This month, I can’t help but notice how many discoveries have been made in the world of science. About two weeks ago, the Smithsonian Institute held a press conference at the Natural History Museum to announce the rare discovery of a new carnivorous mammal in South America. Today, CNN is reporting that scientists in Sweden have confirmed a new scientific element.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word discovery as, “the finding out or bringing to light of that which was previously unknown.” Discoveries can be big or small. They can be good or bad. Discoveries can be scientific findings or personal revelations. No matter what type, the discoveries we make are all occasions that we learn.
Our society loves discoveries. We have an entire TV channel dedicated to it! And though most people were once drawn to the Discovery Channel because of its popular “Shark Week,” their other television programs continue to help show people discoveries around the world around that they might never come to encounter otherwise. The Discovery Channel education department has a wealth of knowledge on their website for teachers because they aren’t doing the research for the ratings. So many of our discoveries take place in the classroom.
Teachers often refer to discoveries as “Ah ha!” moments. It’s that moment when a student finally gets it, “it” being something that hadn’t sunk in before. It is when comprehension is solidified. I can never forget my high school math teacher and how his face would light up as a student worked through a problem and was working their way toward a major realization about a mathematical proof. His excitement about the student getting where he had been going with the lesson was evident. I admit that his enthusiasm motivated me to try harder so that I could be the next student to walk in the class and get to know what we were about to discover. Teachers showing satisfaction in their work tends to rub off on their students and it encouraged me to take the leap when I otherwise wouldn’t have.
Epiphanies don’t just come in math or in science. Students also have personal epiphanies thanks to their education. Young people’s futures are often set in motion when they realize that they love writing and hope to be a journalist one day. Or maybe it’s when a teacher suggests that the student’s love of science could lead them to become a doctor and help those struggling with cancer or even find a cure. Without that lesson on anatomy coupled with the teacher’s guidance, that student may never become enlightened to the goals that might inspire them the rest of their education.
The first time I ever heard of STEM education, I was confused. It sounded like just another of the many acronyms for an education initiative that would simply mean a new set of government standards. My mind was instantly changed when I learned what STEM stood for. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education is helping students learn about the subjects that are driving our world and our work force.
This summer, many of you took a course with us at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, MD. What most of you did not know was that at the same time (besides new windows being installed; thanks for bearing with us!), a group of high school girls were attending Robotics Camp as part of the STEM education opportunities in place at Seton HS. I learned of this camp when I bumped into a real NASA astronaut in the hallway asking me for directions. When I discovered this unique learning opportunity, I was jealous! How I wished I had the chance to put my math and science knowledge into practice as a high school student! More and more young women are taking the plunge to be engineers, physicists, and computer science specialists but they are still often the minority sex. My sister is a civil engineer and she jokes that the only other woman in her office is the secretary. STEM education is providing students the tools to discover their strengths and teachers are unearthing the knowledge based comprehension students have to develop those “Ah Ha!” moments.
Don’t have a STEM education program set in place in your school? Be a leader and find out how you can make it happen. If you already have a STEM program in place at your school or perhaps you teach a subject not specifically linked to the STEM program, how can you be an advocate for great discovery in you classroom?