Wednesday, April 27, 2011

STEM Education and the Environment

"STEM" seems to be the education buzzword of choice these days. STEM--Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics--is an approach to education that encourages a curriculum driven by problem-solving, discovery, exploratory learning, and requiring students to actively engage a situation in order to find its solution[1]. When most people think of STEM education and STEM careers the focus is on biotechnology, high tech, and engineering. I think it is imperative to show how environmental education can be a perfect fit in a STEM education program.

STEM Education and the Environment: An example

In San Diego, the San Diego Science Alliance has helped to bring the SeaPerch Program to more than twenty (20) teachers in the 2010-2011 school year. SeaPerch is a project based program that has students build (including wiring and soldering) an underwater remotely operated vehicle (U-ROV) in tandem with a curriculum covering concepts including buoyancy, force and motion, electricity, and engineering concepts.

After building their U-ROV's the students can make design modifications to use them to explore the environment. Students can design containers to collect water or sediment samples from waterways that are potentially polluted and unsafe for students to enter, mount a camera to the U-ROV to look at macro-organisms, add various water quality sensors to collect real-time data for different depths and locations in a body of water. While students are using U-ROV's to gather information about water, they also have a chance to explore and understand the environment surrounding the water.

The first San Diego SeaPerch Invitational was held in April at Kimball Elementary School in National City, CA. This urban elementary school is situated along Paradise Creek, a tributary of San Diego Bay that suffers from many problems common to urban waterways--litter, pollution, and invasive species. SeaPerch teams explored the water at different locations using a camera. As the program develops, there will be more opportunity to explore local waterways, collect more environmental data, share data online, and hopefully adopt some action plans to make positive changes for the environment.


The environment offers myriad opportunities for integration into STEM education programs, and has the unique feature of being tangible and available to students to ground their understanding of STEM topics in their own local reality.