Byron's Babbles

Improving STEM Education: Connecting School Work to Real Life

Posted in Education, Education Reform, Educational Leadership, Global Education by Dr. Byron L. Ernest on May 23, 2015

CFoqqXQUgAAXack.jpg_largeI had the tremendous honor of presenting at the International STEM Forum & Expo yesterday put on by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). What an incredible event. It was well-planned, and the sessions were, well, incredible. It was a great reminder to me, now that I am not in the classroom as a teacher, just how important STEM education is to our children. It was also a reminder of how tough a job it is to keep our children motivated in STEM courses and then, ultimately, through higher education if that is what the student chooses. The attendees of the National STEM Forum were reminded of this when Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, spoke. He told us that high SAT scores correlated with students who had taken AP & Honors courses, but then ended up being the same students who dropped out or changed majors from STEM related degrees in college. Why? Because of a “fixed mindset” instead of a “growth mindset.” Dr. Hrabowski sited the work of Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (everyone needs to read this and all of her books). These students are so driven for success and making the top scores that when they get to college they are often disappointed by not being “#1.” Many are still top students, but can’t handle not being the top. Then, as Dr. Hrabowski pointed out, they switch to the humanities. Why? Because the humanities gets the iterative nature of the “growth mindset.” The idea that nothing needs to be perfect on the first try. In STEM courses, we tend to want to give a grade on the first, and only try. As a big believer in mastery grading, I wanted to go up and hug Dr. Hrabowski. He was talking my language!

Me Hanging With My Friend, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski

Me Hanging With My Friend, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski

It is curious to me that we have this “fixed mindset” in STEM education, because careers in STEM are not that way at all. Think about all the trial and error, experimentation, and “ah ha!” moments there are. Thus, why what Dr. Hrabowski was saying really reinforced what I had just spoke about prior to his keynote. My presentation title was: “Improving Science Education: Connecting School Work to Real Life.” The presentation was all about teaching in a real world context. I stressed that we must connect the three worlds that a student lives in: school world, real world, virtual world. The presentation was based on research I did based on student academic performance and achievement in Biology based on being taught in the real world relevancy of Agriculture. If students do not make the connection between the school work they are doing and real life, they will fall into the “fixed mindset” trap.”


I discussed with attendees how we had partnered with AgReliant Genetics when I was teaching at Lebanon High School to provide opportunities for our students to do real world/real time research. The students were able to do this working with real researchers. This working with adults component is so very important in my opinion. To create the ideal learning environment we must have Students working in teams to experience and explore relevant, real-world problems, questions, issues, and challenges; then creating presentations and products to share what they have learned. Here is a link to my presentation:


So, as we continue to facilitate learning for our STEM students, and all students, let’s not forget to practice a “growth mindset” and make the connection between school work and real life.


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