Reveling In STEM Education As An Adult Learner

Image: Getty ID# 750415461 / Man Fixing Drone

Enjoy Building Your Knowledge Base At Any Age

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Practical science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills are crucial in order to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world.

There are many who are working hard to provide our youth with what they need to succeed in STEM careers. This can be difficult, however, for those who didn’t experience a robust education themselves.

There are many reasons why otherwise capable adults feel left behind when it comes to subjects like math and science. If you’ve ever uttered the phrase, “I’m just not a math person,” you’re definitely not alone. You were probably taught only one way to solve math problems, and your science classes may have been chock-full of things to memorize but light on experimentation and real-world problem-solving.

Image: Getty ID# 1035176072 / Engineer Teaching Young Girl How To Code

You can be forgiven if that antiquated form of pedagogy turned you off — or worse if it didn’t help you retain important STEM skills. But you don’t have to settle for a gap in your knowledge if you missed out on a high-quality STEM education the first time around. There are many ways to continue learning as an adult — and to have fun while doing it.

Taking The Leap

It’s never too late to learn something new, but why should an adult with a job and family obligations make time to learn more about STEM subjects?

Image: Getty ID# 508065709 / Adult Learning STEM

Lifelong learning has been shown to reduce cognitive decline that results from aging. While studies are somewhat conflicted over exactly what type of “brain training” can prevent or slow down Alzheimer’s disease, keeping an active mind busy with novel tasks is an important way to stay sharp as you get older. The “use it or lose it” rule means that taking the time to study higher math or dive into a scientific topic that interests you is a great way to keep those neurons firing.

Pumping up your STEM skills also puts you in a position to mentor youth in these fields. Parents and grandparents who continue to explore these subjects will model intellectual curiosity and a willingness to experiment that will have a positive influence on the next generation of learners. Sharing enthusiasm for STEM and feeling comfortable discussing it is an important way to keep young children interested while staying sharp.

Image: Dallas Arboretum / Student Lead walkSTEM Tour June 8th, 2018 (with permission / Koshi Dhingra)

Mentorship can go beyond family. Any adult with an interest in teaching and learning can take their newfound knowledge and start an after-school club, lead a STEM walk or make a cameo appearance to talk about your current or former career at a nearby school. You never know whose imagination you’ll spark when you share your interests with the next generation of thinkers, inventors and entrepreneurs.

How Adults Learn

As you search for opportunities to learn more about STEM, it’s important to remember that adults learn differently than children do. Adult brains have finished developing, so absorbing new information requires a different neurological process. Instead of building new neural pathways, adult brains need to draw connections from the existing schema, or thought patterns, and new ideas. This means that adults will learn best when new information is made relevant to their current experiences and interests. STEM is well-suited to adult learning in this regard, as hands-on experimentation allows you to make scientific ideas practical in everyday life.

Image: Getty ID# 168619592 / Neuron 3D Biomedical Illustration

Adults also need flexibility in their learning to fit new courses into their busy lives. Asynchronous online courses that allow you to log on and study at your convenience are ideal. It’s also important for adult learners to feel respected by their instructors and comfortable trying something new. While children don’t mind falling off a bike as they learn, adults are often uncomfortable with the idea of failure, especially in public. Look for learning opportunities designed for adults so you get an environment that makes you feel good about yourself as you try something new. It’s much easier to keep an open mind for learning when you’re at ease in your surroundings.

Pursuing STEM at Any Age

No matter where you are in life, there are plenty of ways to dive back into STEM. Try these ideas to get started:

  • Keep reading for leisure and knowledge: Sometimes all it takes to get started is access to interesting material. Try subscribing to high-quality publications so you have great resources at your fingertips. You can also use RSS aggregators like Feedspot or Paper.li to fetch content for you.
  • Face-to-face adult education classes: Many communities offer day and night classes on topics of interest, including coding boot camps. Your local community college is also a good place to start looking for practical classes that will provide legit skills to beef up your STEM knowledge base. These classes are often inexpensive and geared toward making learning fun and social for adults
Image: Getty ID# 1070179830 / Young Woman Working On Her Laptop
  • Open educational resources (OERs): There are thousands of lesson plans, games and videos online that address every imaginable STEM topic. Search for videos on HippoCampus, or look for premade lessons on OER Commons. This is a great way to find enrichment materials for the STEM-curious kids in your life, too.
  • Massive open online courses (MOOCs): These are online courses that cover a wide range of topics. Information may be delivered via text, video or a recorded lecture, and there are often assessments to check your understanding along the way. Some well-known options are EdX, Coursera and Khan Academy. Many are free or are relatively inexpensive, and most can be completed at your own pace.

If you’re looking for a low-key way to dip a toe into STEM learning, this California organization makes butterfly growing kits complete with caterpillars to feed, nurture and watch in amazement as they emerge from their chrysalides. Butterflies are important pollinators, and working with them can boost your mental health.

