Weekly Wrap-up: Examining STEM projects through the lens of Humanities

This week we focused on tuning our STEM project proposals for our sophomore’s first semester.  Humanities anxiously awaited the ideas of our Science/Math counterparts, feeling excited and at the same time uneasy with our ignorance about STEM. Would the projects be doable?  Would it be too expensive to procure supplies?  Could students cover the standards mandated by the state through these projects?  Could we as Humanities teachers properly support our faculty and students as they complete their work?

I know my uncertainties dissipated as we poured over these project proposals.  The goal was for the STEM teachers to take their unique ideas and relay them in a structure that would be accessible to our students, our parents, and our community.  In other words, no STEM teacher educational jargon!

One way we decided to make our project proposals accessible is by using a set structure for every project, whether for Humanities or for STEM. This way, students can more easily access information that they might need to complete each project.  Each proposal, for example, starts with a summary of how the project relates to the larger theme.  For quarter one, this theme is Intellect.  Our STEM teachers clearly tie the Air, Soil, and Water project to this theme with the following statement:

Air, soil, and water sustain us, but what effect do we have on them? The ways we measure human impact on the environment and the decisions we make based on this data reflect how we think about the world around us. More importantly, they affect how we choose to act in the future.

This is what the project looks like in my head.

This is what the project looks like in my head.

These explanations are then followed by an introduction to the STEM concepts covered during project research and design, and a list of essential questions that will ground student work.  In this project, for example, two of the essential questions included were: “How has human activity impacted the Earth?” And, “how does bias impact our understanding of data?”  These questions engage students both in content and in process.

STEM will use Cubism to inspire the Self-portrait project.

STEM will use Cubism to inspire the Self-portrait project.

After reading each project proposal Humanities offered STEM some feedback and asked for clarification on certain ideas.  We offered suggestions on how to list content covered, and commended them for clearly outlining student requirements into doable steps.  Overall, Humanities was most excited about the way these projects complimented our own, and how these would lead to reinforcing certain skills and characteristics in our students—critical thinking, perseverance, growth mindset, and collaboration.

What makes tuning protocol unique is that it allows teachers from other disciplines to examine assignments.  This may be beneficial in getting an objective perspective on projects, and a more realistic picture on how students might view projects.  Sometimes we get so stuck in our ivory towers that we forget to take a break and join the masses.  Education should be rigorous, but it should also be accessible.  If students are confused about a project proposal there is no way that they can have success completing the project itself.

I hope our STEM colleagues found our comments constructive.  This tuning protocol is one example of how we plan to role model effective collaboration for our students.  Another goal is to have assignments that are clear, challenging, and allow students to access their own strengths.  We also want our students to be engaged and excited to complete the projects.  I think that I can speak for the whole Humanities team when I say that we are as excited to see these projects come to fruition as our STEM colleagues.  I might complete one of these projects myself.

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