“This sounds great, but it’s one more thing, and I just don’t have time for that.” In the past three years building STEM Library Lab, this one sentence has continually flummoxed me. Today I want to dive into the problem of “One More Thing.”
As a teacher, this was me. I’d get an email about something I’ve never heard of and think, “cool I’ll check this out at some point.” 4 hours later it’s so deep in my inbox that I never remember it.
Now I’m on the other end. STEM Library Lab has over $150,000 in science, math, social studies, art, engineering, AV, and other materials sitting in a room free for any teacher to borrow, any time they want. We have solved STEM Equipment Access in greater New Orleans schools; our public school teachers have access to literally any tool or teaching aid they can imagine, at the press of a button.
Except that we haven’t actually solved STEM Equipment Access, because these materials are not getting into schools effectively. I mean, some are, we see 10-15 teachers/week, but we have the capacity to serve upwards of 50 teachers/week. I don’t believe a single teacher thinks STEM Library Lab is a bad idea, but the problem is, it’s One More Thing.
How do we convince teachers that the benefits of engaging is worth the time-spend? As Myles Horton reminds us, “Problems only seem complicated because you don’t understand them well enough to make them simple.” Let’s break it down:
- One More Thing to Remember: Teachers forget about SLL when they’re doing their lesson planning
- One More Thing to Prepare: Teachers are busy enough with regular teaching duties to incorporate new hands-on/inquiry based lesson methodologies
- One More Thing to Do After Work: Teachers think it’s easier to just buy stuff themselves or make do with something
- One More Thing to Learn: Teachers are reticent to engage because it’s one more system to learn
- One More Thing to Learn About: Teachers worry that visiting something untested will be a waste of time, an all too precious commodity
Considering the problem this way, I see three main root causes preventing our capacity to assist teachers- lack of motivation, lack of support, and lack of awareness.
How do we motivate teachers to visit after an already long and stressful work day? To answer this question, we asked teachers, and they told us about some more of their needs. The big one was “free wine,” but unfortunately we’re located inside a school building. They also expressed that they’re in need of material resources. So in addition to the value of the Co-op, we’ve added the Teacher Free-Store, allowing teachers of any subject/grade to pick up much needed classroom supply basics such as office supplies and decorations. We built out our Copy/Print Center, where teachers can poster print, die cut print, and laminate to their hearts’ content, again free of charge. And we opened the Co-Working Space as our version of the “3rd place”, complete with coffee, snacks, and an open floor plan for independent or collaborative work. We’re still testing these solutions because just as we opened these resources, COVID hit. So we moved to curbside but are waiting to see the results.
How do we support teachers in utilizing the variety of equipment currently sitting idle on shelves? Once again, we turned to teachers for answers. They told us they need additional preparation in three areas, content knowledge, pedagogy and instructional practices. So we developed our free event series, Communities of Practice, to bring small groups of teachers together around a particular content topic or piece of equipment with sessions led by teachers. We also launched a community sourced Lesson Plan Database to house these and other lessons for teachers to draw from. And we designed a paid professional development workshop series Engaging Students with LSSS-Aligned Instruction, as a means to ensure teachers have a background in the Standards and Instructional Practices required to implement inquiry-based and hands-on lessons. But attendance is low, because again, this feels like One More Thing.
How to we raise awareness and name recognition so that teachers feel comfortable trying something new? The perception locally that there is a dearth of quality science support resources makes people skeptical to try new or untested services outside their comfort zone. In truth I would argue that our local STEM education ecosystem has many great resources in the local nonprofit and university scene, but connecting them successfully to classrooms is still a work in progress.
Blog posts? Better social media and online presence? We’ve assessed that we need to begin a targeted approach of posting content that either helps teachers better do their job, or showcases the impact and value of the work we’re currently doing. Ecosystem development? I deeply believe that we need to foster collaboration in the STEM education ecosystem, which is why we’re building out and will eventually launch a tool to connect teachers with the vast landscape of resources available throughout the greater New Orleans region. Better swag? Want to buy one of our new SLL Sweatshirts, just in time for fall? Order online. Want a free decal to put on your classroom wall or car? Stop by and pick one up while you visit the Free-Store, Copy/Print Center, or the Library Co-op.
Leave a comment to me know if you agree or disagree and why? And if you resonate with the idea of One More Thing, check out my last post about the Teacher Free-Store, Resourcing the Under-Resourced.