We believe the heart of any school is its core purpose, its reason for being. To engage and motivate students, a school, and each course of study within it, must have a palpable sense of purpose. This purpose must not only prepare student for future learning, but more importantly must have readily seen apparent value to the student in the here and now
Over the past 400 years, there have been many core purposes to education. The earliest colonial settlers fleeing religious persecution from England regarded education as means to salvation. During the height of the industrial revolution, education for industry became a core purpose. In the early 20th century, education for social adaptation and assimilation emerged as a new core purpose.
What are schools’ core purposes in the 21st Century?
We believe that a school’s purpose must be sufficiently defined so it can guide the organization of the curriculum as a whole. We have found many school mission statements to be woefully insufficient as a guide to meaningful curricula choices. A “College Prep” purpose begs the question. Why college and how to really prepare students for the panoply of choices of study it offers?
In our work with thousands of teachers in hundreds of secondary schools, as well as from our work with faculty from dozens of colleges and universities, we have heard recurring concerns voiced: too many students have low motivation and poor work habits; too many are not as well as prepared for the next level as they should be; too many don’t know the basics and cannot apply what they know.
Many students have told us they find the teaching dull and the curriculum meaningless to them. Few when asked can articulate why they are learning what is presented to them.
We consider the curriculum in its largest sense to be a student’s entire school experience and that each course must have an “engagement proposition” so that every student knows what they are intended to learn and why.
We believe that disciplinary subjects should serve the school’s purpose and not the other way around. We regard state standards as flexible enough to permit a wide choice of curricular organization and choice of materials.
We think the “classroom” can take many forms and in different spaces, but that learning is ultimately about a relationship between the knower, what is to be known. And while technology can greatly aid learning, we believe there is no substitute for a human teacher, who we regard as an indispensable questioner, guide and mentor.
To maximize student understanding of concepts and the retention of information, we believe subjects ought to be internally coherent while at the same time reflecting the cognitive psychology of the learner.
To the greatest extent practical, there ought to be abundant opportunities in the curriculum for cross-disciplinary connections so that the curriculum affords students insight into the seamless integration of the natural world.
We offer three levels of customized STEM and STEAM related curriculum design services from individual course evaluation and redesign to new whole school curriculum development including capstones and laboratory activities.
21PSTEM has developed and field tested an 18-step curriculum design process for the construction of purpose-driven STEM and STEAM curricula. This process was first used in Egypt as part of a $30million USAID grant to design from scratch new Model STEM schools based on a set of Design Principles. The purpose of these STEM schools is to prepare students to be able to address Egypt’s ten “Grand Challenges” as a country. egyptstemschools.blogspot.com
The Egyptian STEM curriculum features an inquiry, theme-based design with semester long “capstone projects.” Students take integrated courses in biology, chemistry, physics, earth science and pure and applied mathematics as well as humanities and arts each semester throughout their high school careers. Students are highly motivated and have no difficulty articulating what they are learning and why. See this short video clip of our Maadi STEM School for Girls.
The 21PSTEM 18-step process requires approximately two years of development and field testing. For a further description of the process, see a paper presented at the American Education Research Association, April 2014
We are now adapting the 21PSTEM-Egypt curriculum development process to the Greater Philadelphia STEAM Initiative that seeks to re-conceptualize the relationship between a city rich in informal education assets and impoverished urban schools. The goal is to develop a “place-based” integrated curriculum that blends both the informal and formal learning spaces. The STEAM concept paper is available here
please contact F. Joseph Merlino at: firstname.lastname@example.org