Every Teacher Can Be a STEM Teacher

“The Kind of STEM Teachers We Need,” by Carol Ann Tomlinson, Educational Leadership, Dec. 2014/Jan. 2015

 Give me teachers in every subject who relentlessly cause kids to wonder.

I’m great with the idea of STEM for all students. I get the need for a society to have a sustained crop of scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and experts in technology who move forward the frontiers of its national and international prospects. I’m skeptical, however, that course taking in STEM areas will, by itself, yield what we need in terms of thinkers and innovators for tomorrow.

Instead, I’d put my money on a broad cohort of teachers in every subject who dedicate themselves to the full engagement of young minds in whatever they teach. Give me teachers who relentlessly cause kids to wonder—who ask why? and how did that happen? and what if? as though those questions were the lifeblood of learning.

Give me teachers who insist that students observe and do so systematically; teachers who say, “You must question what you see and what you hear”; teachers who make it imperative that students find the patterns in everything—and explain what those patterns reveal.

Give me teachers who say to their students, “Don’t just provide facts. Build a case. Evaluate claims by holding them up against solid evidence. Seek more evidence. Question the assumptions of others—and question your own assumptions.

Give me teachers who push their students to dig deeper, look at the other side of things, learn to tolerate…ambiguity, and value truth more than right answers. And give me teachers whose classrooms and lives commingle logical thinking, divergent thinking, and critical thinking—educators who teach students to be aware of their own thinking and how it can serve them poorly or well.

Once [we have classrooms] stocked with such teachers, we’ll have STEM for all students….

I’ve always liked John Muir’s assertion  that “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” We’ll get the crop of STEM graduates we need not so much when we mandate courses in certain disciplines as when we support teachers in all subjects to help their students develop the attitudes and habits of mind at the core of seeing—and seeking to understand—what’s all around us in the world. And I’d bet those same habits will lead students to be wise stewards of that world.

Carol Ann Tomlinson is Chair of Educational Leadership, Foundation, and Policy at the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia. She is the author of The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners.

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