TED Conversations

Michael Martinell

Migrant/ESL Instructor, Watertown Public School

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Is STEM a lie? Should science, technology, engineering, and mathematics be taught in school?

A few days ago I asked a question of the community as I was seeking ideas into how to implement STEM into an English as a Second/New Language classroom. Most of the comments contained some good ideas and thoughts that I will be seeking to implement. A couple of the people who responded surprised me, as they contended that STEM should actually not be taught in school, or at least not in the manner that it currently is. I am interested to find out what others think regarding this issue.

The conversation that sparked this question is: http://www.ted.com/conversations/19495/what_are_your_ideas_to_inspire.html


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    Jul 16 2013: I believe it fundamental to the advancement of our species, and our inevitable integration with technology (such as prosthetics which are already being implemented) that we teach science, mathematics, and engineering (technology being a combination of these) to kids early on. This is so that children can be familiar with how the world really is, and not be oblivious to their surroundings.
    That being said, I do not approve of how these subjects are taught. In classrooms nowadays we teach kids that science is memorisation, mathematics is calculating, and engineering is following blueprints, all of which can be done by machines. Our purpose as humans should be to explore new ideas within these subjects, and leave the more base aspects to the machines designed for it (such as the calculator).
    While I understand that basic knowledge is necessary for the development of new ideas, I find that the joy of these subjects is being sucked out from them, leaving them as dry husks of their former selves.
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      Jul 16 2013: So how would you fix the approach so that it is relevant and interesting?
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        Jul 16 2013: Studying physics, I'm probably not the best contender to fix it (I'd asksomeone who studies education) but if I'm forced to answer here is my response.
        The teacher is important, I myself remember the difference between a teacher who properly knew the subject and was enthusiastic about it, always being excited when someone brought him complicated questions, rather than going "oh thats not really in the curriculum".
        The class room should also be structured around the student, not around the teacher. By this I mean that instead of the teacher sitting (or standing for that matter) and spewing out information at the students, the students should be encouraged to actively ask questions and figure things out from themselves. To start this process, one might ask students questions, and ask them why when they answer (regardless of whether their response is good or not).
        I believe praise is alway a key factor in making students interested in a subject, but be careful not to lay too much weight on one student, make them all feel important.
        Finally, no facts! By this I mean don't merely say that something is, explain the whole story behind it, with all the wrong turns and the eventual right solutions. If someone said "And this is the equation for the momentum of a ball p=mv which was found by Newton", I'd be pretty bored. If, however, someone said "alright so why does a ball slow down?" someone might answer friction, at this point say "well what if I told you momentum must be conserved?" (if momentum has been explained). Most students will be dumbfounded, and then somehow let them figure out that its actually giving momentum to the whole earth by gentle prodding.
        What I'm essentially trying to say is let the students figure things out for themselves, and begin to enjoy asking questions and finding answers, and by doing so you will make the students interested in the subject, and inevitably better at it, as they think more.

        This is my take on the problem, hope it helps.
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          Jul 17 2013: You seem to be on the right track. Constructivism, as you have described, is the best learning method. At least that is my opinion.

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