This article is based on the CoderZ podcast, EdTech MixTape and has been edited for clarity
STEM can seem like such a big challenge for teachers and school leaders alike. We all want students engaged in meaningful, hands-on learning. But where do we begin? Start with Daily STEM.
We sat down with teacher, writer, and STEM resources provider extraordinaire Chris Woods of Daily STEM for some practical, logical, and easy steps teachers can and should take to bring STEM to life. Chris finds STEM in everyday life and is dedicated to leading teachers through building a “culture of STEM” in their school or classroom and bringing relevant learning to life.
Tell us Your Teacher Story
I love sharing my stories, my ideas and because we all learn from each other. And I guess part of my story comes from why I decided to start daily stem and, and do all these different things with podcasts and books and, and these kinds of different things that provide resources is really all because I wanted to help other educators out there. I knew what it was like to be that educator trying to figure things out trying to, to start making things relevant to my classroom for my kids.
I’m a high school math teacher and as you know, any math teacher always here’s the question, when are we ever going to use this stuff anyway. So I’ve always tried to as an educator for 20 plus years, help kids see the real, the relevant, how we actually use that math, outside the classroom walls, how it connects to their careers, and those kinds of things.
So actually, I didn’t start out to be an educator. I was going to be an engineer, and quickly realized that you know, as fun as that is, and all the problem solving and iteration process that goes into that. But after that, I knew was meant to work with kids. I helped at a summer camp one summer in college, it was like working with kids was awesome. And I think every educator feels that way.
Ashlynn, I’m sure you felt the same way, as a teacher yourself. So you know, you just start creating STEM resources to make things better for your kids. And then you just kind of wake up years later and realize, Wow, what an incredible journey I’ve been on. And I can’t wait to see where it continues to go.
Shifting Course MidSTrEaM
I was in my third year of college. And so and of course, being on a four-year scholarship I was gonna try to cram everything in so that I can finish everything up. But it worked out well because, with all of those engineering courses, I had tons of math and tons of science already. So it was easy to take all those courses, switch them over to a math major. And, you know, they squeeze in all those education courses as well do the student teaching. The final education course I took because it finally fit my schedule was the intro to education course.
So, you know, that’s sometimes how it is for us educators, we just kind of got to do what we got to do we make things work. And I’m so glad I did it. I mean, it’s just an incredible opportunity. And I think every educator realizes this, but coming from that engineering background, you know, I started to see that there were all these connections to those jobs, those careers, and sometimes us as educators, you know, we get in our little bubbles in education and, and those are the only types of jobs we think of or just those typical jobs of, you know, doctor, lawyer, nurse, you know, engineer. But kids need to see the amazing variety of those jobs and careers. It’s not just the jobs of the future in STEM, everybody. The jobs are there right now being created, and our kids are going to create even cooler jobs someday.
I teach at a brand new Spanish English dual language school with a small staff. And so right now, we only have two math teachers. But as we build up, we continue to add more teachers and think about how do we all do this? Or how do we burst out of just math? I talked with the PE teachers about picking up litter as a class project for data.
So once in a while, he takes his students out and they get physical activity while they’re picking up litter. And that’s more data for us to think about and to cross those curricular boundaries as well. And they need that. That’s where you start to break out of that, “when are we going to use this” stuff? Because they start to see it really does happen everywhere.
Building a Legacy in a New Building
We were looking to move to just kind of get to a new area. And this was one of the people that interviewed me, and they said, brand new school, and as an educator, a brand new school, be able to start your own school culture, from scratch to work together to say this has never existed before. I mean, that’s really incredible opportunity to break it down and think about what is important, what do we want to build right from the start into these kids.
And, you know, and I’m talking to these kids every day, my 9th and 10th graders, and saying, You’re only going to be the first graduates two years from now. And then two years after that three years, five years after that, you’re going to come back here, you’re going to tell my kids in this classroom, what kind of things you learn what kind of things you’re doing now. That’s one of the other things that we’ve got to do a better job of in education.
