Here at the NAEC, we “do” STEM in a different way. Literally, we put the tools in the learners’ hands. As a long-time public school STEM educational leader, I found that true STEM learning is scary, both for the learner and the teacher. Many times, a STEM lesson or project outcome is unknown by both the student and the teacher. While some students might be OK with that, a teacher may be very uncomfortable not knowing what the finished product should be. But that’s the great thing about STEM and project-based learning. There are multiple correct answers or outcomes.
Sometimes it is the adult that gets in the way of children’s learning. I say that as having been that interfering adult during the first part of my 34-year career in public education. Not know the answer when you are the adult in the room is very intimidating. It takes a special educator to be comfortable in that situation, learning alongside the student. The days of being the “sage on the stage” have given way to being the “guide on the side.”
At the NAEC, we choose projects that give the student choices in the outcomes they desire. Acting as mentors, tutors, and learners ourselves, we guide students (of all ages – more on that later) to learn by doing. Yes, mistakes will be made along the journey to success. However, I believe that I have learned more from the mistakes I made than doing something correct the first time. And I believe many others have, as well. It is the skill development of critical thinking and problem solving where the real learning takes place and lessons are embedded. When a teacher gives students the correct answer or outcome, we steal the true learning from that student.
-Nancy McGee, VP of Education
Henry B. Tippie National Aviation Education Center