You’ve carefully crafted your science lesson. You’ve perfected each PowerPoint slide. You’ve planned activities that are sure to engage even your most apathetic student.
You’re in the middle of the lesson when one of your students asks that dreaded question: "When are we going to ever use this stuff in real life?"
I’ve taught middle school, high school, and colleges science courses. At each level I’ve had students ask me this same question. One day I finally decided that I had had enough and I set out to make this question a thing of the past.
At the time, I was teaching college chemistry. I began to look for opportunities to connect the science content to the world outside of class and make every lesson relevant to my students. I would lead the students in discussing current events and other cool topics that were related to the course content such as health and environmental issues, specific applications like chemical changes that occur in cooking, and the chemical properties of the ingredients in their favorite skin and hair care products.
I would do this while emphasizing the fact that their knowledge about science and knowledge of science empowers them to make informed decisions about important personal and community issues that confront them on a daily basis.
Due to my efforts to engage my students’ personal interest in the science content, I had stopped hearing that dreaded question. By providing real-world context to otherwise abstract science concepts, my students went from viewing science as just a bunch of facts to seeing its relevance to them. This made it so interesting that many students actually looked forward to coming to chemistry class!
So, there I was feeling like hot stuff. I started to give myself a pat on the back.
But, then I began to wonder…..
Is this the best I can do?
Can I take this a step further?
I had figured out a way to make my students more interested in science (yeah me!). But although they were interested in the information, they weren’t motivated to learn it. Of course, this was before I stumbled upon integrative STEM education.
In Robinson’s Weblog #001: So, What is Integrative STEM Education Anyway?, I wrote that the integrative STEM approach emphasizes connections between STEM subjects and their application. By using problem-, and project-based tasks that reflect real-world situations, the integrative STEM approach provides both interest and motivation for learning; thereby using the relevance of real-world topics to their full potential.
Unlike traditional science instruction, in the integrative STEM approach the application to the science content is simultaneous, not after the fact. So instead of students sitting through a boring lesson, and then at the end applying what they learned; this approach engages students in a relevant occurrence or problem at the beginning of the learning module and uses it to frame their learning experiences. This provides the motivation students need to become invested in their own learning.
"Don't break your arm patting yourself on the back" is a sarcastic expression that admonishes not to excessively praise one's self. So I was able to get my students to be more interested in learning science. But I didn’t want to break my arm patting myself on the back because I knew I was not using the relevance of real-world topics to its full potential.
But now, using the integrative STEM approach, I can go beyond getting students to recognize the relevance of science to their own lives to using this relevance to actually motivate them to learn.
Last Updated: 7/20/2017