Spain’s new Education Law (LOMLOE) outlines STEM competences as one of the 8 key areas of the leaver profile (“perfil de salida”) – the core cross-curricular competences that learners should leave school with. This arises from the idea that STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) is important for developing individuals now and for the future. Helping your students become future-ready means that they will develop skills, transferable abilities and a learning mindset that will prepare them to face future challenges. And all this, believe it or not, can happen in your English language classroom!
The eight competences that are listed in the LOMLOE are:
- Personal/Social/Learning to learn
- Cultural and artistic
STEM and the LOMLOE
In the words of Michael Brand, taken from his blog post “LOMLOE: a look at the new Education Law”: “The stated aim of the law is to ensure the provision of a quality education with equal opportunities for all and one all.The Law aims to help equip young people with the necessary competences to meet the demands of the global and digital world of today and tomorrow: to meet the demands of societal change.” The key words in these aims reflect the STEM concept: quality education, equal opportunities, competences, the global and digital word, a change in society, for today and tomorrow. Rather than asking what students will be able to do at the end of a lesson, the law asks the question ‘What to students need to be able to do in life?’.
One of the aims of the new law is to guarantee gender equality, respect for diversity and to ensure an all-inclusive and non-sexist education. STEM battles for gender equality and breaking with gender stereotypes by preparing not only boys, but also girls for future job openings in science, technology, engineering and maths.
The new law talks about a competence-based approach (i.e. using knowledge to do something or to achieve things). It involves knowledge (content, concepts, ideas, topics), yes, but it is also about skills (using that knowledge practically to obtain results) and also attitudes (the willingness to have a growth mindset, to use thinking dispositions, to be a collaborative individual, to be a good communicator).
In connection to this, STEM celebrates creative thinking, exploration, discovery and curiosity, and can turn children into lifelong learners because it builds “real-world” skills, attitudes and competences for life. This is achieved by doing, by being creative, by problem solving and by taking risks. Using STEM in the classroom is a way of offering learners opportunities to play with these skills and rehearse them when they are young to be able to cope with new, difficult or challenging situations in their future.
The LOMLOE can-do descriptors
The law outlines a leaver profile with descriptors on what students should be able to do in each of the 8 key competences at two levels – the end of primary and the end of secondary. This is a translation of the STEM descriptors for the end of primary:
- Uses, in a guided way, inductive, deductive and logical methods from mathematical reasoning in familiar situations and identifies and puts into practice problem solving strategies and reflects on the results obtained.
- Uses scientific thinking to understand and explain some of the phenomena that occur around us, asking questions and carrying out simple guided experiments.
- Carries out projects following steps in engineering design to make a creative product in cooperation with others.
- Explains the most relevant elements from scientific, mathematical and technological methods and their results in a clear way, using appropriate scientific terminology.
- Takes part in actions grounded in science that protect our health and the environment, in an ethical and safe way.
There is mention of the expectation that teachers should use and teach scientific terminology. This is nothing complex: it only means using more appropriate language for this type of learning, such as “observe” (rather than “look”), “label” (rather than “write”), hypothesise or predict (rather than “Guess what will happen”), “results” (rather than “What’s your answer?”). It also includes topic-based vocabulary like float/sink, light/dark, life cycle, centimetres, height/weight, etc.
You can also use specific STEM praise, like “You’re a great scientist!”, “Good thinking!”, “I can see your brain growing!” or “You’re a great problem-solver!” (instead of the general “Very good” or “Excellent”).
This is an example of a STEM experience for primary aged learners: How can I build a tower? from English Code. It links STEM with language learning, plus the life skills STEM naturally embeds in its challenges. Here, students learn about building materials and their strength, and explore structures and stability.
- First of all, learners watch a video about buildings, and tick or cross the materials that are used to build houses: bricks, wood, cement, straws, steel, spaghetti.
- Next, learners listen to an audio track and read a text to learn that strong houses are made of cement and bricks, steel or wood (this is the core STEM vocabulary) and have to circle the house that they think is strong: a or b.
- Then comes Experiment Time, where learners actually build two types of towers: one with spaghetti and clay and another with cups and construction paper. Then they get to test the strength of their towers by placing books on them and recording (rather than “writing”!) their answers in the table.
What skills for the future are learners developing by engaging in this STEM experience?
- Critical thinking. Understanding the world: exploring how things are made, the strength of materials, engineering.
- Problem solving. Building structures with an aim: the towers have to be as strong as they can possibly make them.
- Creativity and innovation. Developing a creative mindset: opening their minds to different ways of doing things while building towers with unconventional material.
- Stress tolerance and flexibility: One of those towers will be weak and it WILL fall down: learners have to cope with frustration.
Children are innovators
If you think of the characteristics innovators and children have in common (they are curious, creative, problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators), you will notice children already have the character traits that will be useful in their lives and which are also the skills that employers are looking for. So, what we really need to do is make the most of young children’s natural innovation qualities and build on from there, fostering and encouraging this in-built set mentality to avoid hindering the development of these skills.
Remember: “If we teach today’s students like we taught them yesterday, we rob them of tomorrow” (Dewey). We need to find different and more motivating ways to teach – ways that look towards the future, empowering learners with the foundational skills they need to succeed in life.
You learn to be creative by being creative, you learn to think by thinking, you learn to solve problems by problem solving often, you learn to innovate by innovating. Congratulations to all of you who are transforming your classrooms for the future!
For more information on English Code, click here.