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Raising the bar for STEM education

A teacher in West Garfield Park reads a letter to her class: A waste management company is interested in purchasing vacant land for a garbage dump. The students’ task is to decide what happens next.

In a discussion, they examine potential outcomes from various angles, such as employment opportunities, neighborhood safety, or environmental impact, to understand the costs and benefits. They take on different roles – a local resident, an environmentalist, the company’s CEO – to determine whether or not they support the proposal. Finally, they put their research together to come up with the best solution.

This exercise is one of the “real-world problems” used in the new curriculum at Hefferan Elementary, one of 11 so-called “welcoming schools” that gained a STEM program after last year’s school closings. Beyond teaching the subject content of science, technology, engineering and math, STEM education should be “a shift in instruction,” said Jodi Biancalana, the school’s math and science specialist.

“More of the thinking is on the learners,” she said. “With real life, authentic situations, students have to do the researching, exploring, experimenting, and come up with the solutions.”

Read the full story on Catalyst.

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