HISD educators talk STEM with science, technology, engineering, math leaders

Science, technology, math, and engineering leaders with global companies and research universities shared forward-thinking STEM practices with HISD to help the district establish advanced standards for its STEM programs.

What makes STEM “STEM,” and how can HISD ensure students who graduate are truly prepared for a post-secondary education and career in STEM? These are a few of the questions HISD educators and cabinet leaders were asked to think about during a STEM Standards Stakeholder Meeting on Monday.

“Part of the problem is that a lot of people don’t know what STEM is,” said Arizona State University professor and scientist Dr. Carlos Castillo-Chavez. “They associate STEM with a better career, better pay … But STEM is all about solving problems, making a difference. Students need to know how to write, communicate, and work with others. These are fundamental skills for everyone who wants to work in STEM.”

HISD is working with the U.S. Department of Education, departments within HISD, and its educators to enhance STEM programs for students.

“Many of our STEM programs are not magnet schools,” said HISD Superintendent Dr. Terry Grier. “These STEM programs are in our neighborhood schools. We should have great science and great math programs in all of our schools.”

The meeting helped guide the district on what a STEM program should look like with input from engineering professionals representing the National Society of Black Engineers along with professors from Houston Community College, Rice University, University of Houston, and Arizona State.

Chavez, an esteemed mathematical biology professor, advised HISD to create STEM classes with collaborative learning models that promote leadership and build a community of scholars. Students should collaborate with classmates in different grade levels to work on projects together, and upperclassmen should serve as mentors to younger students. Students need to be recognized as a resource since oftentimes they know more about the latest technology than adults, Chavez said. “I have become my students’ student. We have to study together with our students.”

Chavez challenged HISD to not solely focus on providing students an education that covers the basics but one that offers knowledge and practicums on new research, current events, and the latest technology. Technology changes too fast and impacts today’s world too much to be ignored in the classroom, Chavez said.

New technology and studies on how STEM is being used in the real world should be incorporated into students’ assignments and studies. Students should be encouraged to do their own research and present and communicate their research using graphs, multimedia, and other tools. It’s important for educators to know what aspects of STEM interest their students, which students are passionate about STEM, and to offer hands-on experiences in STEM outside of the classroom through summer programs with local colleges and externships with companies.

“Students cannot choose a STEM direction unless they become passionate about it,” Chavez said. “Exposure is critical.”