Early STEM Program Still Going Strong
With the onset of the great recession and a skyrocketing unemployment rate, improving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) achievement has everyone’s attention. But it’s not a new problem, according to Reagan Flowers, the founder of one of the country’s first STEM programs.
For nearly 10 years, her organization, C-STEM (the C stands for communication) has been helping engage at-risk students in math, science, and English—long before many corporations began donating money to organizations like hers.
“Being an early innovator, a front-runner—we haven’t benefited so much in terms of the funding,” Flowers says. “When I started there was no research, I couldn’t find anything to back up my thinking. I almost doubted it in a sense.”
Art education is important in the development of creativity within children and serves as an outlet for student expression. When school budgets are cut, art programs are traditionally the first to be eliminated. All of the talk about STEM has over shadowed the decline of art education programs in P-12 schools. We believe the integration of art into STEM education is a viable solution.
Many of our schools face challenges in creating and sustaining quality learning experiences for all children. The key to getting it right is for schools to be flexible, open to collaborative partnerships, and having a willingness to re-invent themselves. Simply said, there is no one-size-fit all solution; the development of the right brain is just as important as the development of the left brain.
In 2007, Reginald Adams, the founder of MOCAH (Museum of Cultural Arts Houston), introduced CSTEM to, “Sacred Geometry – the geometric natural patterns, designs and structures in all forms of life.” Mr. Adams then introduced our organization to Bob Powell, who facilitated a series of math sessions with me and Steve Gomez, a robotics engineer and volunteer from Schlumberger. During these math sessions he shared with us the techniques he used to assist the world renowned artist, the late Dr. John Biggers’, with understanding the mathematics behind his artistry. The result of our “Sacred Geometry” sessions led to the development of math lessons that we currently use to teach students how to develop and use geometric shapes to create art masterpieces.
Integrating art into our curriculum has enabled us to provide thousands of students with little exposure to art education the opportunity to explore, discover, and express themselves creatively. We use painting and sculpting to help students understand math and science. As a result, we have observed students develop a love for math and science through their art experiences.
The CSTEM motto, “Everyone is an Artist and an Engineer,” is an attitude and skill that I believe everyone has and applies to some aspect of daily life, work, or a hobby. The principles used in art and engineering allow people to apply knowledge towards creative problem-solving. Through STEM education, CSTEM is keeping art alive in our P-12 schools. It is important that we restore the educational balance for our children. CSTEM + Art = Future Innovations.
The “No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act” of 2001 was created to implement standardized tests to measure student success and teacher performance (accountability). Ten years later, the education system is still experiencing educational disparities due to the lack of well-prepared and qualified teachers in critical areas such as math, science and literacy. American students will continue to lack skills to compete in a global market regardless of demographic and racial backgrounds without the proper resources mentioned.
Why Disparities Continue with NCLB:
The provisions of NCLB did not promote innovation or high expectations nor did it encourage the development of 21st century skills in public schools. NCLB has further created a national obsession with standardized tests that do not measure depth, application, nor provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned. Education acts, such as NCLB, that lack adequate funding to all states and school districts and shared responsibility of parents, communities, educators, and policymakers, do not provide all children an opportunity for a great public school education. The pitfall of NCLB is that it was neither specifically designed to close the achievement gap nor increase student achievement. Rather, it simply set an achievement benchmark and passed it on as a federal mandate for all public schools to achieve.
NCLB Overlooked Significant Factors to Creating Effective Educational Programs:
To ensure that educational programs are effective in increasing student achievement, educational leaders must be held accountable to create programs guided by a concise understanding of the school community and socio-cultural dynamics; particularly, within schools serving greater numbers of low income and minority populations. Program administrators and developers of educational offerings should create procedures that ensure programs are implemented as they are designed, with built-in accommodations to support and supplement broken and absent systems. Leaders in education should understand that what works in one community will not necessarily work in another and there is no one size fits all solution to creating effective educational programs. The reality is that successful education programs accommodate systemic needs of the school community, for example:
To create effective educational programs that focus on the development of teacher content knowledge, teacher training should be accompanied with supporting workshops, adequate in-class tools and resources, instructional observations, and product evaluation (i.e. student-created product(s), presentation(s), and exams.) The aforementioned holistic approach allows educators to truly gauge area(s) where children are gifted to help students visualize academic success, and holds teachers accountable for results-oriented implementation at an acceptable level. The end result being, the educational program is more likely to be effective in closing the achievement gap and increasing student achievement.
