Written by: Dr. Melissa Johnston
We all know that STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, but when it comes to STEM education the picture is a little less clear. STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning driven by problem-solving and exploratory learning that gives students the opportunity to apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in in real-world contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the world.
An increasing number of jobs in all areas and levels require the critical thinking and problem solving skills that are learned through the STEM areas. The more I read about STEM education, the more I thought this is an opportunity for school librarians – this is what we teach: critical thinking and problem solving skills.
Students engage in STEM learning in many different ways, with technology and digital resources playing an important role. Students learn concepts most effectively when exposed to interactive resources like virtual manipulatives, simulations, digital videos, audio and graphics, and scientific data sets. Digital resources provide authentic learning experiences that enable students to comprehend, visualize, and explain difficult concepts. Again – this is an area we as school librarians have expertise to offer!
So how can we as school librarians support STEM education in our schools? We can make sure that we are introducing teachers and students tocurrent and emerging technologies appropriate for STEM learning, but also instructing them on how to interact with and utilize digital tools for communicating, participating, organizing information, problem solving, and generating new knowledge to improve learning in all subject areas and to acquire lifelong knowledge and skills. Teachers are busy people, but you can help them by introducing them to and collaborating with them to integrate digital tools to support STEM education.
There are so many great resources out there and many are for free!
What to look for:
When looking for digital resources to support STEM education, it is important to consider the functionality in terms of interactivity and the level of engagement of the resource. Also, don’t forget cost! Why pay for expensive subscription or packages when you can curate your own collection with free resources. OER or Open Educational Resources are a great place to start!
Check out these sites to get you started:
- The School Librarians Advancing STEM Learning Hub at OER Commons https://www.oercommons.org/hubs/imls
- The Concord Consortium – https://learn.concord.org/
- The National Digital Science Library – https://nsdl.oercommons.org/
- Desmos Interactive Math – https://www.desmos.com/
Where to look:
We all know we can just search online for resources, but many times digital resources may be in repositories, databases, or digital libraries that don’t show up on a Google search. Look into resources provided by professional organizations, universities, government and state agencies, and community organizations and businesses. Here are some to explore:
- Illuminations from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics https://illuminations.nctm.org/
- PhET Interactive Simulations from the University of Colorado https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulations/category/new
- National Library of Virtual Manipulatives from Utah State – http://nlvm.usu.edu/
- The Teach Engineering Digital Library – https://www.teachengineering.org/
- Of course, you all know about the Tennessee Electronic Library, which has multiple data bases that can be used to support STEM education – https://www.tntel.info/
- Get BioTech Smart from Glass Barn Education Center – https://www.glassbarn.org/educator-resources/get-biotech-smart/
- Science Friday – https://www.sciencefriday.com/educate/
- Young Scientist Lab from Discovery Ed and 3M – https://www.youngscientistlab.com/teachers/interactives
These resources are just the tip of the iceberg! What are some of your favorites? Embrace your role as a STEM support specialist and curate those favorites for your teachers and/or provide an innovative PD session on what you can do to support STEM education.
Educating students in the STEM areas not only prepares them for successful employment and post-secondary studies, but also for life, by teaching them how to think critically and solve problems, and isn’t that what we do as school librarians?
Melissa P. Johnston is an Associate Professor at the University of West Georgia, where she teaches graduate courses in the school library media certification program. She was a school librarian for 13 years in Georgia before obtaining her PhD at Florida State University. Melissa’s research and publications focus on the school librarian’s leadership role in integrating technology. She is currently the co-editor of School Library Research and PI for the REALISD Project, an IMLS funded grant, to provide professional development for rural school librarians to support STEM education efforts in their schools.