Juan is an educator in NYC with GlobalKids and a part of the Pathways to STEM Success Project.
Participating in the Pathways to STEM Success project, has been one of the most memorable events I’ve been part of as an educator. It started with STEMFest, a day-long agenda with a rally, Maker Party, and workshops for a group of 700 high school students. At the rally, the kids, guided by an energetic MC, answered questions about STEM topics while competing with groups from other schools. It was a room full of screams, laughs, and a spirit of competition. Who would’ve thought that STEM could be so much fun!
Relationships and STEM Success
Later that day, I ran a workshop to introduce students to TaleBlazer, a tool created by MIT Scheller Teacher Education Program to create geo-locative games. Although I have a lot of experience facilitating workshops for youth in urban settings, I didn’t know what to expect from youth in Chicago. I have learned that having a relationship with students can make the difference between having or not having a successful workshop. Therefore, I was prepared to have a group of kids that were not interested in games, new technology, or geo-locative gaming. I was surprised and glad to see a group of kids from diverse backgrounds, mostly Hispanic and African American, who were receptive to exploring the tool I was introducing. I had a great time teaching them and at the end they all made a game about their favorite subject: football.
When I think about that time, what stands out for me is the fact that I was able to connect with the kids. I moved around the room, making sure to learn their names, asking them if they spoke Spanish and what school they came from. Yes, they were a little distracted at times, looking at their phones and wanting to hear some music, but they were doing it while still paying attention to what was happening in the room. It was a good start to the two days’ worth of discussions I would have about STEM pathways for youth.
Exploring, Trying, Failing, Discovering
On the next sunny fall day, a group of professionals that had taken part in the STEM festival went to the Chicago Botanic Garden to start the discussion about STEM pathways. We discussed: what are STEM pathways? How do young people create pathways for their learning? What does a pathway look like? Why is important to create diversity in the STEM field?
I came out of that discussion with new perspectives about how we, as STEM educators, construct our ow professional lives and how we can support youth as they navigate the complex task of building their STEM learning experiences toward a goal. During our discussion, we talked about how a pathway is not necessarily linear, but can jump from place to place in different directions. It might be helpful when helping young people to create their pathways to think about our own. Looking back at the way I built my career, it looked more like that: exploring, trying, failing, discovering.
It Is About Social Justice
I was having a discussion at the table with other professionals, including Amy Twito from the Seattle Public Library and Eve Klein from the Pacific Science Center. I know there is a lot of talk about increasing diversity in the STEM field, but I wasn’t sure why it was that important. So I blatantly asked the question: why is this diversity in STEM so important? I was given a very clear and succinct answer: it is about social justice. If we are not opening the field to groups that are not usually represented, kids within those underrepresented groups who have a gift or interest in STEM will not have the opportunity to join the STEM field. Also, in that discussion, I learned that when we have just one group of people being the scientists, engineers, technologists, the needs for those who are not in that discussion will not be addressed.
Support must continue for educators to come together and discuss how to support youth pathways to STEM. Initiatives like this encourage educators to learn from each other, broaden perspectives and think about the need to have a collective critical consciousness on supporting students in their efforts to discover their interests and careers. Professional learning initiatives can help create an environment where educators are better prepared to understand the impact of STEM education in society.
There are many things that we must continue to explore. Consider for example the following questions:
How can pathway conversations continue supporting and encouraging these types of discussions and become an on-going, sustainable effort?
How can the lessons learned in this collaborative be disseminated to other educators that need to support youth in pathways to STEM?
Stay tuned to the work of the Pathways to STEM Project for collections of some of our best practices!