Next Gen Navigator
By Andy de Serière
Posted on 2020-09-24
Launching a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) program by yourself is hard work! You get some training, buy supplies, and rely mostly on yourself to build it! That’s how I started.
In 2012, I was among the first teachers to join our middle school project-based STEM program. Eight years later, we’ve expanded our program from 65 to 650 students per year, and we offer afterschool programs as well!
Reflecting on this journey, I realize building a community toward a STEM ecosystem is crucial! So many resources are available outside your school walls: parents, local businesses, other schools in your district, universities, former students, STEM professionals, and philanthropic groups. Once you adopt the “create an ecosystem” mindset, many people and organizations will want to help; your top challenge is channeling the support.
Five years ago, I was able to help our community take a big step toward this goal by becoming a member of the Northrop Grumman Foundation Teachers Academy. This professional learning program was established to build middle school teachers’ confidence and pedagogy too-kit for teaching science, engineering, math, and technology, while increasing their understanding of workforce skills needed to succeed in STEM careers. This was a game changer! One program component of the Academy connects teachers to STEM industry experts through an immersive externship at a local Northrop Grumman facility, where participants are partnered with an engineer/technologist to observe and experience critical workforce skills in action.
I had the privilege of working with three teachers, Tracy Tegtmeier, Zobeida Merlos, and Rebecca Allen, who were in the Academy from nearby school districts. Following a tour of the Northrop Grumman FAB (Fabrication)Lab makerspace, we left inspired to model this industry practice so students could get firsthand experience of how engineers collaborate to innovate and solve challenges. Since 2016, my colleagues and I have held Saturday “South Bay Engineering Hackathons” attended by more than 1,000 participants. Our group decided we would have the greatest impact if we all took turns hosting different themed engineering hackathons at each of our schools and invited more school districts to join us. These engineering hackathons were a success, and we began sharing our experiences at state and national conferences.
Thus energized, we devised more strategies to grow our community that may also work for your STEM community:
Consider any STEM professional a potentially invaluable resource.
Create student competitions that don’t require prior experience in engineering.
Ask for what you need.
Seek volunteers from the school community and delegate.
Build relationships with organizations that want to support STEM education.
So step outside your classroom to help create STEM opportunities for your students! It’s challenging, but you can build an incredible ecosystem full of innovation, creativity, and real-world STEM connections. Your greatest reward could be the human connections you will make through building community.
My Resource List of Ecosystem Partners
Andy de Serière is a STEM teacher at Richard Henry Dana Middle School and district Project Lead The Way coordinator for the Wiseburn Unified School District in El Segundo, California. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: This article is featured in the September 2020 issue of Next Gen Navigator, a monthly e-newsletter from NSTA delivering information, insights, resources, and professional learning opportunities for science educators by science educators on the Next Generation Science Standards and three-dimensional instruction. Click here to sign up to receive the Navigator every month.
The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.