Pranati is the Founder and CEO of The Lavender Spaceship Project, an online STEM learning platform for primary and middle school girls. It offers personalized classes based on coding, robotics, digital design and engineering; and connects girls to women roles models in STEM to build awareness and confidence. This Singapore based company also offers STEM trainings and workshops for corporations, schools and NGOs.
STEM stands for Science Technology Engineering Mathematics, an approach to teaching and learning that aims to inculcate 21st-century skills in students. STEM is becoming increasingly important these days as our world undergoes rapid technological change. Innovative solutions driven by technology are required to facilitate our everyday life and tackle dire problems our world faces today like food and clean water shortage, the need for sustainable energy sources and curing novel diseases like Covid19. As a result, our economy’s demand for STEM workers is rapidly increasing. Passionate individuals with a strong STEM background are highly sought after.
Clearly, the scientific advancement of our society depends on the availability of scientific talent in the current economy. The STEM-ready students of today will become the STEM-ready workforce of tomorrow. Hence, developing interest in STEM among children – especially during primary and secondary education (the ‘K-12’ period) is crucial in building a future-ready community of young adults. To facilitate that, emphasis on building a solid STEM program during K-12 years in schools, which goes beyond the traditional science and mathematics program becomes very important.
There are six fundamental elements of a cohesive and meaningful STEM program that when applied in the right way, can build a strong STEM foundation among students:
1. Purposeful implementation of the STEM framework: The ethos of a STEM program is that the process is more important than the outcome of the project. Helping students go through an inquiry cycle guided by a design framework like the Engineering Design Process is extremely important. It is through this cycle that students attain transferrable skills like Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication and Collaboration, that go beyond minimum competencies and nurture STEM thinking. This iterative cycle consists of, but not limited to students:
- Imagining what the problem is and empathizing with the audience for whom they intend to solve the problem
- Planning different viable solutions to the problem
- Creating prototypes and solutions
- Testing prototypes
- Reflecting on the success of the prototype and finding ways to improve it
- Communicating solutions to the audience
2. Inquiry-based and student-centric classroom with collaborative atmosphere: A strong STEM program is inquiry-based that is driven by student interest. At its core, STEM is all about solving real-life problems, and choosing the right topic that is relevant to the students is a great place to start . A STEM classroom boasts a learning environment where teachers and their students co-develop the topic of study and collaborate as active learners. Teachers providing plenty of opportunities for teamwork to solving complex problems help students improve upon each other’s ideas to achieve the common goal.
3. Open-ended projects: STEM classrooms are flipped classrooms where teachers inspire innovation, creativity and critical thinking, showcasing that there are multiple ways to solve a problem. It is imperative that STEM projects have open-ended solutions that give students a chance to tap into their experience, background and come up with a solution that is unique to them. The students take charge of the learning by experimenting with different problem-solving tools and coming up with creative prototypes, wherein all these learning experiences are carefully designed and implemented by the teacher.
4. Challenging interdisciplinary lesson: When we solve problems in real life, we use knowledge from multiple domains that can help us get closer to our goal. Similarly, in a STEM lesson, students are encouraged to use knowledge from a combination of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics disciplines that can aid them in solving the problem at hand. Teachers carefully curate learning opportunities for students to help them make connections between these subjects and seeing them as viable problem-solving tools.
5. Well-defined learning outcomes and purposeful assessments: While the classroom environment during a STEM project might seem less structured where the students are engaged in different tasks working in multiple groups, it becomes even more important for the teachers to design solid assessment tools to track student learning and assess the effectiveness of the lesson.
During the course of lesson planning, teachers should clearly identify the learning goals and corresponding measuring tools every step of the way. Formative assessments are especially valuable in STEM classrooms. It demonstrates that all ideas are welcome and valued. It is here, in the STEM classroom, where a failure is an option because it is seen as a learning opportunity and not as an end result. It is important to note that assessments in STEM should evaluate student learning based on how thoughtfully they approached the problem and built their prototype within the framework, not simply based on the end product.
6. A flexible workspace and sufficient resources: The goal of STEM classroom layout is to inspire students to think, question, innovate, research and prototype in teams. Sufficient physical space with a flexible layout is much required to facilitate that.
Technology also plays an integral role in a STEM classroom. It is used both as a tool and an outcome. During the project, students are expected to research information, enter data, and illustrate results on digital devices. They may be designing graphics, 3D printing their prototypes or coding a webpage. The students need both digital and non-digital resources to bring their vision to life. Therefore, having a well-planned workspace with sufficient materials is an important aspect of an immersive student learning experience in a STEM classroom.
Children with strong STEM skills will become capable STEM professionals of tomorrow. Educational institutions should strive to develop STEM programs with a goal to provide students with the knowledge that is relevant in today’s world and skills that are transferable in different contexts.
In conclusion, when done right, a STEM program complements the Science and Math curriculum in schools and equips students with innovative and creative capabilities that they can apply to solve real-life problems.
More About Pranati Bagchi
Pranati is an experienced teacher and ex Head of Mathematics department. She specialises in curriculum design, education technology and entrepreneurship. Pranati holds a Master of Science degree in Mathematics from India, and a Master of Education from Rutgers University, USA. She is also a STEM certified teacher from National Institute of STEM Education, USA. Pranati serves as a Board Member and Lead for Youth Initiatives for the Singapore chapter of Girls in Tech, a global non-profit organisation focused on the engagement, education, and empowerment of women in technology. Pranati has also been selected for a Vital Voices Grow Fellowship 2021, a leading global accelerator program for women entrepreneurs that are making social impact.