When looking for a STEM curriculumfor your school, you’re going to have a lot of options. Unfortunately, not all of those options afford you the tools, techniques, and STEM teacher training resources that you’ll need for a successful next generation STEM program. Many of them are simply old curricula without any significant NGSS changes that are basically disguised as a new curriculum. As a teacher, you expect more from a new STEM curriculum than just a facelift on a 20-year-old kit or textbook.
How can you avoid purchasing a curriculum like this? Just look for these key elements as you research each STEM curriculum you’re considering (and ask yourself these questions, too).
It’s Aligned With Next Generation Science Standards
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are being implemented all over the country, often in alignment with new Common Core standards. They’re being put in place to ensure that students are able to perform the practices and processes of STEM in context and that they’re engaged in higher order thinking rather than rote memorization. If the STEM curriculum you’re considering wasn’t created with NGSS in mind, you’re going to have trouble helping your students reach mastery-level readiness.
It Implements Inquiry-Based Learning
Inquiry-based learning is modeled on asking questions and solving problems, rather than on memorizing facts. It engages higher order thinking and allows students to use reason, logic, research, and exploration to solve problems presented to them. This style of learning prepares students for a lifetime of creative problem-solving and innovation.
There’s Room for Creativity and Exploration
In a good STEM curriculum you’ll find that there are often multiple "right" answers. That’s because there are almost always multiple means of solving problems related to science, technology, and math in the real world.
When faced with challenges in their academic and professional careers, your students won’t be graded on finding the right answers; they’ll be evaluated on finding solutions, staying within budget, and getting projects done on time. A quality STEM curriculum will help you better prepare them with skills for this than a traditional memorization-based science curriculum that ignores STEM practices.
It Doesn’t Teach to the Test
Some STEM resources, unfortunately, focus on teaching problems and questions used in standardized assessment tests. This is not in line with the way children learn, and failing to nurture their curiosity may cause them to struggle as they progress to the next grade and then on to high school and college. Assessments under the new NGSS are based on inquiry scenarios requiring students to engage in creating, evaluating, and analyzing unique contexts. Find a STEM curriculum that puts more of an emphasis on developing skills rather than on being able to regurgitate information for a test.
It Includes All Necessary Unit Supplies
While giving room for teachers to be creative, a quality STEM curriculum will also include all of the necessary supplies for each unit of study. This is important, as inquiry-based learning and next generation STEM curricula require more hands-on experiments with more supplies than just textbooks and workbooks. Look for a STEM curriculum that includes everything a teacher and student needs for each grade-specific unit.
It’s a Really Hands-On Science Curriculum
On that note, look for a curriculum that includes a lot of interesting materials, experiments, and hands-on prototyping. It should include items that students are familiar with and use often, such as cups, string, rubber bands, et cetera, as well as less familiar tools and objects like digital thermometers, multimeters, and microwells.