It’s been said that variety is the spice of life—and in STEM classrooms that same principle rings true. To best engage with and motivate young STEM students, we’re discovering that thinking outside the textbook is a very effective method to connect with K-12 and undergrad college students.
How MEAs Improve Teaching & Learning in STEM Classrooms
Adding participatory and interactive teaching methods to the classroom mix gives students a chance to think differently and use classroom concepts in realistic contexts. That’s where the MEAs (Model-Eliciting Activities) that we discussed last week come into play. MEAs are posed as open-ended problems designed to challenge students to build models in order to solve complex, real-world problems.
While many traditional classroom settings rely solely on textbooks for content and assessment problems, MEAs allow for a more thoughtful and inclusive approach to gauging student understanding of STEM subjects. Traditional textbook assessments simply can’t replicate this in-depth, hands-on approach!
Five Characteristics of MEAs
Different than the traditional questions from our own math and science classes (remember memorizing the periodic table?), MEAs let students see how the topics they’re learning apply to the world in real and tangible ways. Beyond textbooks, MEAs are:
- Model-eliciting, meaning that students are required to develop a model to not only solve the problem at hand, but also others like it. This usually looks like a step-by-step method for how to solve the problem, rather than just an answer to one question. This is important because it helps students understand the mathematical structure of the problem.
- Self-assessable, meaning the individual or student team can critique their own work for accuracy and effectiveness.
- Open-ended to allow for creative and thoughtful interpretation of the lesson. Rarely in the real world is there one way to solve a complex problem—and you can’t find the answer in the back of a textbook! MEAs let students develop their own ways of thinking about the problem, in that they design the model for the problem based on their own prior knowledge and experiences, thus improving their problem-solving capabilities.
- Realistic to connect students with familiar topics, like solar energy or paper airplanes. MEAs illustrate how STEM subjects can help solve the problems—big and little—of the world.
- Generalizable in that MEAs are useful tools for all STEM disciplines: science, technology, engineering and math.
But MEAs are just one piece of the STEM integration puzzle. Continuing research and curriculum development will allow us to work with administration, instructors, and students to uncover and develop different ways to integrate and teach the four STEM subjects in our classrooms. As our research unfolds and recommendations are implemented in education policies across the country, we hope to reshape STEM classrooms to graduate students more literate in STEM subjects and ready for the competitive job market that awaits them after graduation.
–Tamara Moore and Gillian Roehrig, STEM Co-Directors
For more info on MEAs, explore some of our latest research
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