Image: Getty ID# 177795929 / Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Even the simplest act of experiencing nature is a wonderful way to begin adding a healthy dose of STEM into your daily routine — and it doesn’t require batteries.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on April 19th, 2019.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice… Applying STEM to better understand it.”

Originally Published: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2019/04/19/reveling-in-stem-education-as-an-adult-learner/#95ccb8e3c9e7

Honoring Learners With Special Needs In STEM And Beyond

Image: Getty / Student Engaging With Teacher On Laptop

The Inspirational Story of NASCAR’s Armani Williams

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Most 17-year-olds are excited to get their driver’s licenses to gain a little freedom. For Armani Williams, driving is less a rite of passage than a passion. In 2017, he made his debut on the NASCAR circuit.

Armani also has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In an interview, Williams described his biggest challenges as communication and social interaction. Like many with autism, he says he struggled with sensory processing issues that were overwhelming at times. A screaming loud race track could seem impossible to deal with, as could the complexity of his studies — but he has learned to step back to take stock of his surroundings, search online for what he needs assistance figuring out and proactively work with others to avoid misunderstandings.

Armani also pointed out that ASD isn’t only about deficits and credits his ability to concentrate for hours behind the wheel to the intense focus that is often an attribute of autistic individuals. According to Autism Speaks, an individual with ASD may display varying degrees, and a combination of, sensory processing challenges, social-emotional difficulties and speech-language deficits impacting functional communication. These challenges could profoundly interrupt health, learning and skill attainment without adequate support and intervention.

Image: Getty + NASCAR via Mike Tedesco/ Armani Williams K&N Pro Series West at Evergreen Speedway

STEM For Students With Special Needs

When Armani and I had the opportunity to initially connect at a local leadership event, he inspired me to draw upon my experience as an educator and think deeply about how to improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) accessibility for students with special needs. I have always been passionate about leveling the playing field to bring STEM to all, but much of my work up until now has focused on socioeconomic and gender inequality in STEM education. This is a worthy goal, of course, but we’d be remiss not to include students with special needs in our efforts to make sure every child gets a solid background for success in STEM.

I believe students with ASD and other challenges can thrive in fields as complex as collegiate-level mechanical engineering (Armani’s current passion) and beyond. But how do we make sure all students get the support that they need to excel?

Making STEM More Inclusive

There are many approaches I think we should explore to accommodate special needs students in the classroom, and many of these strategies could overlap to help make STEM subjects easier to grasp for those with special needs.

• Growth Mindset: Change the language and reward systems in STEM classrooms to recognize grit and the ability to keep trying to solve problems in the face of failure, a concept explored in a 2017 EdTech interview piece. After all, the scientific method is all about experimentation, and the only failed experiment is one you don’t learn from. Praising kids for effort rather than achievement is a great place to start building a growth mindset that could be beneficial for those who learn in different ways.

• Hands-On Work: The best STEM teaching I’ve seen offers plenty of real-world opportunities to observe forces in action and ways to experiment with everyday items to understand how thing work. Whether it’s by offering coding opportunities or getting outside to explore nature, tangible learning can make STEM come alive for all students — but it could be especially valuable in helping those who learn differently internalize abstract concepts and develop a deeper interest.

• Flipped Classrooms: Homework can be a real struggle for students if they’re sent home to practice concepts they don’t fully understand. In a flipped classroom, however, background information is given ahead of time in the form of videos or articles to read at home. Students can come to school with questions and then put new concepts into action under the direct guidance of their teacher — support that could make a huge difference in comprehension for students who learn differently.

Image: ResearchGate via Alessandra Giglio / Flipped Classroom: A Graphical Definition

 Embrace Technology: As the EdTech interview discussed, well-designed learning apps could make STEM subjects more accessible to special needs students by providing targeted, individualized practice. Voice-to-text software could make writing easier so students can flourish in STEM even if their writing skills or fine motor skills lag. Text readers and video lessons might also help students with reading difficulties keep up and make sure that a learning difficulty doesn’t derail success in STEM.

• Regular Movement And Flexible Lesson PlansSustaining self-regulationand focus may be typical challenges for children with special needs — though fidgeting is pretty much universal. That means that all students could benefit from movement breaks (as described by MiddleWeb) during lessons and the opportunity to move around the classroom for a change of pace. Staying flexible and creative with learning centers and differentiated activities in the classroom could help everyone participate. By making the most common accommodations available to all instead of making them something special, you can normalize varying learning styles, set them up for success and decrease stigma.

Image: Motorsports Tribune via Luis Torres / Armani Williams’ #34 Racecar

The Final Lap

When I learned about Armani, it became clear to me that it’s easy to assume we know what ASD looks like or what a student with special needs is capable of. In reality, however, there is no single type of student with special needs. Every person is an individual with a full range of challenges as well as unique strengths. I believe our job as educators is to support all students as individuals and make sure they get what they need to thrive.

