Q: I'm a high school math teacher who did three days of professional development to "prepare kids for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers." What a waste. The curriculum director droned on and showed videos. Are there programs where teachers can get hands-on experience in STEM jobs?
A: The STEM education movement asks teachers to get kids ready "to participate in a 21st-century workforce." Yet professional development rarely connects educators to people in STEM careers.
That's changing. Innovative partnerships are popping up that make it easier for teachers to connect with STEM professionals who can serve as classroom resources.
The Architectural Foundation of San Francisco created a program called "Designing Student Success." It offers teachers paid summer externships that place them side by side with working professionals in STEM businesses. AFSF Executive Director Alan Sandler says teachers go back to class eager to show students how STEM subjects are used in real-world projects.
"In our pilot, we learned that the model works well across disciplines and appeals to a wide range of teachers," says Sandler. "Teachers say that the experience changes how they organize classrooms and design lessons.
"For example, Common Core emphasizes the skill of collaboration. When teachers see how architects work in teams to solve a big design problem, they are better able to put collaboration in context for students."
Sandler is expanding the program to other cities.
Palm Beach County science teachers can apply for paid summer research internships at Scripps Florida (part of the nonprofit Scripps Research Institute, which conducts studies on biomedical science and technology, among other subjects), funded by the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust. They become part of a team conducting basic biomedical research under the supervision of a Scripps scientist.
Scripps Florida Education Outreach Director Deborah Leach-Scampavia says the program exposes teachers to laboratory procedures, provides insight into biomedical topics and forges ties to working scientists, who can assist with curriculum or become mentors.
"It's great to see each class of interns take their learning back to school to share with both peers and students," she says.
Bruce Capron, assistant superintendent of the Honeoye Falls-Lima Central School District in upstate New York, thinks that districts have an obligation to bring teachers together with STEM professionals.
"We have to find ways to hurdle the time and financial constraints," he says. "We're working in partnership with the Empire STEM Network to connect our teachers with area STEM professionals, ranging from health researchers and engineers to physicists, geologists and hydrologists. Through workshops, they work together to create rich lessons that are relevant to real-world problems." (Go to empirestem-fl.org for more information.)
Capron left a successful career in engineering to become a school administrator because he wanted to "help align schooling with the world students will find when they leave it."
While teachers can find many terrific STEM resources online, Capron says it's worth the time to set up these partnerships so educators can meet individuals with STEM skills in business and higher education.
"We owe it to teachers to open these doors," he says. "We've found that STEM professionals are eager to work with teachers and students. They want to share their enthusiasm and expertise."
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)