Scanning the Loveland Reporter-Herald today, I found this article about two Thompson School District elementary schools implementing STEM procedures (STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics”) into their classrooms.
Thinking back to elementary school (a bit of a pain because it makes me feel old), I remember there being a huge focus on reading and writing. I remember my fifth grade reading and writing classes particularly well: spelling tests, My Brother Sam is Dead, my short story about argumentative markers, the giant project I did about Jackie Robinson. I don’t remember much of math, except for helping one of my classmates who had been held back. I didn’t have a science class.
The point of all this is that I think it very interesting how priorities have shifted over the course of my lifetime – from the very centralized focus on reading and writing to math and science. As our technology constantly advances the further and further we get into the twenty-first century, the more heavily implemented it is in schools today. I don’t know how I feel about that…
At first, I was excited and intrigued. How cool would it be to get to perform experiments in elementary school – complete with lab coats and goofy-looking goggles – before you’re weighed down with heady facts and equations? Science has always taken a backseat to the three educational priorities (reading, writing, math), so it’s great that teachers are going to start pulling that last vital element into the classrooms.
At the same time, I began to consider some of the repercussions of this. I, for one, have never been a fan of technology in the classroom. It could probably be an excellent tool for teachers, but too often has it been misused and abused. Teachers may say they’re all for having smartboards and clickers and iPads, but there are just too many of them who either don’t know how to use the technology or don’t bother to learn, both with the same result of standing in front of thirty judgemental teenagers and bumbling their way through the basics. Struggling to manipulate the technology wastes valuable learning time and gives students too many opportunities to grow bored and get off-task, not to mention the problems of putting technology into students’ hands and they’re too distracted by Facebook to get anything accomplished. At the elementary level, when teachers have their first – and sometimes only – chance to get kids excited about learning, technology has the potential to hinder that excitement.
The other problem, and this might take a few years to appear, if we put science and technology at the forefront of our curriculum, does this mean that reading and writing will fall to the back burner? I think this is already apparent in today’s generation with the phenomena of social networking sites and our need for instant gratification that more and more kids have trouble with spelling and sentence structure, as well engaging them in lengthy, classic canonical works like A Tale of Two Cities or Hamlet. While I think it’s important to incorporate STEM into today’s classroom because of the constant influx of new technology, it’s equally important to keep up the formal methods of communication and transference of ideas because those are the basic tools we need to survive, to learn, and to succeed in life.