To make this happen, we first need to erase some of the stigma surrounding challenges like ASD. I believe it’s a myth that these students can’t succeed in STEM or other academic subjects. Armani is one example; for another take on life with ASD, I strongly recommend the series Atypical on Netflix. It does an excellent job of putting a human face on a condition that isn’t well understood but must be if we are to succeed in making STEM education truly accessible to all.


Image: Mediapunch + Shutterstock / Atypical Cast at PaleyFest LA

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on February 26th, 2019.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg.

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…”

Blockchain: A Revolution For STEM Education

Image: Getty / Teen Working On A GPU Rig

Fostering An Appreciation Of Decentralization

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

These days, it seems like everyone is talking about blockchain technology. News about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is hard to resist, especially when their value shoots up and down and everyone wants to know how the blockchain can make them rich or poor — financially. But the real value of blockchain isn’t necessarily tied solely to disrupting the monetary status quo. It also lies in how this technology could transform and streamline transactions and recordkeeping in all sorts of fields — specifically education.

A Blockchain Primer

If you’re not familiar with how blockchain technology works or need to brush up, it’s helpful to compare cryptocurrency with the way your regular bank does business. Banks basically have all your account data on one digital spreadsheet to keep track of your transactions. That’s fine, but a highly centralized data system is vulnerable to hackers, and you can’t send money to a family member without going through an intermediary (the bank). Cryptocurrency, on the other hand, depends on a totally decentralized network of users to store information about all transactions. There’s no bank as a gatekeeper, but information (the block) is added to a permanent chain that no one can change. It’s safer because everyone in the network has access to the information at all times, so if someone is trying to change the record, everyone can see that happening — and stop it.

Image: Financial Times / PwC United States

An Educational Revolution

Last year, MIT delivered its first blockchain diplomas to graduates — on their smartphones. It was more than just a digitized certificate: Unlike a paper diploma, which could be easily lost or falsified, blockchain ensures that this important piece of data is never lost. It also cuts out the university or traditional clearinghouse as the intermediary needed to issue transcripts. Instead, students have direct access to their educational records right on their phones. Whether their house burns down or they move across the world, their diploma is secure.


Image: Learning Machine / MIT’s Digital Diploma 1 of 3

Anatomy of a digital diploma: “The MIT digital diploma ‘makes it possible for [students] to have ownership of their records and be able to share them in a secure way, with whomever they choose,’ says Mary Callahan, MIT registrar and senior associate dean.” -MIT News

Image: Learning Machine / MIT’s Digital Diploma 2 of 3

“Using MIT’s new digital diploma system, employers and schools can quickly verify that a graduate’s degree is legitimate by using a link or uploading the student’s file.” -MIT News

Image: Learning Machine / MIT’s Digital Diploma 3 of 3

“The presentation layer has a customized image of a traditional MIT diploma; the content layer contains code with the student’s public key and generates the image; and the receipt layer proves the transaction has been recorded on the blockchain.” -MIT News


This is more than just a matter of convenience. If other credentials like certificates and badges are also stored on the blockchain, it will become much easier for students to move between universities and dictate their own educational trajectory because barriers to transferring credits would begin to fall away. In this world, MOOCs could also be more easily completed for meaningful credit that leads to a degree. A person’s entire educational record could be accessed at the touch of a button.

If individual educational records were encrypted in this way, K-12 assessments could be better coordinated as well. Instead of annual high-stakes tests that vary by state and grade level, one could imagine a more longitudinal assessment system that tracked achievement over time. For example, if an eighth-grade student passed a tenth-grade geometry test, she would carry that accomplishment on her record wherever she went, allowing her to continue her math education at the appropriate level for her as an individual, rather than having to retake the same test for the next several years. In this way, blockchain could help revolutionize personalized education.

Integrating Blockchain Into STEM Education

Image: Getty / Two Students Studying Electronics

If blockchain is the wave of the future (as it certainly seems to be), it seems logical to make sure that today’s students are prepared to engage with this technology in their careers. This is already happening in higher education, as colleges like Virginia Tech and NYU add blockchain concentrations. Studying blockchain capitalizes on a number of STEM disciplines, including computer engineering and higher math to encrypt the data.

Because the technology is relatively new and complex, there are currently very few opportunities for K-12 students to learn more about blockchain. Though some independent courses do exist, there is a real need to develop age-appropriate curriculum in this area. For younger students, understanding the basics about networks and honing relevant math skills is a good start; for older students, financial literacy dovetails nicely with cryptocurrency to spark interest. Additionally, learning to code is always an important STEM skill, and classes in Python will be particularly useful in understanding blockchain. As with all STEM education opportunities, the earlier it begins and the more hands-on it is, the more likely kids are to stick with it and see themselves as the blockchain contributors of the future.

