STEM Practical Education Becomes Popular in Azerbaijan

Publish on April 29, 2019

STEM Center in Azerbaijan has recently celebrated its fourth year anniversary. Its classes gradually became very popular among the kids with its after school, camp, master classes and workshops. The center’s social impact projects jointly with public school supported by Ministry of Education of Azerbaijan Republic. STEM Center the owner of Engineering for Kids (US brand) branch in Azerbaijan, Teachers STEM Education Trainings and Makers Club.

Every day our world is becoming faster, more intense, technological and not standard. Old methods in any branches of life become less efficient. New challenges of the dynamic world pose such difficult tasks as learning should be more interesting than other hobbies, knowledge should be practical and meet modern requirements, training should take place in an entertaining way and should have a logical conclusion with getting a good job. Over the past few years, many different methods have been developed about this. One of the effective methods is STEM education based on hands-on practical curriculums! STEM center, which opened in Baku 4 years ago, is becoming more and more popular among schoolchildren every day. To learn the secret and advantages of STEM education, we turned to the founder of the STEM center, Rufat Azizov.

What is the outlook for STEM education in Azerbaijan?

Azerbaijan is a young, growing country with increasing young workforce and middle class. Education in generally, especially STEM education is important for country to allocate workforce from low productive areas to high efficient businesses, improve skills for technological entrepreneurship, grow more engineers to support infrastructure and communication projects, and also resolve social problems.

Social impact in education is one of our key goals. STEM clubs in public schools, Girls in Engineering and Programs for SOS village kids are among such social programs. We actively participate in educational programs supported by Ministry of Education. Our last and most impactful project was joint project with school no. 251 in Baku supported by Ministry of Education. The scope of project was to train primary schools teacher, equip them with modern STEM learning methods and then apply their skills in pilot classes. The results exceeded our expectation. Teachers actively participated in trainings and bring their all creativity improve STEM classes in the school. During the 3 month project “1001 STEM products” were built by students, the closing ceremony looked like big STEM museum with all that STEM innovative products. I have never seen so many STEM work outs together. Rockets, rollers coasters, different type of building and sky scrapers, bridges, airplanes, parachutes, sport cars, robots, boats, mini factories, even cities, castles, catapults, marble run, levitators, cranes, circuits and many others were among these projects. Students were proud to speak about their projects and underline how STEM is important for our world. Teachers put their all efforts during the project and became hero of students. Actually, project was like huge STEM movement in the school and roots for modern STEM education culture established there. According to monitoring records, students’ interest on regular science classes was significantly increased, they have started to discuss and offer their own creative solutions, and they became more communicable, social and confident for problem solving. STEM classes help young engineers improve their attention to detail and overall levels of focus. Not only do programs help to establish technology and engineering concepts, they worked to build on students’ team-building skills as they worked to complete fun challenges. These collaborative skills are essential for student success, no matter what subject they choose to pursue in the future.

Ministry of Education have significant engagement programs to improve STEM practical mind in the schools. STEM discussions, conferences, individual or team projects, competitions, and exchange programs, preparations for international Olympiads, application of modern tools and trainings for teachers supported by Ministry of Education. STEM Labs, new competencies and interactive teaching methods developed very intensively. The STEM education support initiatives in Azerbaijan can be successful model for other countries to make our kids ready for rapidly changing world.

We notice a very large potential of development not only in Azerbaijan, but also in the entire CIS space. But here it is necessary to approach carefully, exploring the existing and what can be supplemented. Educational programs in the schools of the CIS countries are much more complex than in the west. The scientific and mathematical base of school programs is very strong. Laboratory practical programs also exist and in some schools they are quite strong. Therefore, children from the CIS know mathematics and science much better than children in the west. However, our children at school do not to study engineering and technology enough. That is why design lessons in engineering and technology will be in great demand for a long time, this includes robot technology, 3D printing, computer engineering, mechatronics, aerospace, mechanical, electrical, construction, marine and industrial engineering. Today we cooperate with schools, among them there are both private and public schools. Periodically we analyze the feedback from our instructors about students, we understand what is more important and interesting for them, and based on this we improve our programs.

If you emphasize the three main fundamental advantages of your center, what would you point out?

