Thankful for STEM, the NICU, and Other Acronyms

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Douglas Ferguson

It’s been a while since I’ve had the privilege of posting about STEM and standards-based education. Thank you, CORElaborate, as always, for the opportunity! The last year has contained many journeys for me and my family.

Professionally, I’ve transitioned from the position of STEM Instructional Coach and Specialist to writing curriculum and designing professional development with AVID. I love this work. Although, I continue to maintain that the classroom teacher’s job is both the hardest and most important job there is across the education industry. Thank you to all for your leadership.

Personally, my family grew with the early arrival of our twins at 29 weeks, Aaron James and Emmalynn Ariel. So, my wife and I’ve had a long haul in the hospital (10ish weeks down and 2ish to go as of my writing this). Despite a history of HELLP Syndrome (previous post on the science of this), we listened to the encouragement and assurances from multiple doctors to try again but ended up being one of the few to have a repeat occurrence. However, this time around in the NICU, we know what we’re doing so we’ve had more time to observe…

New Born Babies in NICU

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math of the NICU

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: Structure and function; Systems and system models; Energy and matter.
ISTE Standards for Students: Innovative designer; Computational thinker. 
NGSS Practices: The engineering aspects of defining problems and designing solutions.
CCSS Mathematical Practices: Attend to precision; Reason abstractly and quantitatively; Model with mathematics.

Science and scientists’ amazing understanding of life makes the preservation of young life possible. One could write multiple books on the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). The features surrounding the structure and function of life become very apparent with premature babies. How we breathe, eat, and regulate temperature in the womb versus out of the womb, for example, is a big change from a uterus, amniotic fluid, placenta, and umbilical cord to a mouth, a nose, and still developing organs. These developing systems are delicate, and everything is observed for the slightest change. The moving, transfer, and transformation of energy and matter is a careful process done via arrays of oxygen machines and feeding tubs.

Technology facilitates the careful monitoring and care that premature babies receive. Many innovative designers have applied computational thinking to break down problems in the NICU and solve them with technological solutions. In utero, Steroid shots were given at the first sign of problems to speed along development. After delivery, our preemies transferred immediately to incubators where they were kept warm enough to survive while also receiving UV light treatment to address high bilirubin levels (jaundice). Breathing machines and feeding tubes have met their immediate needs while sensors have monitored their heart rate, breathing, and oxygen saturation to watch for any concerns.

Engineering facilitated the development and design of the advanced medical tools and devices used throughout the NICU. As referenced in the technology section, some engineer had to utilize the technology involved to solve the identified problems. Early application of a drug via shot to speed up development means someone researched and designed that approach. Incubators heat, monitor, and maintain a warm and moist environment, and an engineer had to design the materials, set up, and sensors to facilitate this (along with installing the UV lights). Someone had to analyze breathing needs for the different machines and how to feed via tubes (free flow versus a measured pump). The sensors are incredibly accurate for measuring through skin, veins, and organs, so this design must have taken multiple iterations. A lot of engineering went in to the development and design of these tools and approaches.

Math is everywhere in the NICU. Measurements are the key to communicating any changes from hour to hour and day to day. Precision is key in order to attend to accurate responses to any changes. Medical staff have to reason both abstractly and quantitatively to utilize the data, analyze the situation, and apply appropriately measured solutions. The team models mathematical projections based on cumulative data and uses that to project future preventative measurements and treatments. Not to mention all of the math involved in the engineering and utilization of the technology for the science of NICU care.

New Born Babies in NICU

More than the Sum of their Parts

The amount of integrated STEM components across the spectrum of NICU services is vast and this post barely scratches the surface but hopefully demonstrates how both are more than the sum of their parts. During our stay, we faced many challenges over the course of our time in the hospital leading up to the birth of our twins and during the subsequent weeks, and (ultimately) months, that followed. These all required different levels of scientific knowledge, technological know-how, well-engineered resources, and applied mathematics to address. Some examples include the original early contractions and magnesium treatment, HELLP Syndrome, delivery via c-section, immediate preparation and care in the delivery unit (umbilical cord IV), heart murmur, MRSA, E. Coli UTI, intraventricular hemorrhage, reflux, and more… all of these things required advanced STEM solutions designed to address the identified problems.

The babies' 1st Thanksgiving cards 2018

Being Thankful

We are so thankful for all of the medical staff working in the NICU and supporting our family. We are also thankful for all of the STEM professionals, professors, and teachers that made this level of healthcare possible.  If anything, this experience re-enforces the importance of STEM education for me. We need STEM professionals who can understand, design, and implement the solutions necessary to support families with babies in need of so much more because they arrived early for a myriad of medical reasons.

Additionally, whether or not someone pursues a STEM career, we need every citizen to be STEM literate. People need to understand the importance of hospitals and health care when they vote as well as when they have to navigate the system themselves. STEM-literate citizens can vote effectively on a range of issues from addressing climate change to genetically modified foods to vaccination and so much more. They can also make good technology purchases, understand how to take care of themselves, and navigate the infinite ways that STEM pervades every aspect of modern society.

Finally, thank you for reading this post all of the way through!

Baby in NICU

Additional Links and Resources

OSPI’s STEM page and definition: http://www.k12.wa.us/STEM/default.aspx
Next Generation Science Standards: https://www.nextgenscience.org/
ISTE Technology Standards: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
National Science Teachers Association: https://www.nsta.org/
Common Core Math Standards: http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Practice/
WA STEM: http://www.washingtonstem.org/
Washington MESA: http://www.washingtonmesa.org/
Seattle Children’s Hospital: https://www.seattlechildrens.org/
University of Washington Medical Group: https://www.uwmedicine.org/
Valley Medical Hospital: http://www.valleymed.org/
AVID: https://www.avid.org/

  • ISTE
  • Mathematicals Practices
  • Mathematics
  • Next Generation Science Standards
  • Science and Engineering Practices
  • STEM
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