A Philosophy Of Decentralization

Image: Getty / Students Building Computers

Finally, it’s worth noting that blockchain represents a major step in the cultural shift towards decentralized knowledge. Just as the technology itself eliminates an intermediary that stands between you and your money (or your educational record), so too does it hint at a world in which stuents may have more direct access to and control over their education. If blockchain leads to decentralized records and greater access to global databases of knowledge, education will be further democratized and many more people will have access to the learning that they desire.

This movement comes at a time when education — and particularly STEM education — is highly corporatized. There’s money to be made from selling people an education, but it would be a real mistake to allow corporate monopolies to have all the power over what we teach our students. Despite colleges becoming ever more commodified, no single organization “owns” STEM education. In order for the STEM education movement to thrive, it must remain decentralized and accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic standing or country of origin. It should also not be co-opted by special interests that value profits over innovation and authentic learning experiences.

Image: Getty / Student Studying On A Tablet

By teaching students the STEM basics they need to understand blockchain, we can also foster in them an appreciation for the values that it brings to the table. It’s a valuable technology, to be sure, but it’s also steeped in a culture that sees information as something everyone has a right to obtain freely, without having to pay a mediator for access to it. In this philosophy, knowledge is a birthright — and an effective STEM education can help keep it that way.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on November 30th, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg.

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…”

‘Tis the Season of STEM

Image: Getty / Cardboard Holiday Robot

Smart Gifts, That I Did Not Get Paid To Review

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Play is essential, as it gives plenty of opportunities for hands-on development of executive functioning, fine and gross motor skills, creativity, communication, socialization, and sensory processing. Well-designed toys open the door to general learning and can also target specific areas, including the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math.

To commemorate National STEM Day, which was celebrated on November 8th and in anticipation of the holiday season, I’ve curated a list of novel toys, games and kits that foster STEM learning through play. There are countless “educational products and gadgets” on the market, but not all are created equal. Here is a list of my favorites (out of 200 plus items sprawled out all over my office), broken down by age and price point to help you find the perfect gift on any budget. Key: $ = < $40, $$ = $40-$75, $$$ = $100+


Lower Elementary (Grades K-2)

Brackitz Pulleys 77-Pcs. Set

Young children can learn about simple machines with this kit that includes a crank, bucket, hooks, hubs, axles, and more. Emerging engineers can follow directions to build eight different contraptions or go off book for total creativity. $39.99 at Brackitz. ($)

Image: Brackitz Pulleys 77-Pcs. Set / Brackitz Education


Botley™ the Coding Robot

Screen-free coding for children? The designers of Botley™ have made it not only possible, but also fun. Kids use the coding cards and a remote control to input directions, then watch Botley™ follow their commands. The set also comes with activity pieces to build obstacle courses and tasks for a bigger challenge. $59.99 at Learning Resources. ($$)

Image: Botley™ the Coding Robot / Learning Resources


Magformers Sky Track Adventure 64-Pcs. Set

Magformers are magnetic blocks that click together to let your child build a track for a battery-operated space shuttle to travel. Your child can create a rollercoaster, have the shuttle use an elevator between tracks, and test out the 360-degree spinner as they learn about the laws of motion. $129.99 at Magformers. ($$$)

Image: Magformers Sky Track Adventure 64-Pcs. Set / Magformers®


Upper Elementary (Grades 3–5)

STEM at Play® BONES! Dissect Owl Pellets Kit

Bring ecology and veterinary science home with this owl pellet dissection kit. Your child will use included tools to pull apart real owl pellets to identify what owls eat. An included guide helps budding biologists identify animal bones and assemble their skeletons. $24.95 at ETA hand2mind. ($)

Image: STEM at Play® BONES! Dissect Owl Pellets Kit / ETA hand2mind


HUE Animation Studio

This clever kit comes with a flexible USB camera, a book about animation, and software to make it easy for your child to make her first stop-motion masterpiece. Explore the science of animation, or use the time-lapse feature of the camera to observe flowers blooming or snow crystals melting. $69.95 at HUE. ($$)

Image: HUE Animation Studio / HUE


Sensors Alive: Bring Physics to Life

This bioengineering video game uses a sensor to gather real data about temperature, sound and light levels in your home to create creatures adapted to live in these special circumstances. The game combines physics and biology in a unique way to spark imagination. $149.95 at Thames & Kosmos. ($$$)

Image: Sensors Alive Bring Physics to Life / Thames & Kosmos


Middle School (Grades 6–8)

Creation Crate Electronics 1.0

Learn to build small electronics and code them with a unique monthly project from Creation Crate. This subscription box brings computer science to your doorstep with a new project every month. $29.99 per month at Creation Crate. ($)

Image: Creation Crate Subscription Box / Creation Crate


Snap Circuits® Bric: Structures

Turn that LEGO collection into moving toys or well-lit skyscrapers with SNAP CIRCUITS® components. This kit comes with special adaptors that let kids add easy-to-use circuit boards to LEGO and other compatible bricks. $44.95 at Elenco. ($$)