I believe that every project can be successful only when, based on the work done, lies on history and experience. Our STEM center was created and today is managed on the basis of ideas and strategies developed by young engineers who have studied in US, UK and EU universities, today working in the best companies in the world and occupying leading positions in these companies. Among them, there are so many candidates of science, professional members of various institutes and academies. The second advantage is our certified curriculum, which consists of 1,650 academic hours in 12 different areas of engineering. Our STEM center is the official representative of the American STEM brand Engineering For Kids (EFK). Our lessons repeatedly tested by the EFK corporate office in the USA. Students, coming to us do not get bored because of the repetition of lessons, they can come 3-4 years in a row and each time they will see new project lessons. Even on the latest topics of science and technology, specialists develop curricula as soon as possible. Third, this is our active team of instructors and managers. They love their work very much and treat it very responsibly. Especially instructors who prepare each lesson as by a technique, also choosing music, video, dances, the scenario for each lesson. This is a very big job. Every student or parent feels at home in our office. We have a very high level of communication and service to parents. Our managers at the same time plan a lot of programs, allocate resources, organize logistics, etc.

What are age categories for your classes?

Children distributed into groups by age categories: 4 – 6, 7 – 10, 11 – 14 years.

Junior Engineers (4-6 years old): The main goal of the STEM program for preschoolers is to prepare children for school by practical exercises using the latest STEM programs and technologies. Preschoolers, programming robots, building rockets, cars, bridges, ships, cities and much more, acquire the skills of logical thinking and practice of manual work.

Apprentice Engineers (7-10 years old): The main goal of the STEM program for junior schoolchildren is to instill a love for engineering and technology, to uncover and develop their potential for managing engineering projects with the latest STEM programs and technologies. By the way, the majority, 52% of kids visiting our classes are Apprentice Engineers.

Master Engineers (11-14 years old): the main goal of the STEM program for middle school students is to teach design and management of engineering projects, to motivate them to chemistry, physics, and mathematics, biology and computer science lessons in their schools, to explain the importance of STEM disciplines in choosing their future professions.

What is STEM education for children? So, what are the advantages of this teaching method?

At first, STEM is an integrated training on “topics” and not on subjects. STEM training combines an interdisciplinary and project approach, the basis for which becomes the integration of the natural sciences in technology, engineering creativity and mathematics. It is very important to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics integrated, because these areas are closely interconnected in practice. Secondly, STEM-education through practical exercises shows children the use of scientific and technical knowledge in real life. In each lesson, they develop, build, and develop products of modern industry. They study a specific project, as a result of which they create a prototype of a real product with their own hands. For example, young engineers building a rocket, familiarize themselves with such concepts as the engineering design process, launch angle, pressure, stretching force, friction force, trajectory and coordinate axes. STEM programs motivate children to learn mathematical and scientific concepts to solve real-world issues.

Why do parents choose STEM education for their children? How does it differ from traditional teaching methods?

Today, many parents are interested in such issues related to education, how to provoke an interest in children toward natural sciences and technology? How to teach them for apply their theoretical knowledge in practice? It has been established that approximately 10% of what he hears, 50% of what he sees, and 90% of what he does remain in the memory of a person. As part of the standard school education, the student has the opportunity to obtain basic knowledge, but they still need to attach the practical exercises to solve real problems. Practical STEM, a method of teaching students that solves all these questions. STEM is a curriculum, based on the idea of ​​teaching children the four specific disciplines at the same time – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in project design classes. In other words, alternative education comes to the aid of traditional education.

In many countries, they are trying to integrate or create a triangle of “education-science-business” impacts, what role can you play in this?

We understand the seriousness of this issue and organize various projects, mainly campaigns, which also cover work with universities and companies. Only last year, during the summer camps, our students visited 32 different companies, they saw on the spot from chocolate production to a garment factory, from real construction projects to a hotel system management, from a bread factory to a techno park. Excursions to real sites are very important for a complete understanding of projects made in the STEM center. In our classes, they are doing their own projects falling in love with science and technology, and self-confidence is also growing. During excursions, students also understand how important all this is for their careers.

STEM education besides technical knowledge also develops skills of critical thinking, problem solving and interpersonal skills. How does this happen?

