STEM education has been defined as an “interdisciplinary approach to learning where academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy” (Tsupros, Kohler, and Hallinen 2009, 6).
Students engage in STEM learning in many different ways, with technology and media playing an important role. Students learn concepts most effectively when exposed to interactive resources like digital videos, audio and graphics, scientific data sets, and virtual manipulatives and simulations. Digital resources enable them to comprehend, visualize, and explain difficult concepts. Further, digital tools provide authentic learning and analytical experiences.
Students need exposure to current and emerging technologies appropriate for STEM learning, and instruction on how to interact with and utilize digital tools in order to “communicate, solve problems, and access, manage, integrate, evaluate, and create information” (AASL 2009). School library media specialists (SLMS) with advanced digital information abilities, along with expertise in inquiry learning, can engage students and support teachers by providing access to digital resources, encouraging students in authentic inquiry practices, and providing real-world collaborative learning opportunities to promote STEM learning.
Additionally, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) call for a three-dimensional approach to learning and applying science content. This approach is a radical change from science standards of years past and presents another amazing opportunity for school librarians to work with teachers. The NGSS are deeply rooted in inquiry, emphasizing hands-on experiences, exploration, investigation, application, synthesis, and reflection. Librarians should pay careful attention as NGSS are rolled out, start familiarizing themselves with the performance standards, and begin thinking about how the library can support instructional shifts required by the NGSS.
Recently, one of us conducted needs assessment research to explore and document the needs of SLMS in regard to supporting STEM education efforts, specifically through the utilization and integration of digital tools and resources. The goal was to identify the current knowledge and abilities of SLMS in regards to supporting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics content areas.
In interviewing the SLMS, certain themes became apparent. One was the development of makerspaces. Science education is based on inquiry learning and makerspaces foster exploration and active learning through inquiry. The focus of STEM education on inquiry provides the perfect stage for school librarians to step out of their comfort zones and lead efforts throughout their school. Makerspaces that are integrated into strong library programs can provide hands-on authentic experiences for students to experiment and learn, all while meeting curricular objectives and standards.
So think about what your personal passions are and build a makerspace around your own interests and hobbies. Solicit ideas from teachers, parents, and students. Ask for volunteers from the school community to get involved in building and organizing the space. Look at existing library programs and think how can you transform those ideas and activities into a sustainable makerspace.
Standards for the 21st-Century Learner in Action. American Association of School Librarians, 2009.
Tsupros, Nancy, Randy Kohler, and Judith Hallinen. STEM Education: A Project to Identify the Missing Components. Intermediate Unit 1 and Carnegie Mellon, 2009.