Image: Snap Circuits® Bric: Structures / Elenco Electronics


Because Learning Sensor Kit

This technologically advanced electronics kit includes eight different sensors, including ones for UV light, an accelerometer, gyroscope and more. Young scientists can gather and analyze all kinds of data while exploring basic circuitry for a slew of cool experiments. $216 at Because Learning. ($$$)

Image: Because Learning Sensor Kit / Ardusat


High School (Grades 9–12)

STEM: Epic Heroes

This fast-paced card game has players racing to complete steps of the scientific method to make discoveries. Kids and adults will learn about famous scientists while trying to outwit each other with strategy. $20 at STEM: Epic Heroes. ($)

Image: STEM Epic Heroes / STEM the Game


Turing Tumble

Turing Tumble is an addictive game that makes coding concrete with simple switches and marbles. Users build systems to solve puzzles in the included comic book. With practice, you’ll be able to build a machine that creates patterns, solves problems, and more. $64.95 at Turing Tumble. ($$)

Image: Turing Tumble / Turing Tumble, LLC


Cue the Cleverbot

Older kids will love learning about AI by to coding their own robot. Chose from four customizable personalities and use your smartphone or tablet as the interface to teach Cue all kinds of interactive tricks. $199 at Wonder Workshop. ($$$)

Image: Cue the Cleverbot / Wonder Workshop


**Bonus Gift**

A little something for you…

Galton Board

The Galton Board is a mesmerizing desktop toy that demonstrates normal distribution in statistics. When you flip the board into motion, tiny steel balls fall randomly through a pin board, showing the beauty of the Bell Curve in real time. $49.99 at Galton Board. ($$)

Image: Galton Board / Four Pines Publishing


Whether you’re shopping for a confirmed science geek or just trying to provide some high-quality play time, STEM gifts open up a whole new world of possibilities for their recipients. You’re never too young — or too old! — to learn a new skill or make interesting discoveries about how things work, so be sure to spend time exploring these items alongside your child. Furthermore, you’ll get to spend some quality time together while modeling active, lifelong learning. By inviting your child to solve problems and tap into their creativity with STEM toys, you’ll be encouraging the flexible, higher-order thinking skills while making STEM concepts fun and accessible — and that’s a gift for a lifetime.

Image: Getty / Girl Holding LED‘s

This article was originally featured in Medium on November 15th, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg.

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…”

The Inherent Fluidity of STEM Careers

Image: Getty / STEM Student Welding In Shop Class

Preparing Today’s Minds For The STEM Jobs Of Tomorrow

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Education reform continues to be fiercely debated, but one thing is clear: It’s imperative that leaders align K-12 classrooms with the growing demands of the future science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce. What makes this task particularly challenging is that today’s youth will likely face challenges that the adults around them can barely imagine. We’re living in a precarious moment in human history in which some have argued that technology is so disruptive that productivity is outpacing job growth. Preparing the children of today to succeed in a completely different job market is a responsibility we cannot ignore — even though it may feel impossible to keep up with such rapid change.

Zeroing In On A Moving Target

Although the government officially recognizes hundreds of STEM degrees, simply choosing to study an existing field will not guarantee a young person a lifetime career. The very nature of STEM is that it’s always evolving as researchers and inventors build on past knowledge to spark innovation. In fact, the pace of change today is likely to affect all sorts of jobs we may think of as stable, from insurance writers and loan officers to seamstresses and referees. School-age children could see roles like tax preparers and library technicians disappear by the time they graduate. Artificial intelligence (AI) and increased automation stand to change the employment landscape dramatically, leading to fewer jobs that involve actual humans in the future.

On the bright side, there are also plenty of attractive STEM careers available today that were unheard of a decade ago. Mobile app developers, big data analysts and driverless car engineers are all up-and-coming roles in fields that only exist because of the endless forward march of human progress. This embodies the fluidity of STEM: As old technologies and related job opportunities fall away, new ones arise in their place.

Image: Getty / Drone Operator

 

Recognizing The Potential Of The Future Now

Within their short lifetimes, members of Generation Z have witnessed the rise of new technologies like next-generation batteries, blockchain, the internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles and nanosensors, all of which will spark new opportunities and change the job outlook around the world. According to Willis Towers Watson, more than 60% of children attending school today will work in a career that does not currently exist. This will likely result in new positions such as autonomous transportation specialist, human-technology integration expert, excess capacity broker and others we have yet to imagine.

Growing digital connectivity and the accessibility of affordable technology have democratized and redefined STEM careers. For example, social media influencers now play a vital role in today’s modern businesses by creating guerrilla marketing campaigns to promote goods and services. Many are also taking on roles such as in situ data scientist, focusing on analytics often collected using mobile devices and stored in the cloud. Countless jobs have arisen through companies and platforms such as Uber, Shipt and Upwork, which began as STEM experiments but now serve as gateways into the gig economy that may one day rival the size of our current workforce.

