Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Graphics by ACTS Geometry Students.  Produced in Google SketchUp

It's time for a conversation about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and homeschoolers, both secular and non-.

Traditional subjects like biology or physics might have homeschoolers using a single subject textbook, digital book, online course or co-op.  STEM is something different - it's an opportunity to combine many scientific, mathematical and technological concepts into an amazing soup.

For example, in my STEM class I begin with a outline of what we'll cover, typically a science concept, technology issue, or description of an engineering career. I lecture - briefly, usually no more than 15-20 minutes - then the fun begins. The students, having received information, immediately split into groups to tackle a challenge based in the lecture concepts. Collaboratively they filter water, separate ingredients, study tsunami waves using a model, devise structures out of crazy supplies, launch marshmallows, and many other things. We debrief the exercise as a class and the students complete a reflective journal entry on what they've experienced.

STEM class ends up being student-driven and highly interactive. The students practice the design cycle, brainstorming techniques, innovation skills, and mostly, how to collaborate well on a group project.  I publish their work on my blog, on YouTube or other digital venues.  Some high schools, like our local public Albemarle High School, have academies or programs that promote STEM. Albemarle has MESA - which stands for Math, Engineering and Science Academy. There are wonderful non-profits around, like Charlottesville's Computers 4 Kids, that mentor low-income students in computing skills while providing them computers at program's end.

The nagging question for me is, what are other homeschoolers doing?  Even better, how can we create a community to help them get involved in collaborative STEM work?  Our county has a large and thriving co-op, but what do you do when that's not an option?  Do you know of homeschool co-ops or home groups that offer STEM classes that I can contact? Many areas also have service learning opportunties, which my older STEM students are doing this year. Is  your local homeschool co-op or family group interested?

 I'd looking to hear and collect knowledge about what homeschoolers do for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.  In the future I hope to blog more on creative ways to engage homeschoolers in STEM, pre-engineering curricula, collaborative work and service learning.

If you are in the field of STEM ed and work with homeschoolers or a parent looking to find resources, comment or find me on twitter @marycsaville.  I've created the twitter hashtag #stemhomeschool to bring resources together.

Every day STEM programs online offer ways for homeschoolers to get involved even if they are living in remote areas.
Some of the links that I've found to be very helpful are:
National Service Learning Clearinghouse
Tells you everything you need to know about service learning and how to begin a project in this excellent, hands on, service based educational model.
PBS Zoom Science
Colorful, engaging site with how-to experiments, engineering challenges, science inquiry and observation.  Geared toward elementary through middle school students.
Discovery Education
With all the quality that Discovery brings to the table, this site has resources for STEM curricular units and lesson plans.  Discovery is also pioneering digital textbooks called "techbooks" for future learning - techbooks would be interactive digital content that updates, educates and inspires.  Plus you'd save the backache from lugging around a huge textbook.

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