STEM Educators, How Diverse Disciplines Teach

By Lucietto, Anne; Russell, Liza et al. | Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research, July/August 2018 | Go to article overview

STEM Educators, How Diverse Disciplines Teach


Lucietto, Anne, Russell, Liza, Schott, Emily, Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research


Introduction

STEM is a group of disciplines consisting of focus in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This is a very broad base of courses and programs taught by a variety of educators (Gonzalez & Kuenzi, 2012). Individuals that teach and otherwise work with students on a daily basis influence them. Many of those that teach in this area are often confident of their abilities, while others are not (Nadelson et al., 2013). Educators that are confident provide positive reinforcement for students learning new and often difficult subject matter (Ejiwale, 2012), (Kennedy & Odell, 2014), (Eccles & Wang, 2015). Based on these findings, the questions asked of these educators are intended to probe the level of confidence they have in their ability to teach in a given field, how much education they have in this area, and other questions related to the educator and what they do.

Thus far, programs have been designed to aid STEM educators in the classroom (Sanders, 2008), and engage students (Kennedy & Odell, 2014), but little research has been done to understand the motivation and confidence of this population. Work that has been done is limited to discrete areas, generally focused on the various disciplines of STEM. While we do have an idea of who these educators are, understanding levels of education and how these educators teach will provide supporting information for future training and teaching of educators in the STEM disciplines.

Literature Review

The distinct disciplines of STEM (White, 2014) were originally grouped because these disciplines provide critical thinking skills that encourage students to solve problems within their area of study (White, 2014). The acronym originally came from policy first used by the National Science Foundation, where SMET was changed to STEM in 2001 (Breiner, Harkness, Johnson, & Koehler, 2012). Use of this term grew and has been recognized in educational reports since the 1980s (Breiner et al., 2012). Prior to this time, a variety of terms were used to indicate one was referring to the disciplines that are now referred to as STEM. While each of the disciplines differ, it is recognized that they are often intertwined - for example, math is studied in all areas of STEM, and other concepts such as physics, chemistry, and earth sciences are used as supporting knowledge in engineering and the fields consisting of technology (Labov, Reid, & Yamamoto, 2010).

Former studies provide guidance to STEM educators, including a plethora of teaching methods intended to engage students and motivate them to learn more about STEM disciplines (Roberts, 2013). The authors believe that without a clear understanding of STEM educators, especially their training, and their confidence levels, it is difficult to teach them how to teach and how to be engaging in the classroom. This, in turn, makes it difficult for these teachers to encourage the students to engage with the material and enjoy what is being taught. Limited literature exists on this subject. Therefore, with the established knowledge that STEM is an accepted grouping of disciplines, study of this body of educators was chosen.

Differences in education - fields, level of education, and skill levels - affect STEM educators in the classroom (Corlu, Capraro, & Capraro, 2014; Ejiwale, 2012; Nadelson et al., 2013), which in turn impacts confidence levels and overall teaching ability. This results in varying influences on students and the teachers' ability to motivate and engage students, both in and out of the classroom.

Pedagogy, Training, and STEM Educators. It is expected that K-12 educators be trained in education and the subject being taught. It appears that this is the case in the younger grades, but not necessarily in the higher grades. As noted previously, this is generally due to the availability and interest of the educators.

An analysis done by Ingersoll, Merrill, and May (2014) provided evidence that educators early in their career varied greatly in the education and preparation they received. …

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