Image: Getty / Engineers Working In An Advanced Robotics Laboratory

 

Preparing Children For STEM Careers

Preparing students for future careers in STEM as well as for a workplace that emphasizes independence and flexibility is the major task ahead of anyone interested in education today. Though novel vocational opportunities are exciting, facing the changing future of work and preparing students for STEM careers means embracing new pedagogical approaches and developing curriculums that go beyond the basics of what is currently available. The task is two-fold: We must encourage the skills needed to keep up with the rapid changes happening around us while anticipating what the future will hold next.

To do this, it’s crucial to begin STEM learning as early as possible. According to King’s College London, children’s feelings about science and any career aspirations in STEM are formed before age 14 — that is, by the time they are in middle school. Getting children interested in and feeling positive about STEM will go a long way toward raising a generation that’s excited about excelling in these fields.

However, early STEM education must also be developmentally appropriate. For example, preschoolers and early elementary students should be encouraged to play and manipulate materials to develop scientific thinking. Researchers at Johns Hopkins point out that block play helps children develop spatial reasoning skills that are crucial in many STEM fields. STEM toys can be used in ways that encourage inquiry, experimentation and theorizing, which are the founding principles of the scientific method.

Image: Getty / STEM Students Building A Robot

 

As children mature, connecting STEM learning to real-world problems becomes key. Where once they were invested in building the tallest Lego tower, students might now be led to solve problems in school or at home by experimentation and applying ideas they’ve learned about in class. A revolutionary STEM education should focus on hands-on building and problem-solving rather than memorizing textbook material in order to engage students. Older students should also be explicitly encouraged to explore evolving career fields — both those that exist and those that may be available in another decade or two. While many students may enjoy STEM, they won’t consider a career path in it unless they know what’s available to them.

Building A Foundation For STEM Inclusivity

It should also be noted that early, robust STEM education has the power to transform equity in scientific fields. Though STEM education in its current form is not “culturally neutral,” committing to collaborative STEM learning during early childhood education can make high-paying careers in STEM fields available to everyone, regardless of gender, race or country of origin. Starting early means that all children are encouraged to see themselves as scientists capable of solving problems and designing inventions. STEM must be included in the educational standards that all children are expected to meet and no longer seen as something for only the most gifted or mature. When we make this shift, we will lay the foundation for STEM education that prepares all students for whatever the future holds.

“Moving Target: Preparing Today’s Minds For The STEM Jobs Of Tomorrow” was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on November 8th, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg. “Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…”

How Video Games Help Students Level Up STEM Learning

Image: Getty / Child Using Tablet Poolside

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

National Video Game Day was celebrated on September 12, which leads to the question: Why would something that’s so much a part of modern life need any extra promotion? Unfortunately, video games get a bad rap, often from teachers and parents who worry that kids are spending too much time shooting at bad guys and not enough time hitting the books. A recent studyfound that 36% of parents say they argue with their children about screen time on a daily basis, and the image of zombie-like teens staring at their screens looms large over the conversation about kids and technology.

While nobody wants children and teens to disengage from the world in favor of their devices, video games can actually be an effective way to engage students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. The power of video games in this area is twofold. First, gaming is highly engaging, so teachers and parents can harness kids’ interest and steer it toward math and science learning. Second, video games require a tremendous amount of STEM knowledge to develop, which makes them a natural hook for teaching coding and other computer skills.

What Makes Gaming So Engaging?

Well-designed video games keep users coming back for more. While there’s an ongoing debate about whether they can be addictive or not, there’s no doubt that games are highly engaging. There are several reasons that popular games keep players hooked into trying to “beat” them, according to Citrix’s Marc Sasinski:

  • They put the player in control. Players get to move around imaginary worlds however they like and be in charge of their own experiences. Compare this to sitting at a desk listening to a lecture, and it’s easy to see why kids love games.
  • They offer incremental levels of difficulty. “Leveling up” by accomplishing a task provides a rewarding sense of accomplishment. It also keeps the player from getting bored by something too easy or frustrated by something too difficult.
  • They provide instant, ongoing feedback. Players can tell right away when they’ve made a mistake, and they have the opportunity to start over if they fail. Many games also have prominent timers and/or “health” bars that show how players are faring and help them make adjustments to their strategies.
  • They create community. Many games allow for multiplayer participation, and even solo players can chat with others about their experiences to compare notes and solve problems collaboratively.

Notice that the most engaging features of video games are ones that great teachers employ in their classrooms. Self-directed exploration and pacing, regular feedback and collaborative problem solving are already part of effective teaching and learning, so why not take advantage of the way video games bring them all together to pique kids’ interest?