And honestly, I mean, with being able to connect on zoom and Google meets and Zen caster, all those kinds of things, we should be doing that every opportunity we get as educators to get those, get those kids that have graduated to come back virtually right there to tell the kids Yeah, keep learning this stuff, you get incredible opportunities because of these STEM resources.
“I’m Learning as Well”
The best way to teach is to model and if students aren’t seeing you modeling the exact things that you’re asking from them, they’re never going to be able to see an adult work through something and try something and not necessarily succeed at it the first time. Another thing that we can do is when I’m at home, and I’m doing a project, I’m repainting my house and have to calculate how much paint I need.
I could just come into my classroom and talk about it. But I snap pictures of that, you know, and I put them up on the screen, I say, look what I had to do. This is what I had to do to actually use that, I’m still using this. And I have to keep learning like I was doing my brakes on my car, and I had to watch a YouTube video (a great place for STEM resources!) to figure it out. I made a mistake and had to go back and redo them. But that again, there’s a growth mindset and demonstrating to those kids that it’s not just something I’m making you do, I’m learning as well.
Daily STEM Works Together
In the last year and a half of pandemic land, it was hard to do a lot of group collaboration stuff, but even just if nothing else, educators, I mean, if you say, you know, I’m not always going to be able to get over to answer your question right away. I let my students pick their own seats, I want them to sit next to somebody that they’re comfortable talking with someone that they can turn to that person and ask a question, or they can discuss something. So whether it’s group work, like I assigned you in the groups, or whether it’s just teaching them to turn to that person next to them, because someday they’re going to be in an office or they’re going to be in a business, and they just need to turn to that person next to them and bounce an idea off each other or their spouse someday and bounce an idea off of each other and be able to figure something out and come up with a better solution.
And so that’s why sometimes, during a typical day in class, an easy way to add those stem pieces is to say hey, turn to your partner, and tell them what do you think is the purpose of math is. And that was a question I asked the other day on one of the first days of school and so they just did that little bit of discussing just for a minute or two and then we come back together and say, Okay, now whose partner says something really good, share it. It’s even those little things, getting them to be able to figure those kinds of things out.
What is STEM to You?
To me, the best definition that I can give of STEM is making education making learning relevant Showing kids that all those things that they learn in our classroom are right out there in that world and everything that’s happening out there in that world can impact and can be defined in the things that we’re doing every day in our classroom. And so just making it as relevant as possible, showing them that those curricular bounds like you mentioned Ashlynn earlier, those silos that we all talk about in education, you know, when they were doing that, that trout project for your science class, they weren’t just using science, they were using math, they were probably taking photographs of everything.
So you got that art aspect in there, you know, thinking about maybe they write a story about how that was really exciting for them to learn about. Maybe they’re writing a letter to the local Nature Conservancy, sharing their process, you’re adding in all those different skills. Stem isn’t just, you know, let’s just be nerdy. Let’s just use 3d printers. Let’s just use a Chromebook and do math. It’s just about helping kids see how that interconnectedness happens. It gives those kids the opportunity to fail given that opportunity to succeed, it’s gonna make a big difference in their life. That little bit of foundation of those basics that they need to get helps them to see and take hold of any opportunity and possibility that are out there.
If anybody’s looking for STEM ideas or you know resources, just head to DailySTEM.com and connect with me through @dailystem on social media. always happy to help and really, honestly, Ashlyn so many educators you know, they’ll even ask me a question they’ll say, you know, on like Twitter, Hey, I just got a bunch of Legos, how do I use them in my classroom? Or I’m looking for resources for computer science for kids? Do you know of any? And, and honestly, the power of social media always, always answers those questions when we crowdsource those things. And we throw those questions out there and we get so many great ideas, but I’ve got again, so many different just three resources, you know, a podcast of my own stem everyday podcast, again, just to help educators just to have ideas that they need to give it a try to start to break down those silos in their own classrooms in their own schools.