Do teachers need a technical background to be able to teach STEM? 

 April 2, 2018

By  Peter

Some of the best teachers I have met, had no formal training in the core STEM disciplines before they became involved in STEM education. It is common for teachers who trained for a career in teaching religious studies, English, Humanities or Arts, to name just a few, to develop a keen interest in STEM.

In many cases, not having a technical background proved to be an advantage. This is because such teachers entered the field with a fresh set of eyes, no previously set ideas about STEM teaching, and most importantly, had to experience the learning journey that the student also has to walk through.

We often forget that teaching STEM is not about teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. It is about helping students learn through project work, using the knowledge that comes from multiple disciplines. In the process of learning, teachers help students to develop mindsets that will help them to succeed and thrive in future post-industrial and post-scarcity societies.

In other words, teachers should be more concerned about the STEM pedagogy and methodology of teaching rather than the specific tools and technologies that can be employed.

Take Steve Hohm, for example. Steve is an Associate Pastor of LIFE Foursquare Church, in Decatur, in the USA. Steve describes himself as a “teacher who loves to learn”. With this mindset, and despite not having a technical background, he took it upon himself to introduce a STEM curriculum to his school. He trained himself on open technologies, like the Arduino, and learned as his students now do. He designed and constructed a Christmas light and sound show, using the Arduino and the various components that his students use to create their own projects.

Steve is a teacher who saw that through STEM education he could help his students grow into successful and happy individuals. Not having a technical background proved to be an advantage for Steve. Combined with his care for his students, his love for learning for the sake of learning, and his mindset of growth, he became a STEM student himself. A maker. He blurred the borderline between teaching and learning. Hear Steve tell his story here.

Another example of a teacher who is thriving in STEM but came from a non-technical background is Brian McNally. Brian trained as a teacher and specialised in Outdoor Education, spending much of his time hiking, climbing and tying knots with ropes, before gradually becoming interested in cross-curriculum learning after a few years as a physical education teacher. Like Steve, Brian self-trained in information technology and used that skill set as a stepping stone to integrating more disciplines into his teaching. This naturally brought him to STEM.

As Brian explains in his Stemiverse interview, he trained in IT to resolve a specific set of problems he was facing in his work as a physical education teacher. Over the years, as Brian transitioned from outdoor education to physical education and eventually a mainstream primary teacher where he applies a STEM project-based approach to learning, he collected a wealth of teaching techniques from which he can draw. This rich background accrued to Brian’s unique approach to STEM cross-curriculum learning and teaching. Listen to Brian talk about the Rich Task group in his interview(around minute 22).

Each teacher’s journey into STEM is unique. Teachers bring with them their own set of experiences and philosophies, but all of them seem to have something in common: a love for learning and a strong sense of duty to prepare their students for success in a world about which we know very little.

Listen to Meredith Ebbs talk about thematic teaching and journey into project-based learning. HowSimone Maciel transformed her background in Drama, Music and History into a passion for teaching technology. And how Pip Cleaves, with a background as a Japanese translator and teacher to practice project-based learning at Code Club.

A technical background is not necessary for a teacher who is interested in STEM and project-based learning. Very often, as the teachers I mentioned earlier show, a non-technical background can be preferable as it gives the opportunity to cross-fertilise between their old discipline and the new core STEM skills they gain.

This does not mean that STEM teachers don’t need technical skills. As I will explain in the next article, gaining relevant technical skills and confidence in their ability as a maker, is a fundamental step towards becoming a competent STEM teacher. But it’s not for the reasons you may be thinking.

If you’d like to know more about how to begin your journey into applying STEM education techniques and learn more about the available tools this approach offers, click on this link to find out more and book a free 30 minute consultation with us. We can answer any question you might have about getting started.


Background, STEM, Teach, Teachers

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