Image: Getty / Children Playing Video Games

 

Building Games Around STEM Subjects

With gamers poised to spend $137.9 billion this year, it makes sense for educators to capitalize on the popularity of video games to help students reach learning goals. That’s why researchers created Geckoman to teach middle school students the basics of nanotechnology. The game tells a story about a scientist who must journey through different worlds to recover pieces of his notebook. Each level requires students to learn something about physical forces and nanotechnology in order to solve a problem and move on to the next level.

It’s the one-two-punch of engaging storytelling and problem-solving that makes STEM games as successful as their more commercial counterparts. As teacher Shawn Cornally writes for Edutopia, “Modern gaming has given us fantasy worlds with malleable parts. When I play games, I wonder how the programmers make the characters move. What’s more, it’s not that difficult to get students to think and ask these questions, too.”

Not every video game is useful for teaching STEM concepts, of course. In addition to meeting the criteria for engagement outlines above, they should be thoughtfully designed by subject experts and developmentally appropriate for the age group they target. Ideally, they’ll also provide what Karen Cator, CEO of Digital Promise, calls “the ability to simulate complex systems and allow people to interact with those systems.” As students learn the rules of the system and apply them to problems, they internalize their learning — along with the scientific method of hypothesis and experimentation.

Behind The Scenes With Video Game Coding

In addition to playing games built around specific STEM topics, video games are also a powerful way to introduce students to coding and the complex thinking that’s required to design a system — or, in video game lingo, a world. Because children are already so invested in video games, it’s easy to use their established interest to “lift the curtain” to show them what it takes to put a video game together.

The National STEM Video Game Challenge seeks to do just that. According to Mark German, the president of E-Line Learning, the contest encourages students to develop “twenty-first century skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration and design-system thinking.” There’s big-picture work in coming up with the story, characters and challenges in any game, not to mention the problem-solving required to build the game from the ground up.

Creating a game also requires the ability to code, a critical skill for programmers and developers. Like any language, it’s dull to memorize it in bits and pieces from a book, but it’s highly effective to learn by doing — in this case, by using code to put together a new game. Interactive educational programs like Code Ninjas make learning to code rewarding and fun for kids by teaching skills in the context of developing a game or app that students would want to use. It’s this type of real-world experience that brings STEM learning alive for students of all ages.

Image: Code Ninjas / Student Learning How To Code

 

Whether STEM skills are taught through the content of a video game or by building one from scratch, one thing is clear: Video games are a powerful force in young people’s lives today. By connecting these video games to the world of STEM learning, we can make sure they’re a force for good.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on October 9th, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

Early STEM Benefits Both Students and Educators

Image: Getty / Two Students Building Electronics

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

STEM education, which encompasses the subjects Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, has been the focus of international pedagogical research in recent years. Policymakers, educators, families, and employers, are all concerned with how to educate and develop a rising class of adults who are equipped with the tools the need to take on our modern problems and economy. There are still plenty of barriers to providing adequate access to STEM, but focusing on the earliest years to build a strong foundation is gaining near universal support — and research suggests that this approach could have some powerful benefits.

From Test Scores to Tolerance: The Many Benefits of STEM in Early Education

In 2017, The Irish Times reported on a recent call for students to begin engaging in STEM coursework earlier to foster interest, and, eventually, higher performance on both standardized exams as well as careers. Interestingly, this article, and much other current research in the field, makes a direct link between early preparation and later success in career and academics. What’s more, recommendations from the Early Childhood STEM Working Group suggest that “many STEM activities fundamentally lend themselves to inclusion, as they often give children direct experiences with the natural and human-made world.”

In other words, implementing STEM approaches in early education not only can help students perform better on standardized tests and in careers, but an early start in STEM can also have additional benefits that may help reduce inequities in the workforce later on.

As a 2017 policy report from this group makes clear, STEM education is not “culturally neutral.” Assuming that all students, regardless of country of origin, race, gender, and so on will have innate curiosity about the natural world is absolutely appropriate, but, “educators must continue to strive for cultural inclusivity in STEM by supporting a culture of collaboration and teamwork.” By approaching STEM through an explicitly collaborative lens as early as primary school, can “help all children develop familiarity with the materials and terminology they use. Children can also learn to participate and identify as scientists, engineers, or mathematicians through exposure to STEM role models representing different genders, races, and cultural affiliations.”

Focusing on STEM in the earliest grades may also lead to a shift for primary school educators, and opportunities for professional development. A 2016 report by the Royal Academy of Engineering notes “it is also important that primary schools provide an appropriate, accurate and inspiring STEM education to children from an early age, through ensuring those coordinating science or with responsibility for science are appropriately trained even if themselves not science specialists.” While some other research suggests that educator fear around under preparedness leads to missed opportunities for engaging students in STEM, the reality is concerning. As of 2016 in the UK, the report notes “only 5% of primary school teachers have a qualification at A level or above in mathematics or science.”

If we place our collective will towards better preparing primary school teachers to guide students through rigorous, engaging STEM concepts as early as primary school, we can not only make an impact on the next generation of adults, but also the current generation of educators.

