Monday, May 5, 2008

Economics of Teaching and STEM

Think Globally, Act Locally
I can't but to help read eSchool News articles such as "Summit: Save STEM or Watch America Fail" with a mixture of patriotism and worry.

I don't usually write about such global, and possibly political, issues. But after reading this article and hearing these undertones for quite some time, I felt compelled at least to explore an issue that isn't as abstract and far removed I think as many folks may think.

I like most Americans want our country to thrive. Thriving in our today's age, we must be successful on a global stage. To do this, it is pretty clear, we as a country need to to make science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) a funded national priority among other things.

I don't think technology is the answer to all of our issues in education. But I'm amazed that with what is available today and the power and resources it brings to our collective tables that we haven't found a way to make math, science, technology, and engineering come alive for more of our students. And that's despite having many, dynamic, caring teachers working with students in these subject areas.

Aside from technical tools, Project-Based Learning and Understanding by Design models give us a whole set of tools that connect STEM to life and the world. No longer do students need to memorize only facts from a book, answer them on a test, and then move onto to another unit without much reflection, collaboration, or imagination. PBL and UbD give us powerful platforms of learning that can contextualize STEM for a wide range of learners.

The million dollar questions (54 trillion if you read the article) are:
  • How do we make STEM a priority and effectively achieve our goals within it?
  • Why isn't STEM already a priority?
  • How do we translate a national economic priority to the classroom teachers?
  • Should we be looking to STEM 2.0?
  • How can Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) help connect teachers with "global" issues?
Part of the answer lies, I think, in an interesting observation: there is a missing link between our global economic education priorities and those of the classroom teacher. That is, priorities of folks at different levels of education don't always coincide. The needs of classroom teachers are likely to be completely different than the needs felt at more global levels.

From my limited experience there seems to be two primary economic drivers in education: taxes and earning potential. The amount of money spent on schooling is historically a hot button topic. Earning potential, the second driver, is seen as an individual benefit of learning. A third driver can be very obscure - that's the collective benefit of having students who not only have an interest but excel in STEM. This is the missing link discussed above. For me anyway, this seems to be the common ground what is discussed in economic terms and what goes on in our schools.
  • Do we classroom teachers spend time talking about the economic impact our instructional, curricular, and learning choices are having on our students, our regions, states, and country? Why don't we?
  • Should we be having that conversation at the teacher/grassroots level?
  • Do we need to be having that conversation at the teacher/grassroots level?
Sometimes I think policy is akin to not connecting learning to a student's life...there's no resonance. While there may be a great need seen by some, unless that need is truly understood and seen (contextualized even) chances are it may not stick. The policy may be mandated but not implemented. My past school culture post comes to mind discussing the differences between policy and culture.

I began this post with the popular environment slogan, "Think Globally, Act Locally". There's no doubt we are working hard locally. But in doing so, are we thinking globally? Maybe we need to adopt this mission or vision statement into our daily practice...maybe it's time we think about the economics of teaching. What do you think?

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