Creating effective educational programs becomes more challenging in schools serving high percentages of low-income students as they usually do not have the financial support of a PTO/PTA or community businesses. Ensuring program implementation is effective requires integrating fund-raising activities and mentors. This extra step accounts for the inadequate social-emotional and economic support at home or the lack of exposure to opportunities beyond their immediate environment.
The nation continues to respond to the education crisis by amending previous federal mandates, such as the reauthorization of NCLB to the America Competes Act, to meet our current education needs. With every revision, government and federally aligned organizations continue to implement the same systems within the same structures. Appointed officials and organization leaders, who failed the first time, are given an opportunity to re-invent themselves; yet, they choose to continue to work within the same structure. As a result, we continue to get more of the same; an ever-widening achievement gap, disparities in education, and the potential of a lost generation of children unable to compete academically on a global stage. The government structures and federally funded organizations created to carry out education agendas, in large part, are not designed to engage at the school level or with grassroots organizations that have a pulse on what yields proven results in addressing the needs of their school and community. For a moment, just consider the numerous effective programs we have watched go unfunded and under supported while new programs are adopted, yet prove ineffective once they have run their course. It causes you to wonder, are we really committed to delivering a quality education to all children or are we simply searching for the next new thing?
How to Create Educational Effectiveness:
Educational effectiveness begins with good leadership at the school level with administrators and teachers. For teachers to be effective and innovative in their profession, they need the support of principals to create a school culture that provides an instructional balance between implementing federal education mandates and state-approved curriculum. Achieving success in the classroom requires adequate teacher training using proven professional development models coupled with the right resources; this translates into practical learning exercises that foster depth, rigor, and relevance, contributing to the overall success of students. Other areas that support creating educational effectiveness include opening lines of communication at all levels, testing, teacher mentoring models, budgeting priorities, alignment of student achievement initiatives, policy makers, and with teacher accountability systems. Lastly, for this to have its desired effects, we must shift the focus to the students and how we best educate them, based on how they learn. We must customize the educational experience to the needs of the children, and that approach must include hands-on and project-based learning.
The CSTEM Project GRAD Summer Camp 2011 was a complete success! The students were excited to showcase their completed work from the Robotics, Green (Eco-Friendly), Creative Writing and Art classes.[slideshow]
Yesterday, some of the CSTEM Project GRAD summer camp students joined Deborah Duncan on KHOU Great Day Houston. The episode featured a discussion about the increasing number of technology innovators. A group of our students attended the taping and camp participant, Sergio Cruz showed spectators a new use of the smart phone as a remote control. Sergio is going to use this robot for a robot soccer competition in the CSTEM Project GRAD 2011 Summer Camp Expo. The Expo will exhibit the projects the students have been working on in their classes. On Friday, June 30, the students will showcase their green (eco-friendly), robotics, creative writing and art projects.
Program gives students career options
by Elahe Izadi
Seventh-grader Elvis Jimenez of Riverdale said he never really thought much about sea turtles, but since January, he has voluntarily been spending time during and after school shooting and producing video segments about saving the aquatic reptiles.
“I care about it now, because we have a chance to save these animals that are going extinct,” he said.
Jimenez, 12, is one of 26 students at William Wirt Middle School in Riverdale participating in a nationwide competition with math, art and science challenges, organized and partially funded by the Houston-based nonprofit Communication, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or CSTEM. (more…)
Innovative Thinking Leads to Innovative Actions, which result in creative solutions that otherwise might not have derived from a preplanned strategy in a binder on your shelf, or a folder in your computer.
By Reagan Flowers, PhD
CSTEM subscribes to the notion that students must learn how to think critically and creatively, just as much as they need to learn math and science. One solution to reducing the dropout rate, developing competitive STEM students, and increasing the number of students, particularly minority and female students engaged in the pursuit of knowledge in math and science is creating more classrooms that thrive on real-world learning experiences that support applied knowledge, skills, research, and discovery. Schools must subscribe to learning environments that teach students how to approach problems from multiple perspectives, combining various approaches to developing innovative solutions. Similar to how CSTEM is working to assist Pre K-12 schools with transforming STEM classrooms and learning environments, Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Management is doing the same but with students in the business school. (more…)