March 13, 2017

By Sheryl Kirby. Teacher, RESET 2016


I began my career as an accountant. But after many years in the business world, I realized my true calling was in the classroom. I currently teach accounting and sports marketing at George Washington High School, which serves a large population of students from low-income households in Philadelphia.

When I learned our school was hoping to offer a STEAM magnet program—a series of courses for students focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with an added focus on the arts—I wanted to be a part of it. One of the most important things students gain from my courses is a better understanding of what a career in marketing or financial analysis fully entails. Math, the “M” in STEM, is already central to my classes, but our school community was particularly excited about robotics, computer science and engineering—disciplines with which I am much less familiar.

So, I was determined to find professional development that would reinforce my understanding of other STEM disciplines. What I found was something far greater.

My summer Research Experiences for STEM Educators and Teachers (RESET) program took place online through the Tennessee Technological University under the direction of Sally Pardue, Ph.D. There, I worked collaboratively online with other educators across the country. Initially, I was overwhelmed, but I quickly realized I wasn’t as far out on a limb as I thought. In today’s economy, almost every business venture relies on and combines STEM disciplines. And no matter the subjects taught, teachers and their students can benefit from studying the intersection of different STEM principles.

I was fortunate, following the online lab, to partner with educators with backgrounds in science and engineering. Together, we drew on our individual strengths to develop an interdisciplinary lesson that called for business students to work alongside engineering students. In the lesson, students are presented with a business need – to determine if a robot could perform a manual task better than a human. Then, students must compare the cost effectiveness of human labor versus machine labor. Students must also consider a few additional questions: How does each option address the challenges of today’s marketplace? What is the cost of building the project on a grander scale, and is it worthwhile?

It’s a lesson rooted in engineering design thinking, asking students to analyze a real-world problem, generate ideas, test prototype solutions and assess the results. And in our lesson, this design thinking takes into account the engineering and economic problem-solving critical to real-world tasks. The interdisciplinary lesson ends with products relevant to each discipline – accounting, engineering and marketing. Engineering students build the robot, accounting students conduct a cost-benefit analysis of human versus robot and marketing students produce promotional material for marketing the robot. Ultimately, all students are tasked with writing an MLA research paper about the project to determine if we can manage the process of improvement in a sustainable way via the use of the robot. 

Though I set out with the goal of strengthening my skills and returning to school with a new STEAM course, my experience with RESET also benefited me as an educator and individual. Often, teachers don’t collaborate as much as we would like and I hope to bring more collaboration into my school environment. I also improved my own technological skills by using Google Hangouts for the first time! It just goes to show STEM touches all of us in unexpected ways, and we all have room to learn.


Are you a teacher outside of traditional STEM disciplines? How are you engaging your students in STEM? Tell us below or on Twitter at @USAEOP.

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