STEM School Goes Wrong

Mar 26, 2015 • Sarah Stevens

To start with, I went to a really great magnet high school grades 10-12. It was an amazing and wonderful experience, though sadly where my story takes place. All the incoming sophomores must take a class called Scientific Inquiry or SI, for short (we academics love our acronyms). The curriculum in SI covers introductory biology, chemistry, and physics with an emphasis on the scientific method and thinking like a scientist.

When I took this course, it could be taught by any number of the science faculty, no matter the disipline the they were trained in.
The class I took was taught by a biologist. He was wonderfully excited about the biology section but obviously not so much the chemistry or the physics. Despite his efforts, he was also not well prepared to teach us the chemistry and physics and ‘bumbled’ around these topics. From this class I thought that I didn’t really like chemistry and physics and loved biology.

I won’t go so far as to say this is why I ended up in my current field but it did have an impact. The immediate impact was that I attempted to take as little physics and chemistry as possible the rest of my high school career. I’ll admit that this might also have to do with my ignorance of the AP exams which motivated others to take classes such as ‘Advanced Chemistry’ which held no appeal to me.

The chemistry and physics classes I did take were also taught by professors who seemed to have very little interest in those classes or went much faster through the material than the students, including myself, could keep up. Now, I think they could have benefited from some formative assessment. Then I felt like I was lacking in this particular skill or inadequately prepared. It saddens me to think back about this experience, given that it was a STEM focused school. However, I’m happy to report that the curriculum for SI was changed the year following my taking it. They split the class into modules which were taught by someone from that field and had a 4th module dedicated to scientific methods. I was very happy with this change and hope that it proved better for future students.

As to what could have brought me back to those fields, I’m fairly certain had my subsequent chemistry and physics classes been better I would have gotten back on track. In fact, when I went to college, I was surprised to find that neither of the fields were as difficult as I had imagined and I enjoyed taking classes in those areas.