We are proud advocates for a STEM education system where every child belongs. To strengthen students’ sense of belonging, it is crucial for adults to welcome them into learning environments with genuine enthusiasm and intentionality to build relationships among and with their students. Moreover, what we teach has to be contextualized in their lived experiences. We must recognize that every student comes from a unique background and has different needs, but we firmly believe all deserve equal opportunities to succeed.
Belonging is a function of inclusion. The best teachers among us, both in and out of the school setting, make a concerted effort to actively promote inclusivity and embrace diversity. That’s one of the things I love about STEM! The STEM classroom is one place to promote inclusivity, as it encourages collaboration and problem-solving. Students can learn to appreciate each other’s strengths and differences by working together on projects. So many of the projects we introduce to students in science, math, and computer science are about understanding the experiences of diverse individuals and communities. The language of STEM is inclusion.
The recent shootings in Tennessee broke my heart. I’m terrified for my daughter, my daughter’s teacher, and all the teachers I know and appreciate. Though we all know and believe that education can save lives, teachers shouldn’t have to. So, while smarter gun control efforts may not be part of TRSA’s mission, I’m sure that a school environment where students are afraid for their safety is not one where they can come to thrive–which makes gun control a STEM education issue.
So, I would like to invite the larger STEM education community to consider at least two actions you can incorporate into your daily life:
- Prioritize empathy and belonging in our STEM classrooms. Creating a sense of inclusion, care, encouragement, validation, and understanding is crucial to the broader conversation on mental health and violence prevention. In a world where both in-school and out-of-school experiences contribute to fostering such an environment, children in need can receive assistance instead of resorting to violence.
- Advocate for mathematical literacy. Children must gain confidence with statistics and functions to understand best the mathematics used in political debates around gun violence. The plural of anecdote is not data; the plural of data is evidence. Students must be presented with opportunities throughout their STEM education to understand and make decisions with real data about real issues.
STEM is a vehicle for creating a more empathetic society. Understanding, not judgment, is fundamental to the fabric of every community, and human-to-human relationships are the antidote to hate and fear. With STEM, we have the opportunity to connect our students to the world around them, where they can find common ground with those who are different from them, and they can begin to understand that all of us want the same basic things: safety, health, and belonging.
Please join me in thinking about how to create even more opportunities to use STEM as a tool for instilling empathy and hoping that real solutions will be brought to the table to ensure no educator or child worries a moment more about gun violence in their classroom.