September 19, 2019

A Booster in STEM Learning and Teaching: My International STEM Studio Experience

I’ve been a teacher of primarily science for a long time, more than 30 years, 19 as an international educator. Currently, I am working as a science teacher in the small Balkan country of Kosovo, but I’ve also lived and taught in eastern Venezuela and southeast China near Hong Kong.

As with any long career, I’ve gone through highs and lows, amazing years and challenging ones. I’ve seen former students grow up and become educators, truck drivers, doctors, healthcare professionals, engineers, realtors, managers, entrepreneurs and parents. It is mind-blowing when I think about it. I am proud of them all.

Last spring, I received an e-mail from my current director at the Quality Schools International – International School of Kosovo suggesting I apply to TGR Foundation’s International STEM Studio, a week-long professional learning program bringing educators together from around the world. It looked like a good opportunity because I am very much interested in keeping current in my own education and professional growth. When I was selected to participate, I was very excited.

Barin uses creativity to complete an engineering design lesson and see the pros and cons of the activity from a student perspective.

Upon arriving at the TGR Learning Lab in Anaheim, CA in late July, I met my colleagues, 28 fellow international educators. Our group had much of the globe represented, with participating educators from Central and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. We were diverse, but the same.

International STEM Studio was a whirlwind of activities and learning. We covered a tremendous amount of information in six days including team-building, collaboration, modeling, asking the right kinds of questions, learning by inquiry and much more.

Barin and other International STEM Studio participants explore and showcase what modern STEM teachers look like.

A highlight of the workshop was our site visit to Genesis USA’s Hyundai Design and Technical Center, where we had a private tour. As a former mountain bike clothing designer, it was interesting to see the design process of something as complex as an automobile. I really enjoyed a one-on-one conversation with a Genesis designer at his desk. When I was designing my clothing line, I learned about design limitations and boundaries, as well as compromise. It was fascinating to see that car design is much of the same but on a different scale.

Barin and his peers participating in International STEM Studio gather for a group photo outside of the Hyundai Design and Technical Center on the last day of the training.

While I’ve been an educator for a long time, every school year is a fresh start where I try new things. International STEM Studio has given me the confidence to explore different approaches in how I teach my science classes. I am experimenting with questioning instead of telling. I am proctoring students to develop their own investigative methods, instead of relying on textbook provided templates. We may fail, but that’s okay. We will reflect, learn and press forward. I am also emphasizing that science doesn’t have a finish line, just more questions. Though it is early in the year and the process, it seems to be working. My students are enthused and happy to be in class. It is fun to see them so excited.

Using a mixture of beans students at International School of Kosovo identify ratios to determine if samples are heterogeneous or homogeneous to one another.

International STEM Studio gave me a much-needed shot in the arm, a boost in STEM learning and teaching. I came to realize I’ve been teaching STEM way before there was an acronym. I’ve done successful collaborative work with other teachers in my career; this training, however, gave me new tools to use. I am refocused and excited. I am already using much of what I learned and look forward to implementing even more with my students.

 Redefining what it means to be a champion.