Douglas Petrick
Douglas Petrick
Physics Teacher, Pittsburgh, PA

Recently, my high school hosted a Women In Science,Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics (S.T.E.A.M.) event. The day served as a jumping-off point for twenty-four of our female students to engage with six different female professionals in S.T.E.A.M.-related careers.


Throughout the day, five points, or, what I’ll call actions, were identified as commonalities between all six presenters.  If I re-purpose the S.T.E.A.M. acronym, each of the five actions fit nicely.rocket-launch-67643_640.jpg

  1. Search
  2. Try
  3. Engage
  4. Anticipate
  5. Meet


Let’s look how these actions can be brought into the classroom.


1. Search


Each speaker at our Women in S.T.E.A.M event described her career journey, painting a picture for those in attendance that success—however one defines it—is often not a linear process. Teachers can provide opportunities for students to seek out their passion in the classroom. Course content will most often be the medium through which students discover something that taps
into their own interests.  During high school, students are trying to find who they are, and where they belong; you are a guide, helping them along their path to self-discovery.  Students will identify a lifelong passion when the teacher implements a variety of activities and instructional strategies.  And, it’s quite alright if the content isn’t the main focus here.


2. Try.


Over and over, presenters stressed showing up and persistence as a key to empowerment, emphasizing growth as a result of working through a challenge. How can educators structure their
course curriculum to create opportunities for risk-taking and constructive failure?  A safe environment protects students from destructive criticism during discussions and sharing sessions.  Safe spaces permit students the freedom to act creatively and to take chances—they may flop in doing so—and to try again.  As educators, it’s equally important to model academic risk-taking for your students. Try a new activity, a new instructional strategy, or new topic in your class. Your students will follow your lead and become more daring in the classroom.


3. Engage.


I watched as the students became immersed in conversation with the presenters during the small group Q&A. The dialogue flowed from the sense of community developed within each grouping. As educators, our ability to incorporate small-group work is bound by the number of students in our classrooms.  Whether you teach in a lecture hall, online, or in a laboratory, I encourage you to create a community dynamic. Focus on the creation of purposeful small group opportunities throughout the year, and you’ll see student involvement multiply through a shared sense of
ownership. See my blog post, “E Pluribus Unum: What Social Studies Taught Me About Teaching,” for more tips on creating a sense of community in the classroom.


4. Anticipate.


Each presenter spoke of adjusting to constant career changes.  Goals, supervisors, job titles—all these things and more will be fluid and should be welcomed as part of the process. If you equip your students to anticipate challenging terrain on the road ahead, then states of flux develop into positive learning experiences.  Teachers who model a positive tone when the unexpected materializes help students develop a growth mindset.  For example: how do you react when the A/V equipment isn’t working properly, the class is interrupted by office announcements, or a student asks a question for which you don’t have an immediate answer? Do you model flexibility and positivity?



5. Meet.


During our S.T.E.A.M. event, as conversations between students and presenters rolled into the lunch portion of the programming, participants engaged in valuable face time with the various
professionals, and suddenly, for many, the future didn’t seem that far away.


You can foster a similar dialogue by inviting a guest speaker to your class to discuss a relevant topic. Try a Google Hangout or Skype with an expert if your location or transportation presents a
challenge.  Also, you can share a link to a brief video to prompt your students to think about their next five, ten, or fifteen years.  Inspiration occurs when students connect the dots from the classroom to career.


So, what experiences have you had in helping students realize their strengths and think about their future?  Post a comment in the space below, and I will be sure to connect with you.


Doug Petrick holds an Architectural Engineering degree from Pennsylvania State University and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from California University of Pennsylvania. He is currently a high school Physics teacher at Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh. Doug regularly contributes to a series for educators on the Wiley Network offering practical advice and instructional strategies.


Image credit: Pixabay/WikiImages