With the continued development of STEM and morphing of interpretations and implementations, there are a number of discussions worth sharing. These are showcased below.
@BhavneetSingh12 shared an article on social media asking for comments on What is STEM? Amongst the various comments Bruce Fuda (@Bruce1979) 2016 ICT Educator of the Year, and Nick Jackson (@largerama) had a very interesting discussion on the Digital Technologies curriculum, inter-disciplinary approaches and rigour:
Bruce – ‘given large parts of STEM have been neglected in most schools for the past 10 years or so, surely that’s a stark reminder of the need for genuine balance in an intentional, designed learning experience.
Putting an A in STEM doesn’t address neglect of the Arts, just like poor ICT across the curriculum initiatives never addressed true digital technologies subject matter.’
Nick – ‘curriculum…… i would rather have my students in deep thinking, engaging real world challenges then shoehorn map it back to the curriculum than be beholden. Curriculum can often be a barrier to the radical changes needed in education to provide contemporary skills and knowledge’
Bruce – ‘I get that, but at the same time we are accountable to a system that has set clear expectations on learning, and opting out can’t be the default position.
Lots of people like to talk “throw away the curriculum”, but the problem with that approach is that it ignores the realities of the system we work in. There are definitely flaws in our curriculum – no curriculum is ever perfect – but omission of an entire learning area is not an answer. That’s been the problem in the past, and is a contributing factor to some of the prescriptive elements in the current curriculum.
If you look at each of the learning area documents, you’ll see some are much better than others at providing a framework for more flexible approaches like to describe. It’s just a shame that not all of the subjects took the same approach. There are fundamental skills and ideas that can be nurtured through lots of different areas, and it is through smart implementation strategies (such as effective integration) that we can realise the intent of the curriculum.
I disagree with the statement about curriculum being fashionable – there is very little in any of the learning area curricula as published that I would say is either outside of the core learning of the disciplines covered, or hasn’t been a part of our established curriculum for years now. It’s the last part I have an issue with – there are things that probably need to be deprecated since there are new ways to explore these ideas, but it requires a more encompassing view of what is in the other learning areas and how they’ve evolved that some authors may have either neglected or were unable to consider due to the staged process of writing.’
Nick – ‘you know that I highly respect much of your work but I think to myself why isn’t quality digital tech edu the norm? Your comments on accountability I understand from the perspective of ensuring things happen in certain places which without it, they may not. It also serves as a guide of what to do, etc. Yet, this is a 2 edged sword as interpretations among educators about implementation, practice and what is mandatory or not are varied. Then there are issues of pre service teacher training, in service teacher training not to mention lack of investment. The biggest issue however, is the way much of education in Australia is actually doing little to advance Digital Tech. Some are completely ignoring it, some giving it lip service, some doing crappy compuda classes circa 1998 cos they think that’s what they should be doing….I could go on here. To my mind, we are in dire need of fundamental changes as to what our priorities are in edu as a whole and one of the areas requiring great change is an understanding and realignment of digital skills young people need to be taught. Most school leaders do not get this and perhaps pressures of being beholden to curriculum, NAPLAN etc, in the current edu system is part of the issue. There is far more needed than what is currently being done and the STEM agenda has been a licence for some to start to do things differently. It comes back to critical and creative thinking, problem solving and finding at the end of the day all encompassed in real world, Integrated environments. They are the basis for moving to a contemporary edu model that I believe is sustainable’
Bruce – ‘Completely agree with you that things are often done poorly. The thing is, the STEM agenda doesn’t solve that – the leaders that don’t get it and aren’t supporting their teachers aren’t going to suddenly change because of STEM (or anything else either).
I also agree that a significant shake-up is needed, which is why I get frustrated with a lot of these kinds of discussions. Attaching what I see as good, modern practice to an agenda or initiative dooms it to fail – it will only last as long as the initiative does. Instead, what we need is for a fundamental shift in thinking to drive the change, and that means acknowledging that good pedagogy is exactly that – good pedagogy. It doesn’t belong to any one off initiative or discipline or anything else – it is what schools and teachers should be doing regardless of what it is they are teaching.
As for interpretations of what something is or isn’t – that’s what our whole project at the ACA is about. We want to make sure the correct interpretation is understood – that the intention of the curriculum is known beyond what is printed in the curriculum document. Ultimately, this is what the role of the judiciary is in our legal system – they make sure that the intention of the law determines any outcome in common law, and we should be relying on the teachers with the expertise, knowledge and capability to clarify any uncertainty around interpretation. Unfortunately, political agendas often drive much of the interpretation – we all have our biases, and those often colour what it is we want something to mean. It’s unhealthy when this changes the intent, or worse, intentionally mis-represents what something is.
Which brings me back to STEM. It began as a term to capture the specific skills, knowledge and capabilities that graduates of science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees and careers possess. It isn’t about generic problem-solving – it is about the scientific approaches, the mathematical rigour, the technological decomposition skills… These are all part of being analytical, critical and creative, which are the more general capabilities and are represented throughout the Australian Curriculum (and learning in general). If, instead of getting caught up on what STEM means, we all just focus on what it means to be good educators and to instil in all students the skills and capabilities we need them to develop in the modern world, then that’s how we’ll truly #bethechange that we need in education.’
Nick – ‘totally agree on the gen capabilities and what makes a good educators. But we are seeing STEM being a springboard for doing things different around these parts. It is facilitating conversations and sharing of practice around those gen capabilities the likes of which were more hidden and for that I will ride this wave’
Bruce – ‘As long as it doesn’t cheapen the individual disciplines I’m fine with it. I just don’t want STEM to mean that we see some pedagogical improvements, but in doing so we completely destroy any rigour in our science, mathematics or technology curriculum offerings. We’ve had almost 20 years of a void in computing education which we’re going to be feeling for at least another decade (and we’re feeling it now), and the troubles we have with finding graduates in science and mathematics (and the populist political climate we’re in that includes allowing uninformed opinion to be given equal weight to scientific investigation and analysis) are evidence that we cannot neglect the fundamental knowledge or skills those disciplines provide to the learning experience’
Nick – ‘as I said before mate, that is something we have to work on and people like you are key in that. Rigour is a minefield in itself though as are the questions of the what students need to be equipped with, skills and knowledge wise for those curriculum elements you list. I am going to be completely honest with you and tell you that I sit on the non-rigour side of the fence (for want of a better phrase). Yet, I recognise the need to have the rigour people in the mix then we will more likely have both your demands and mine met. I like to think of things in this simple way, there is no point in having more engineers, scientists et al on HE courses or entering employment who have not benefitted from a rich gen capabilities education. However, at the same time there need to be opportunity for young people to be exposed to very specialist areas and have teaching in these at a high level’