Ian Fogarty teaches Chemistry, Physics, and Science 12 at Riverview High School in New Brunswick, Canada. He is the two-time recipient of Minister’s Awards for Innovation in Education, the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Education, and the Canadian Association of Physicists’ High School Teacher Award. Follow him on Twitter @ifoggs.
The following is the first of two guest blog entries from Mr. Fogarty. Enjoy.
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Preston Middle School (Fort Collins, Colo.) recently hosted their 2nd annual STEM Educator Symposium, a week-long conference to reconsider what is possible in education. After delivering the opening keynote address, I stuck around and took part in the symposium. What I witnessed was nothing short of the conversion and revival of 16 educators as they worked, questioned, debated, argued, and dreamed about teaching and learning.
While many ideas were presented during the week, there were three common themes, which together result in students doing cool things and solving real-world problems:
- taking a leap of faith
- blurring the lines between subjects
- making bold requests
Intel’s Jon K. Price (@JonKPriceIntel) likes to use the wood duck as a metaphor for the work the symposium is doing in education and the leap of faith involved in teaching differently. Wood duck chicks hatch in a nest 50 feet off the ground, while the mother is out of the nest nearby, encouraging and coaxing the babies to jump. Landing might hurt a bit. Staying put seems safe, yet has deadly results.
A small group of educators from Preston Middle School are taking lessons from the wood duck and calling students, educators and whole communities to action: Educate differently, fearlessly. For the wood duck, what seemed like an impossible task soon becomes a distant memory; the same can be done with the way our students are educated.
But what does different education look like? Marc Watson of TEQ Games laments that our current system leaves engineering students unable to recognize something as basic as a gear box, let alone calculate the gear ratios. We have outsourced that knowledge to foreign counties as well as the attached jobs.
Yet another presenter advanced the idea that kids solving real problems is a crucial bit, and we all agree. Not a superficial, mass-produced problem, but a real honest-to-goodness problem with real consequences. In these types of situations, it is difficult to distinguish between math, sciences, humanities, and arts.
My own presentation on project-based learning is an example of solving real-world problems. Students work on the Xenotransplant Debate – a whole-class project in which the class is split into two groups to debate whether or not Canada should use pig organs to transplant into humans. In order to prepare for the debate, students not only have to figure out and understand the science behind the transplantations, but understand economic concerns, create promotional items, web design, etc.
In other words, there is no division between what is chemistry, physics, economics, public speaking, journalism, and civics. All of the subjects are necessary and blended together, just as they are in the real world. The arts are not an add-on, or a side thought, but just as in real life, they are absolutely critical portions of the solution to real problems.
Some wonder how the arts fit into a STEM school, but it is clear to see that at schools like Preston, the students have ample opportunity for language, art, history, geography, and music. Students solving real problems is a wonderful model for new education now that we have entered the 21st Century.
These real-world problems certainly will require skills that schools are accustomed to teaching, but will also have unique requirements that could not possibly be expected within the school. This takes courage on the part of educators, to become learners with the students… and to reach out to the local, national, and even international communities.
Teachers like Tracey Winey and Amy Schmer exemplify that this type of risk-taking is necessary for real problems to be solved. Their Preston middle school classes were motivated to learn about 3D printing, but there was no teacher, local expert or text book for such a thing. Tracey and Amy each became a learner with their students. They sought out resources and invited experts. Presidents of two 3D companies personally mentored the classes, and one even made a personal visit to their school to see the students in action.
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Ask yourself: Is your school reaching out to the surrounding community to bring authentic learning opportunities to your students? Are you blurring the lines between subjects, or are you teaching math, science, and the arts in their own isolated silos?