eTech Ohio Highlight: Tackling Common Core with STEM

Posted by Matt Berringer on February 14, 2013

By SunGard K-12 Staff

CaptureDuring her eTech Ohio presentation, Maryann Wolowiec, president of IEL Educational Consulting, made the case that STEM is by its very nature aligned with Common Core principles. As evidence to support her premise, Wolowiec shared her experiences as project manager for the creation of the National Inventors Hall of Fame® … Center for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Learning.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame® is a public middle school in Akron, Ohio. Its vision is to “provide the highest quality education experience for students, which ensures creativity and inventive thinking through a focus on science, mathematics, and technology.” The school, which is housed in the former home of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, is not just for students who are gifted in the STEM disciplines. “The school is for all students of all abilities and really represents the demographics of Akron,” said Wolowiec.

At the school, learning begins with a real-world problem.

In problem-based learning, the curriculum is organized around a holistic problem, enabling student learning in relevant and connected ways. According to the Illinois Math and Science Academy Problem-Based Learning Network, problem-based learning “creates a learning environment in which teachers coach student thinking and guide student inquiry, facilitating learning toward deeper levels of understanding while entering the inquiry as a co-investigator.”

Along the path to a solution, students gather more than just knowledge and skills associated with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. They also gain the ability to problem solve, to engage in interdisciplinary thinking, to collaborate locally and globally, and to be creative and inventive thinkers with an entrepreneurial mindset.

This is consistent with the goals of Common Core standards, which according to the Common Core website, “are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”

Although problem-solving is a key component, Wolowiec cautions that STEM is more than PBL. “STEM is a system change,” she said. “It’s really about the whole child.”

In designing the curriculum, Wolowiec says that National Inventors Hall of Fame® educators start with the standards. “The first step is you have the team of teachers curriculum-map the whole year,” she said. Although the PBL units are usually developed around social studies issues or around science issues, the other disciplines leverage the problem to teach essential skills. “Language Arts loves the units, because they can build in so much reading,” emphasizes Wolowiec.

Educators at the school didn’t “force” everything to fit the same mold. “Instead of going out and picking a problem and trying to stuff all the standards into a problem, we work the other way,” she explains. “We [ask], ‘What is it that we need to the kids to be able to do? Who are our learners? What are their interests? Who are our community members, our partners?’”

The educators also supplement their problem-based unit with instructional materials that aligned with this philosophy and vision. “So when the students are not in a problem-based learning unit, they may be in a math unit that supports that kind of thinking using connected math,” explains Wolowiec. “We tried to find curricular development material that supports that kind of learning so that everything that is being done is reinforcing each other.”

Students who learn through this process are curious about the world and are not afraid to take on the problems they see using the knowledge they have. “We want students who are informed risk-takers,” she said. “We want students who are not afraid of failure, but who will fail and will try again.”

Topics: Common Core Standards, STEM