured students joining the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses. These programs offer college credit for high school students.

The funding for these activities comes from the Education Innovation and Research grant. The grant money of four million dollars (USD) from the U.S Department of Education will support this five-year project.

Coding for all

Data collected by the California Dept of Education shows that the Asian students, along with wealthy white students, do well in STEM subjects.

To remove this disparity, one initiative being taken by educators in Tracy is to make certain subjects, such as coding, compulsory for all. Earlier it was an elective subject.

“Coding is a core skill students will need to have,” says Bill Slotnik.

He is the executive director of a non-profit called Community Training and Assistance Centre that will be evaluating the five-year project. He says,

“In most districts coding is an elective, and it’s often dominated by males and high-income students. If you embed coding into the curriculum so all kids have access to it, you are now reaching females and males, students of colour, and not just white kids.”

Training the trainer

As part of the process to get the teachers ready for the new curriculum, they have completed engineering assignments themselves. One such interesting project was to raise a book above the table using paper and five centimetres of tape only. The teams all succeeded and displayed different approaches to design.

One of the concerns raised by teachers in implementing this model is the lack of time. To accommodate this issue, the new fifth grade lessons are scheduled to start five weeks after the start of the academic year.