A STEM teacher’s technical competence is important – but not only for the reasons you may think 

 April 2, 2018

By  Peter

Continuous professional development is always in a teacher’s to-do list. New evidence-based pedagogical methods, new tools, new curriculum requirements, policies for helping students with special needs, and so much more, all need dedicated learning time put aside to achieve a higher level of professionalism and capability.

Of course, this learning is necessary. Teachers must continually train in the skills they need to stay current with their practice.

But when it comes to training in STEM topics such as learning a new robotics platform, programming language, or construction system, there is one more reason: the better you know it, the more fun you will have.

Perhaps, out of all the learning that a teacher can do to support their work, the most important is the one that will have the most impact on their students. When it comes to impact, nothing is more engaging for a student than experiencing their teacher genuinely enjoying the topic they are teaching. Symmetrically, when a student sees a teacher is not engaged with the topic, it’s more likely the student’s engagement will be affected too.

Many of us have a story about a favourite teacher or a teacher that made a defining impact in their lives. Often, the teacher did not even know the student. It may have been something that they said in a lecture, the way they talked when they spoke about a topic they loved, or something they wrote in a book.

I have never met Professor Carl Sagan, but I have read his books. In one of them, The Demon-Haunted World, he explained why science is a candle in the dark (the subtitle of the book). This was the last book he wrote before he passed away, and in it I witnessed a laser-sharp mind having fun, presenting a crystal-clear reality in a humble no-nonsense way. Precisely the kind of attitude that can ground a young, confused mind to a method for understanding reality. In that book, I remember this passage:

“I try not to think with my gut. If I’m serious about understanding the world, thinking with anything besides my brain, as tempting as that might be, is likely to get me into trouble. Really, it’s okay to reserve judgment until the evidence is in. – Carl Sagan in “The Demon-Haunted World”

A teacher I have never actually met, having fun, taught me that it’s ok to say “I don’t know”. This simple lesson instantly helped me become a better teacher. Students appreciated honesty. I was able to recognise my own limits and actively try to become a better teacher by working on my weaknesses.

A teacher having fun has the power to transform their students. To have fun in STEM, a level of technical competence is necessary. Technical competence over time gives way to comfort. When we are comfortable, creativity comes along (this is why often our best ideas come in the shower). And when creativity produces its results, that’s when we are having fun!

Do you envision yourself as teacher your students will remember having a positive impact on their education and vision of the world? Click here to learn how STEM education can encourage student engagement in the classroom and put the spark back into your own learning process and discover how to get started right now.


COMPETENCE, STEM, Teacher, Technical

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