STEM & Collab
Q&A With Tracy Schoene On the Value of STEM Education
Harford Day School’s Director of Technology Shares How STEM Sets Students Up for Life-Long Success
In this Q&A, Tracy Shoene, the Director of Technology at Harford Day School in Maryland, talks to Trox about how STEM education gives children the skills they will need to be successful in life. Tracy explains that It’s not about teaching skills in isolation, but rather teaching life skills that can be applied to any subject, job, or situation in the future.
Trox: What is your school’s approach to STEM programming?
Tracy: At Harford Day School, we have an innovation lab available for all students. We have a teacher who is in charge of the lab, as well as works with teachers to help them integrate STEM into their classes. Grades 1-6 have a scheduled Innovation Lab/Project time each week. STEM lessons are also incorporated across the curriculum.
Trox: How do kids who participate in STEM education benefit – both in the short term and long term?
Tracy: Kids who participate in STEM education develop better critical thinking, problem solving, inquiry, curiosity, and communication skills. They learn how to accept failure and how to persevere. These skills help them to compete in a global workforce and economy.
Trox: What are some of the most innovative STEM projects your students have worked on since the onset of COVID-19?
Tracy: We have a lot of examples! Our eighth graders built solar ovens while studying about the sun’s energy. They used special ovens to bake S’mores outside. Our pre-K class created rain gauges from materials they had at home, and used them to measure the precipitation over a period of time.
Students in first grade made their own musical instruments and their own marble run, which had to be at least three feet tall. Second-grade students made volcanoes. They had a budget of $8 to complete this task and needed to keep a running record of all the materials they used. We then reviewed the data as a class to determine who made the cheapest volcano. Our third graders created water slides that carried a marble-sized object swiftly through the track. They needed to test and record three attempts. They also designed and created their own inventions using recycled materials from around their house.
Trox: What challenges does COVID-19 present to STEM learning? How are your approach and/or lesson plans changed in response?
Tracy: When students were learning remotely, there were several challenges. Here are a few:
- Funding to purchase extra materials
- Equity – making sure all students had access to materials
- Sharing final projects
- Student participation
- Variety of mobile devices and lack of internet connection
- Professional development for teachers
Extra funding was received through grants and other relief programs. We made sure we sent home all materials that would be needed for the students and kept projects open-ended. Instead of requiring students to use certain materials for engineering and design, they were asked to use whatever they could find around the house. Final projects were shared through Flipgrid or other video resources. We made sure all of our students had the necessary devices and internet access needed for continued STEM education. Teachers were provided with professional development through virtual meetings, and we recorded training videos.
Now that students are back in the building, one of the biggest challenges is making sure materials are not shared, and any that are shared go through a sanitizing process after each use. One solution to this challenge has been to restructure the curriculum so that no two classes use the same materials at the same time.
Trox: How has technology helped ensure continued STEM education at your school?
Tracy: Technology has helped us to ensure continued STEM education by allowing students to have a more personalized learning experience. When students don’t have access to physical materials, they can still use applications such as Tinkercad to design and create. They can use programs such as Scratch and Dash’s Neighborhood to help with coding.
Trox: What, in your opinion, are some of the best STEM education technologies on the market today?
Tracy: Here are a few that I think are really innovative:
- Dash and Dot
- Squishy Circuits
Trox: There is a lot of research pointing to disparities when it comes to access to STEM education, which is only exacerbated by the global pandemic. What actions should schools take to make STEM education more inclusive – both now and as kids begin to return to the classroom?
Tracy: Schools need to invest their time and money to get materials and provide training for the teachers. STEM education doesn’t need to be an add-on or just another thing to do. It can streamline lessons and units and save teachers time. It works with what they already have in place and makes it fresh and relevant. In order for that to happen, however, we need to equip our schools with the materials and training.
Trox: What should K-12 schools consider to increase the quality of STEM programming from both an online and on-campus learning experience?
Tracy: STEM education needs to be meaningful. Students need to be challenged and made to think critically. Experiences need to be consistent, fun and engaging. Teachers need to be flexible, have patience and allow students to explore, invent and be creative.
Trox: How do you think STEM will evolve over the next 10 years or so?
Tracy: STEM is going to continue to evolve in several ways. Materials will become more readily available. As students begin to take part in STEM education at a young age, their ability to creatively solve problems and be inventive will be at a very high level as they grow older. They will be thinking way beyond anything we can imagine. As educators, we need to be ready to let them do that. I believe classrooms will also change and the daily routine will be more inclusive of STEM. It will become a part of students and teachers’ everyday school lives.
- University of Phoenix, April 2020. Virtual Teaching Academy Research, Research Findings, Edelman Intelligence, 2020
- Classcraft, May 28, 2019. What is the real cost of technology in education?, 2019
About the Author
Jenni Ottum is the Public Relations and Communications Manager at Trox. She has held several B2B marketing communications roles in the software space. Most recently, Jenni worked on the Americas Communications team at Tech Data, overseeing the region’s external communications efforts. Before that, she served as the Senior Director of Public Relations for SHE Media. Her background and profile can be found on LinkedIn.