Parents and planning hard to teach easy in Integrated STEM in primary schools

I will come to the parent part in a moment.

The phrase planning hard to teach easy is an expression I first heard my doctoral supervisors use in their classroom research in schools more than a decade ago*. The more I understand teaching practice and deep thoughtful classroom learning planning hard to teach easy is necessary. So, what does it mean?

It’s about doing the hard thinking up front on what it is you want the students to learn, then carefully and deliberately structuring it. Make the learning student centered all the while allowing for curiosity and self-direction. This process (abbreviated details here) enables classroom learning to unfold in deep and engaging ways for primary school students. Very common practice in planning for learning in the classrooms of teams of teachers in 14 NSW K-6 schools in research documented in my recent book (Hunter, 2021).

In a new study on the NSW central coast planning hard to teach easy is one of the guiding principles teaching teams are using in their planning for Integrated STEM learning sequences for next term. This research is designed to build teachers’ professional capacity in STEM and is being supported through release time for professional learning, collaborative drafting and team conversations, and action learning cycles (where teachers question, analyze, model solutions, try out their learning plans in the classroom, reflect on practice within their team and then consolidate the data they collect).

Teachers are using an inquiry template – its in the book – one that allows for an explicit scaffold to support planning processes using: one, conceptions and themes in the framework of High Possibility Classrooms; and two, integration of outcomes from multiple syllabus documents including the General Capabilities in the Australian Curriculum.

Of note in initial discussions in professional learning sessions with teaching teams at the school are the ways parents might be involved in their child’s STEM learning. Parents often want to join in school life in the early years of education so this is an ideal time to capitalise on their enthusiasm and availability.

For example, a guest speaker drawn from the parent community. This is one way to nurture STEM conversations – for instance in a topic like energy and electricity transfer – perhaps a local female electrician or mechanical engineer might be willing to share their expertise (parent of a child in Stage 3). Always useful to check the parent is comfortable explaining what they do in a bite-sized chunk or even suggesting the child record their ‘STEM expert parent’ at home on their iPhone – this could be played later in the classroom (it also gets around the need for Child Protection Clearance and Covid-19 concerns).

At a SW Sydney primary school discussed in detail in Chapter 4: Disadvantage is no barrier to Integrated STEM  parents of children in a special needs support unit noticed changes in learning when students had: opportunities to record their STEM learning using digital technologies, listen to parent speakers, and make short films with a peer/s to explain concepts. While often finding the students preferred to work alone their teacher remarked: “Students inquiry skills have really developed … the aspect of being more independent learners, seeing their parents engaged in what they are doing and working collaboratively with peers when required has really shone through”.

Professional work of primary schools teachers in Integrated STEM is tied to deep understandings of curriculum, syllabus outcomes, and developing contextually relevant learning designs in meaningful learning sequences, units of work, or problem-solving tasks, and real-world challenges. Not a worksheet is seen anywhere in these classrooms  … and so as one school term closes in NSW, and in other state/territories holidays are also not far away, teachers will be planning hard to teach easy while parents think about how they can be more involved with their child’s learning in Integrated STEM.

*This post was an invited contribution to a fabulous new STEM resource from Swinburne University of Technology, access the post and the full site here