Implementing Real-World STEM Curriculum in the Classroom Proves Vital to Students’ College and Career Success

Healthcare Insights

Baxter is committed to providing a hands-on approach to develop the next generation of scientists, engineers and healthcare professionals that will bring critical innovation to help advance patient care. The Baxter Center for Science Education, a collaborative partnership with Lindblom Math & Science Academy in Chicago, the Office of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education Partnerships at Northwestern University and Baxter, connects students’ classroom studies to real-world experiences and trains teachers to implement life science programs in their schools to adapt learning to meet the needs of the current professional environment.

Baxter spoke with Amy Pratt and Alan Mather to discuss the importance of integrating real-world STEM applications in the classroom. Pratt is the associate director at the Office of STEM Education Partnerships at Northwestern University, which seeks to understand how to better develop curriculums, arm teachers with the essential training and resources, and inform educational policy accordingly. Mather is the former principal of Lindblom Math & Science Academy, where the program originated, and is now the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Chief of College and Career Success overseeing the office of career education, as well as five early college and 12 elementary STEM schools.

Q: Why is it necessary to change the way STEM is taught in the classrooms?

AMY: This isn’t just about changing science in the classroom, but transforming the curriculum so that it is practical and advantageous to students as they consider various colleges and career paths. There’s a huge gap right now between the science education in high school to college and the professional sphere, not just in materials and instructors, but in the skills being developed. The Baxter Center for Science Education aims to move from a standard lecture or worksheet to real-world problem solving, hands-on tinkering and allowing students more independence in working through experiments.

It’s also about helping our students understand how science can be applied outside the classroom to the real issues of our society, such as climate change and finding cures for cancer. This very realistic draw not only inspires students, but invokes an unprecedented passion for STEM subjects. They not only learn to think critically but lab modules developed at the Baxter Center help them feel connected to something.

ALAN: As we talk to students about college and career success, we need to ensure they see the opportunities that await them. STEM fields are where the jobs are going to be, and we need to prepare them for that. The Baxter Center for Science Education gives students real-world experiences that also provide them with the skills to demonstrate their learning. In conducting these new learnings with Baxter, students are given challenges to work on things that actually matter to the company today, prepare and conduct experiments and coordinate with people at Baxter. This allows them to develop important skills beyond STEM, such as presentation skills and working in teams.

This is not how the teachers in our schools today have initially learned, so there’s a huge learning curve for teachers too, and the professional development this program brings in is a big part of that. It’s critical to identify and execute this shift in what people understand about STEM education. For example, you learn as much from failure as you do from success. Our mission through our partnership with Baxter helped us realize that science can be a huge driver to show students that failure can be good and is part of their learning.

Q: In addition to inspiring a greater interest in the STEM field, what other benefits does the Baxter Center for Science Education bring to Chicago-area students?

AMY: There are so many students not interested in the STEM disciplines at the middle and high school level because they don’t have access to programming or coursework that gives them authentic, real-world experiences in those disciplines. We also need to provide more professional development opportunities for in-service teachers to connect with the most cutting-edge content and skills in post-secondary STEM study and careers. Businesses are constantly evolving, setting the standard for innovation higher and higher – teachers need access to those innovations to help prepare and excite students about STEM careers.

We need to connect students and teachers to the way science is applied at companies like Baxter or universities like Northwestern. Students are exposed to science but with little hands-on experience on the application of science. This is causing declining interest in these subjects and a lack of preparedness among students, especially when it comes to pursuing a major in STEM as they embark on a college path.

ALAN: The Baxter Center for Science Education is also a huge movement for competency-based learning. In our current educational landscape, we still have students who are in a math or science class and graded on whether or not they attended class or turned their papers in on time. Through the integration of real-world skills into existing curricula, and truly evaluating students’ proficiency in these skills, we have a stronger understanding of what students have learned and further meaning behind the letter grade.

Q: How does the Baxter Center for Science Education impact teachers?

AMY: Everything we do at the Baxter Center for Science Education draws a parallel, which includes immersing teachers in the current applications of STEM through extensive trainings. We instruct teachers how to change up what they’re already doing or planning to do to reflect the greater happenings in our society that require a thorough science education.

At our annual symposium – an event designed to excite and inspire teachers to bring the lab activities, developed in partnership with Baxter, to their classrooms – we encourage the teachers to take a closer look at their lessons and ask why it should matter to the student and how it might be more engaging, while also aligning to standards and curriculum. The symposium showcases the real-world science and hands-on lab activities they can practice with their students, giving them the tools they need for a new, exciting way to teach advanced life sciences.

Q: How have you seen this program have an effect on students in STEM? Looking ahead to the future, where do you see this program going?

AMY: We’ve seen growth in every aspect of this program, from an increase in participants to the variety of programming we’re able to provide. While the development of lab modules and teacher professional development will always be core and central to our work at the Baxter Center, we have recently developed a full biotechnology course as a high school elective. We started this course in one school and are adding six more in 2016-17. The Baxter Center works to maximize our expertise and resources so that we can meet the changing needs of schools and teachers and be innovative in what we develop for the classroom. As a result of our partnership with Baxter, we’re able to be relatively nimble on the ground, making changes whenever necessary to ensure we’re serving our teachers in the best way possible.

I have personally seen the participation among teachers rise as they recognize the opportunity for students resulting from implementing real-world science curriculum in their classrooms. This has impacted thousands of students as they experience Baxter Center-developed activities. The commitment Baxter has made to this initiative is tremendous, both to Chicago Public Schools and the professional development of teachers.

ALAN: Overall, students have absolutely loved this program. They find it engaging, rich and transformative, as it opens new opportunities they might not have thought possible. In my role overseeing the college and career preparedness of Chicago Public School students, we’re looking more broadly at how we can use this as a model in other disciplines within STEM. We’re working to identify how we can create a central place where students and teachers can find support to stay up to date on new trends in their field so they can be prepared for what’s to come.