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The Need for a Top-down Approach to STEM Education in Adventist Schools

Over the course of history, there are turning points that revolutionized how we live. The use of bronze changed how we made tools and household implements. Then came the discovery of iron which, combined with the discovery of gunpowder by the Chinese, completely revolutionized everything from farming and hunting to warfare. Then in the late 1700s, the perfection and use of the steam engine turned our world upside down and began the Industrial Revolution with mass production and machines of all types. It drew people from farms to population centers to work in factories and manufacturing facilities and gave us all types of tools and gadgets to make our lives easier.

In the last twenty years, we have seen another revolution even more impactful on our lives than the Industrial Revolution. The Internet brought connectivity, communication, and collaboration in ways that continue to push boundaries and evolve. Some of the aspects of the continued revolution are amazing and present new challenges. Internet of Things (IoT)—where we connect to the cars, refrigerators, televisions, and light bulbs we use every day and they connect to each other—is continuing to expand exponentially. Big Data—the collection and analysis of massive volumes of information—is also expanding rapidly. We shudder at the hazards but revel in the benefits.

In a recent interview,1 Tom Siebel, long-time technology leader and CEO of C3 IoT, described how he has seen recent significant changes in the corporate world. A couple things stood out from this interview of which anyone passionate about Adventist education should take note. First, he sees a convergence of Big Data, artificial intelligence, and IoT which has created a huge change in global technology. Over the last 20 years, the internet, personal computers, and smartphones have completely transformed the way we live. In the 40 years he has been in the technology industry, he has never seen a transformation like what is happening today. In the past, the push for technology integration into corporate culture and products has always been a bottom-up push for change. Today’s transformation is being driven and mandated from the board chairs and CEOs. It is top down. The CEOs are now mandating change from end-to-end across their corporations. What made the difference? The fear is that unless they embrace these new technologies they will cease to be competitive in the marketplace.

What are the lessons we can learn in Adventist Education?

STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is taking the education world by storm and being adopted in various ways across the country. In addition to advanced math and science courses, many public high schools are teaching programming, robotics, computer-aided design, 3D printing, and other modern technology courses. Beginning in kindergarten and first grade, schools are now teaching programming and robotics with programs such as Osmo, Code.org, and FIRST LEGO League, Jr. Entire districts are adopting strategic K-12 STEM plans. The availability of tools and curriculum that bring these skills to all grade levels are varied and continue to increase in scope, availability, and ease of use.

STEM education in the Adventist school system is varied. Progress has been made with better science curriculum and improving math strategies, but teaching of technology and engineering skills are usually overlooked. While programs such as FIRST robotics through the Adventist Robotics League2 are available for schools and actively supported by some conferences and unions, most do not have consistent and comprehensive STEM strategies. Our approach to STEM education is bottom up. We wait until a teacher in a local school gets inspired to introduce technology or engineering into the classroom then all too often we give only lukewarm support and ask the teacher to go out and raise the money to implement their innovations.

A significant number of our elementary teachers are English and Language Arts specialists. STEM is new and scary for them! They have training to provide core science and math skills but do not know how to approach technology and engineering. The good news is that programs and curriculum resources are continually becoming more readily available and easier to use. But many of our teachers and administrators still struggle with understanding how to approach the STEM education.

Adventist education is facing threats from many sides. Many of our schools are struggling to remain competitive and keep their doors open. Our world is changing rapidly. Most of the technologies that will exist when our kindergarteners graduate from high school and college do not exist today. We must teach our students how to think like engineers and use today’s technology responsibly so they can build the skills they need for their future. We need to fully embrace and mandate STEM education in our schools, or we must fear not being competitive in our marketplace. Other private and public schools are embracing STEM education3 at a rapid pace. We cannot afford to sit on the sidelines and watch it happen in school systems around us. We need to be active participants.

Like corporations today, Adventist education is at risk of losing its competitive edge unless it embraces STEM education. Adventist education needs to learn from the corporate CEOs and board chairs. The full spectrum of STEM education must be mandated from the top down. We need to be intentional about recruiting and mentoring technology and engineering educators and leaders in our school system. Conference and local boards of education must re-evaluate their programs and develop strategic STEM plans. Funding needs to be made available for implementing these programs, including the training and support of teachers on an ongoing basis. We can all make great strides, but it will require intentional planning and implementation. Superintendents and principals must make STEM an integral part of our schools.

 

Notes & References:


1. http://www.zdnet.com/article/c3-iot-ceo-tom-siebel-ceo-boards-driving-iot-digital-transformation-deals/
2. http://www.adventistrobotics.net
3. https://www.ed.gov/stem

 

Mel Wade is a veteran teacher and technology professional with a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction. He is the Technology Director for Sacramento Adventist Academy and teaches technology classes for elementary through high school. Mel is the director and founder of the Adventist Robotics League and enjoys helping teachers integrate technology into their classrooms.

Image Credit: SpectrumMagazine.org

 

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