STEM programs develop critical thinking and problem solving skills needed to overcome the difficulties children may face in life. Programs encourage children to find out how things are organized and how things work. For example, students build high-speed cars, then they are tested. After the first test, they think and determine why their car did not reach the finish line. Could the front design, the distance between the wheels, the aerodynamics, or the force of launch affected it? After each test (launch), they develop their design to achieve the goal. Children, creating different products, building bridges and roads, launching airplanes and cars, testing robots and electronic games, developing their underwater and aerial structures, each time get closer and closer to goals They develop and test, re-develop and re-test again, and so improve their product. At the end, they solve all the problems on their own and reach the goal. For children, it is inspiration, victory, adrenaline and joy. STEM mugs help children sharpen their skills in solving problems independently. After each victory, they become more and more confident in their abilities. STEM programs are also notable for active communication and teamwork. At the discussion stage, a free atmosphere is created for discussions and opinions. They are so free that they are not afraid to express any opinion, they learn to speak and present. Most of the time, children at the desk do not sit, but test and develop their designs. They communicate with instructors and their teammates all the time. When children are actively involved in the process, they remember the lesson well.

How do you develop interest in technical disciplines with the help of your programs?

The task of STEM-teaching in elementary school is to create preliminary conditions for the development of students’ interest in natural science and technical disciplines. Love for the work done is the basis for the development of interest. STEM classes are very entertaining and dynamic, which keeps children from being bored. They do not notice how time is spent in the classroom, and also do not get tired at all. Building rockets, cars, bridges, skyscrapers, creating their electronic games, factories, logistics networks and submarines, they are showing growing interest in science and technology. STEM training consists of six stages: a question, discussion, design, construction, testing and development. These stages are the basis of a systematic project approach. In turn, coexistence or the combined use of various possibilities is the basis of creativity and innovation. Thus, the simultaneous study and application of science and technology can create many new innovative projects. Art and architecture are a wonderful example of coexistence.

How much do you think STEM programs can affect when choosing a profession and in general, how much STEM is important for all children?

There are many publications that analyze the level of growth in the need for different specialties. According to various estimates, out of 10 specialties having a high growth of 9 will require STEM knowledge. In particular, the demand for these specialties expected to increase chemical engineers, “software” developers, petroleum engineers, computer systems analysts, mechatronic engineers, construction engineers, robotics, nuclear medicine engineers, submarine architects, electronics engineers and aerospace engineers. STEM programs also prepare children for the technologically advanced world. Over the past 60 years, technology has evolved greatly, from the discovery of the Internet (1960) to the iPhones. Today, almost everyone uses the iPhone and other smartphones. Without technology, presenting our world today is simply not possible. It also suggests that technological development will continue, and STEM skills are the basis of this development.

Is it possible to consider STEM as an addition to the school program?

STEM programs for schoolchildren aged 7-14 years are also designed to increase their interest in their regular classes. For example, physics lessons undergo various forces of influence, they are explained by formulas on the blackboard, and in STEM circles schoolchildren can build and launch parachutes, rockets or airplanes to strengthen their knowledge. Schoolchildren do not always easily understand terms that they do not see or cannot hear. For example, pressure or volume expansion due to temperature increase. In STEM classes, they can easily understand these terms by conducting entertaining experiments.

What is the role of teachers in achieving the goals set for STEM education, that is, what are the qualities of STEM instructors are different?

STEM instructors must first of all love children very much and have patience in working with children. They must be some kind of artists who, along with technical knowledge, must also have to sing, dance, jump and be very active during lessons. Since STEM lessons are held in a very practical and free environment, children do not sit at their desks, they can walk together, build something under the table, sit on the floor to build their models, applaud their friends during tests and get knowledge a lot of fun. Because in our world it has become very difficult to get children interested, education should be more interesting than social networks or video games for children to learn to love. In this regard, our instructors are very carefully preparing for the lessons, each lesson is chosen through its music, videos, interesting questions, even masks and clothes under the theme. STEM classes also differ in their design, choice of wall colors, different pictures, layouts, etc. Students coming to us with pleasure participate in the lessons of 90 minutes, they do not look at the clock when the lesson is over, but on the contrary there are cases they do not want to leave.

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