When it comes to the Next Generation Science Standards, educators sometimes have more questions than answers. What are the NGSS all about? Why do they exist? Why is the approach to science and inquiry methods changing? The answer lies in the STEM cycle.
The STEM cycle explains why all students must be exposed to STEM: because STEM skills are life skills. Locked in the STEM cycle are the seeds of critical thinking—creative, evaluative, and analytical skills that are transferrable and reach across subjects in surprising and valuable ways. They are the skills that make students trainable. Further, beyond K-12, these higher order skills are the key to workforce development and the underpinnings of a student’s future college and career opportunities. They are the fuel of a prosperous future. So, let’s explore these skills through an example that lives in STEM.
What is the STEM Cycle?
When we talk about the STEM cycle of innovation, we’re talking about the relationships between science, technology, engineering, and math. Those relationships are the foundations of the Next Generation Science Standards and the foundation of innovation and revolution in the STEM industries beyond school.
It starts with science.
The Next Generation Science Standards define science as knowledge from experimentation. Scientists ask questions, then develop hypotheses and use experiments to test those hypotheses. The purpose of an experiment is to produce data that allow scientists to reflect on a hypothesis and ultimately see if it is supported or not supported. In the pursuit of answering questions using experiments, scientists develop scientific knowledge.
Scientific knowledge is a tool of engineering.
Engineers solve problems—all kinds, not just electronic or physical ones—using scientific knowledge. The way you go about solving a problem is to identify and research it, survey available materials, and create prototypes to test. Engineers then use the data from those tests to determine whether or not a prototype does indeed create a solution to the problem.
Engineers produce technology to solve problems.
Everything from software created in the Silicon Valley to aspirin and the lines painted on parking lots is technology. Technology solves problems that directly or indirectly push society and innovation further, enabling scientists and engineers to ask new or deeper questions and design experiments more frequently, more efficiently, and at whole new levels. So, technology restarts the STEM cycle over and over, as it makes it possible for new questions to be asked or answered, and for new knowledge to be applied to solve problems.
Math is at the center of the cycle.
Math is the tool for quantifying or measuring and then communicating information. As scientists or engineers go about their work, constructing procedures for testing their hypotheses or prototypes, those procedures need specific language. Math helps convey specific information and capture specific measurements and offers the tools to analyze data and understand the outcomes of testing. Without math, it would be impossible for scientists or engineers to come to an evidence-based conclusion!
How is the STEM Cycle Responsible for Innovation?
Broken down this way, you can see the STEM cycle as an ecosystem for innovation, where deeper inquiry and structured problem solving crosses disciplines and extends beyond the K-12 years into career and life.
- The interrelated subjects teach students to ask questions and search for clues, hypothesize and test their theories to arrive at evidence based conclusions.
- The subject matter pushes students to use established knowledge to get hands-on and vet their ideas with working models they have designed.
- Prototypes that successfully solve problems become technologies, which open new doors, make new discoveries possible, and spark new questions, starting the cycle over.
- In recording and proving their work, students learn the art of persuasive nonfiction writing that integrates math and other communication skills to make their model accessible to others.
But perhaps most important of all, each part of the STEM cycle applies to careers and life as well as the K-12 classroom.
STEM is not only a top area of job growth for the foreseeable future, but it is an area that will continue to create a disproportionate number of STEM related jobs that require STEM skills to support STEM innovation.
Make STEM Real: Engage Students as Scientists & Engineers
The successful STEM classroom duplicates what engineers and scientists do in the real world—ask questions and solve problems. This means equipping students to be engineers and scientists by allowing them to create hypotheses, design and build prototypes, test, analyze, and then use math to quantify their outcomes and communicate that information to peers.
The result: students equipped with higher order thinking skills and the ability to transfer learning in the classroom to success in the working world.
Want to learn more about how high-quality STEM education supports the NGSS and students’ lifelong learning? Download our eBook, Mastering The Next Generation Of Science Standards.