Saint John Neumann Regional Academy teachers visit California for STEM education
Four STEM teachers — Bill Lundy, math and science; Nicole Bartholomew, social studies; Mike Flanagan, life science, biology, anatomy and physiology; and Kevin Nickolaus, chemistry, physics and physical science — from St. John Neumann Regional Academy, grades 6 through 12, went to California in January to continue learning about STEM education.
At the University of Notre Dame, these teachers are a part of the STEM Trustey Fellows program, a three-year program. Fellows learn about how to integrate Science, Technology, Engineering and Math into students’ education to create an overarching and rounded education.
The Center for STEM Education strives to improve STEM teaching by providing teachers with new tools and concepts to implement in the classroom, and they aim to create a high-quality STEM education and programs for students, according to the University of Notre Dame’s Center for STEM Education website, https://www.stemeducation.nd.edu/about.
STEM “is a focus on critical thinking, problem solving and collaborative problem solving,” said Bartholomew. “It should always encourage each student to see themselves as capable and to reach their individual heights.”
“Imagine writing or playing a symphony without an understanding of fractions; whole notes, quarter notes and eighth notes. Imagine George Lucas trying to film the original Star Wars without understanding depth of field, the rule of thirds or perspective,” said Flanagan. “STEM is everywhere.”
January was not the teachers’ first time at Notre Dame, as they had attended the program in July 2017 for two weeks.
According to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ Career Outlook in July 2016, “employment is projected to grow by about seven percent between 2016 and 2026,” said Lundy. Similarly, according to the World Economic Forum in May 2017, current sixth graders are going to have careers that do not exist yet.
“Preparing students for college is no longer enough,” said Lundy. “At Saint John Neumann Regional Academy, we are using STEM education and the routines and practices that we are developing at Notre Dame University to prepare our students for this future.”
These teachers are doing so by creating a hands-on learning environment.
They are integrating tools they have learned through the program; such as POE, “Predict, Observe, Explain,” where they start a lesson plan with a short video or activity to make kids think, “Why did that just happen,” or Blended Learning, where the teacher acts as a guide, not giving the students the answers, but allowing them to discover the answer, Flanagan said.
Through the program the teachers have created an Impact Plan, which is an action plan that determines what Saint John Neumann Regional Academy’s needs are, said Bartholomew. The teachers also have developed a “language toolbox.”
Other tools they have learned are the “puzzling phenomena” and “positive talk.”
“I wanted my students to be aware of more than just social media. I wanted them to become problem-solvers, to be able to think outside the box, to develop the new ideas that will be vital to the health and comfort of themselves and their offspring,” Flanagan said.
“I would say that the greatest benefit to the students with our approach is teaching them how to fail,” said Lundy. “We encourage them to make mistakes, to reflect on their mistakes and then work together to improve the outcome.”
By teaching them how to figure out what is right or important when looking at evidence, students are learning how to find answers, draw their own conclusions and express themselves clearly, Flanagan said.
“Teachers truly are lifelong learners. We never stop looking for better ways to reach our students,” said Flanagan. “Many of them are asking how they can incorporate STEM into their own classrooms, which is, after all, the goal of our program.”
The STEM teachers from St. John Neumann Regional Academy High School will be flying back to California this summer for two weeks to continue learning about STEM education.