I had the pleasure of participating in a really great event at the end of 2011. LEGO Education put on a STEM Summit that was held in St. Louis on November 16, 2011. It was all about creating a dialog about improving what we do in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Education, how we prepare and motivate kids in this area, how we help our teachers, and also the impacts of technology in STEM education. I was invited to present on a panel about “How Technology is Shaping STEM Education’”. The audience was a large group of Teachers/Educators, and a few industry partners that have a focus in the STEM area – like Intel, National Instruments, TI, Vernier, FIRST, and Carnegie Mellon to name a few. The event was really fantastic and I even got a chance to talk to a NASA Astronaut and current Associate Administrator for Education at NASA, Leland Melvin! I pulled a bunch of interesting nuggets I would like to share with you all…
Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Careers:
- Key characteristics for workers in the future; Problem Solvers, Critical Thinkers, and Team Players! Our kids need to learn collaboration and reasoning skills
- Students today are still, for the most part, being driven by Content Knowledge versus Application of Knowledge…in other words they are learning the content, but not really learning how to apply that content to real world problems…linking back to the key characteristics.
- To get kids interested in these jobs of tomorrow, we need to peak their interest in school – and early on! We need to develop visionary thinkers with our education programs…that means kids need to be able to think, need to have hands on experiences, and need to have fun!
- Agree we need to build the fundamentals, but we also need kids to be curious…how do we do that? We excite them about what they are learning! This will also foster a desire for lifelong learning…which is very important!
- Part of the problem is that Educators are asked to do one thing – teach a set of content that matches core curriculum standards – but that is different than what business needs in its new employees…
- To better align and cross this needs gap, we need to build within our students a curiosity! This becomes a driver for them to learn more about their environment, how things work, why things happen. When they start asking these types of questions, they start to explore and learn!
- Books and Worksheets are not going to cut it anymore – we need learning to be hands on and fun.
- We also need to teach our kids that it is OK to fail…but learn from your failures. Experimentation is what happens in real life – we try things we think will work…if they don’t we understand why they didn’t work and do something different to overcome those issues.
- To do this stuff, we need to change what we measure…test scores are not the answer alone. We need to measure the real results of kids learning and becoming curious. We need to measure the assimilation and application of those knowledge concepts!
- We need to bring in programs that pull industry into the classroom – Job Shadowing opportunities, Internships, Mentorships, Industry visits, speakers in classroom, have industry partners co-teach in a class, and many more things like this. Schools/Districts should also setup Program Advisory Committees that bring in local industry to help form and develop innovative programs! Even do joint projects with a local company…that would get kids really excited – I know mine would!
- Can you imagine a student graduating from high school with a portfolio of projects they have done with local companies, internships, and real world experience? That would give them a huge leg up for college and for their career path!
How Technology is Shaping STEM Education: This was my panel and here are some of the key points I discussed…
- On technology intersecting hands-on experiences in the classroom…There are three major areas where technology should be intersecting in the classroom for hands on activities; Collaboration, Replacement/Augmentation of existing manipulatives, and Delivering New Ways to Learn. For collaboration, technology can be a great connector of collaboration. It will allow the teacher to easily setup collaboration sessions, monitor that everyone is on track, and allow students to interact together with the hands on elements – technology can make it easy to collaborate in the classroom. For the hands on manipulatives, technology is perfect for this part! Technology can bring to the table some amazing ways to interact with real world. From simulating real things that you might not be able to bring into the classroom – like art and electricity for example – to being the manipulative itself. For example, having Smart blocks that can change and interact with other blocks to help guide and reward students for doing things right and then communicating with their laptop to track their progress is just scratching the surface. Technology is the ultimate manipulative! And lastly, delivering new ways to learn – technology can really help drive the experiences in a classroom for both the teachers and students. Technology solutions can help keep pace with the students by constantly evaluating them and making things easier or harder. This allows those that are struggling to get the guided personalized help they need, and for the advanced student, it can adjust to be challenging for them to keep their interest. Technology solutions can help bring a personalized approach to learning and help the teachers be better teachers by augmenting their skills and tools and by helping students get more of what they need.
- On what three technology trends that will change the classroom in the next three years…Touch interaction, Digital Curriculum & Assessment, and Social Media. Touch (and now gestures and voice) are the interaction tools of the future. They are more natural and make interacting with technology so much more simple and logical. Touch devices in tablets, ultrabooks, and note/netbooks will change how students interact and will also allow technology to be adopted by the lower grades. See how easy it is for a kid to play with a smartphone…they just pick it up and go – it is intuitive! My younger daughter, Emerson, was using a classmate PC convertible tablet with a touch screen since she was 2-1/2! It is simple and easy and makes technology solutions more meaningful and relevant. Secondly is digital curriculum and assessment. For the digital curriculum, it is only natural that we move in this direction. Books are heavy, non-interactive, and take forever to get updated. Moving to a digital text allows them to be very portable, very up to date, and insanely interactive and fun! As I mentioned above, personalized learning is where technology in the classroom is taking us and that is here too on the assessment and delivery of the content side. A student can be tested for ability or comprehension in and area and presented material that matches their ability and as they increase, the material gets harder. An example of this is a language arts program from McGraw Hill called LEAD 21. It delivers interactive digital content to the students – the topics are the same so the teacher can discuss the story and themes in class, but each student gets the material tailored to their ability. So a student in the lower end would get simpler words and sentence structure, but the above grade level students would get harder words and more complicated structures. It allows each student to learn and get help at their level while allowing them to stay engaged and excited about learning – that is really the future of where text books need to go. And lastly, Social Media – this is a tougher one as it has it’s pros an can’s that are all over the news, but all in all, there are many positives for social media and our kids in school if we supervise appropriately. Students can now collaborate and get exposed to people all over the world. They can get different perspectives on things and they can talk to experts that would normally not be available to them. One class I have seen actually publishes their own articles to social networking and has a group of worldwide education followers that engage the kids in their work and provides other insights and critiques…it is very cool and powerful. These three technologies can really take our kids education forward in leaps and bounds!
- What about helping teachers? Well, this is a great point – many teachers are embracing technology full force in schools while many more are intimidated by it and potentially even their students who they perceive may know more than them and in some cases do. That is ok…we need to realize that teachers need the right resources to help them. Some of that is Professional Development for the bigger concepts like 1:1 and personalized learning, but we also need to encourage teachers to use what they have…embrace the student that knows more than them to help them AND their class of other students. They need to reach out into the community to bring parents and local businesses that can bring in experts to help teach a topic and they will likely pick up some new things as well as the students. They should not be afraid, but embrace what is around them! Additionally, the school systems need to encourage, embrace, and reward those teachers that go the extra mile on embracing new ways to teach and using technology…it is a tops down and bottoms up approach as we say!
There was so much more there that I could go on for a bunch more, but you are getting my point…the major themes here are technology is coming, embrace it, it will truly help the students now and in the world when they graduate – businesses really need and expect more from our students when they graduate. Also, we need to change the way we think about education – we need to create better Problem Solvers, Critical Thinkers, and Team Players – and we do this by getting our kids EXCITED about learning and encourage them to be hands on and explore…ask questions and truly be eager to understand the world around them. It shouldn’t be just a job for them to do, but an experience they will remember! This is a tall order, but I truly believe in this approach. Watch a kid who is having fun and interested in what they are being taught – they are more engaged, motivated, and are learning more…try it!