Design & Engineering

Lakeville South Students Problem-Solve with STEM Education

7 March 2018 | Team EACPDS

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Lakeville South High School’s STEM Academy is encouraging students to problem-solve in a whole new way. Kurt Weber switched his role from a biology and chemistry teacher to teaching STEM classes 4 years ago. He says there is no going back. He loves teaching students the curriculum behind the subjects that drive these classes – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Using STEM Education to Remove Unfavorable Learned Behaviors

Weber says that when he caught one of his students on his phone during class, he confronted him. The student replied that he was ‘done’ with his project. Weber says this gave him an opportunity to bring that student around the lab to show him all of the things he could be doing in addition to the project that he had already finished. He explained to the student that learning doesn’t stop once the task is over.

He explained that the kid wasn’t being snarky by saying he was ‘done’ and he didn’t take it that way either. Weber says that every kid has the ability to problem solve at a very young age but that ability is stripped away so fast with traditional learning methods in the classroom.

Weber goes on to say that most kids are conditioned to only do what they are told and nothing more. Following orders and checking things off lists leaves no room for creativity or innovation. No one has really given the students that kind freedom in their learning until the STEM Academy came along and started changing the way students think and approach problems.

To continue learning outside of the realm of what a student is asked to do is what will help that student in real-world situations as an adult.

STEM principles are teaching students how to lead, not follow

“They learn inherently, by failing,” Weber says. “Being in this class gives them an opportunity to solve a problem on their own – and the worst thing they could do is fail. They’re so scared of failing.”

He explained that when rulers were taken away and students were asked to measure a piece of equipment with which were working – they didn’t know what to do and got frustrated. This frustration comes from the fear of failing. Weber then asks the students what else they could use in the room to measure the object? A student came up with the idea of counting the ceiling tiles or using another frame of reference like a book, or a backpack. This is exactly what Weber is looking for. Out-of-the-box ideas. Critical thinking. Solutions that are derived from limited resources.

“We don’t tell them how to do it. We tell them how to get from point A to point B. It changes the way you look at everything in the world.” At this point, the students wanted to learn. They were excited to accomplish a small win and were motivated to keep on going. Weber says that the fear of failure is the norm and we need to combat it. “Failure, in general, is something they try to steer clear of. We need to tell them to lean into failure.”

What does the STEM curriculum look like?

Other class electives were unintentionally eliminated when the STEM classes became available because registration in other classes dropped. What’s so appealing about these classes and why have they become so popular at Lakeville South?

Weber gives his students the freedom to work at their own pace; an opportunity rarely given to students in other classes. Students have to complete 8 semesters of math, 8 semesters of science, Engineering Your Future 1, Engineering Your Future 2, and then get to choose one of the STEM pathways; Computer Programming, Biomedical, Engineering, or Industrial Technologies. To complete the STEM Academy, students complete a capstone project in which they can work with a local business to solve real problems. Weber says that he’s been able to create his own curriculum for the STEM classes and it’s been evolving every year as additional lab equipment, like 3D printers, and technology are made available to his students.

Weber says that there was no need to convince students to join the class. He says that the students bragged enough about their STEM class that there was no need to make additional efforts to gain students’ attention when it was time to choose electives. As far as keeping students’ attention in the STEM classes, Weber says he frequently has to tell students to go home because the school day had already ended hours ago.

How does the STEM Academy benefit students who don’t end up pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics? Weber says that the classes give them confidence in their ability to solve a problem. “They don’t need someone to tell them what to do. They need a mentor.”

Learn more about Lakeville South High School’s STEM Academy here.