Image: Getty / Students Engaging In STEM Learning

Ideas and Approaches for Incorporating STEM into the Early Childhood Classroom

While there is some variety in the current research into STEM in the primary classroom, for the most part, experts across the globe tend to agree on several key areas, including the idea that young children are naturally inclined towards a STEM approach. One 2017 report emphasizes the importance of educators and parents identifying the existing components of a STEM education that are already present in quality early childhood education: “STEM learning is already present in classrooms and can be emphasized to both teachers and students. Teachers should be trained to think of STEM as mutually inclusive of their other teaching domains and encouraged to weave STEM seamlessly into their existing curricula and play times.”

This mindset can also help early childhood educators identify their existing strengths to that they can build on those skills and not “wait” to start implementing STEM until they are fully retrained.

At the 2016 Early Childhood Australia National Conference, one presentationoffered a range of suggestions for tapping into the natural curiosity of young students. The presenters encourage educators to keep STEM in the early childhood classroom “simple and fun” and suggest that teachers need not feel intimidated by a perceived lack of scientific knowledge or technical equipment. Rather, if educators build on existing resources and questions, and then make explicit the links to new learning, young children will leave the early childhood classroom with a stronger foundation to take with them through the rest of their academic career. Some of their suggestions include:

  • Ages 3–5: “bubble printing, ramp rolling, water walls, building houses for pigs (or other fairy tale themes), gardening projects, and bridge building.”
  • Ages 5–8: “Nature prints, Bee Bot city crossing, real word problems, vegetable garden, water collection system.”

For educators looking for an approach that feels more 21st century, Victoria University commissioned a report in 2016 with the goal of identifying useful STEM apps for early childhood education, as well as gaps in the existing offerings. The report offers a table of 45 apps broken down into various categories, plus reviews of their utility in the classroom, and also acknowledges that an app alone is not enough to adequately engage young children in the STEM fields.

Across the globe, the Boston Children’s Museum offers additional approaches for early education including one important shift in the way early childhood educators can and should engage with student questions: “one strategy for asking great questions is focusing on “what” instead of “why.”” While “why” questions have a “right” answer, “what” questions prompt students to focus on what is observable and what actions can be taken to help solve the problem, for example: “What happened there? What did you try? What are some of the ideas you have talked about that you haven’t tried yet?”

Image: Getty / Students Problem Solving Using A 3D Printer

 

By approaching STEM education from the ground up, we may yet enjoy significant shifts in our students, our schools, and our culture’s appreciation for innovative and scientific problem solving.

This article was originally appeared in Medium on September 30th, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

Can gamification solve the STEM talent gap?

Image: Getty / Wooden Geometric Game

The talent gap within STEM is a constant problem but is gaming the answer?

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

The global movement to increase access to STEM educational opportunities, and ultimately increase the flow of talent into the pipeline for professions in the STEM field, is continuing to grow.

Countries across the world are devoting resources and strategic thought to create meaningful plans for implementation, which, in some cases, means a total overhaul of how schools have traditionally approached science and mathematics education.

Image: shareconnectinspire.blogspot.com

Take Naoimh Riordan’s after-school programme, Sparks, at Rockboro Primary School in Cork, for example. This after-school offering offers a range of subjects and activities to engage students in not just the traditional STEM subjects, but also the arts as well.

The courses are taught using activity-based learning for an hour each week over a 10-week term. And one of the major tools in Ms. Riordan’s toolbox? Play. She and her team of tutors use the immersive game platform Breakout EDU to engage students and fuel their dynamic lessons.

To best leverage the growing momentum of STEM innovation, individuals such as Riordan, as well as school systems and nations as a whole, must continue to focus on the moving target of best practices and draw from a broad range of research-proven inspiration to deliver the kind of pedagogical changes that STEM growth truly requires.

One such practice that may feel like it’s come out of left field? Gamification.

Gamification 101: Not just for ‘gamers’ any more

Image: Getty / Gamifying The Classroom

Gamification is a term that’s become popularised over the last decade, particularly in both educational and corporate settings. While the most simplistic definition refers to a means of incorporating more game-like play into the classroom, gamification actually encompasses a broader movement to tap into some powerful human psychology.

In both classroom and corporate culture, gamification can be used as a motivating tool. For example, students and employees alike can work towards ‘badges’ of achievement on learning and/or employment tasks. Or, teachers can incorporate friendly competition in order to elevate STEM-focused group work into a more meaningful experience that can mimic the pressures of the ‘real world’.

The US has been quick to embrace gamification, in part because American young people are arguably primed for this approach because of their access to gaming culture.

As reported in an article published by the University of Central Florida, a whopping “97pc of 12–17-year-olds play video games, and Americans spent more than $15bn on them in 2013”.

In addition, Americans have been talking about gamification in corporate culture for years. A 2013 blogpost notes that “since the beginning of the gamification industry in 2010, over 350 companies have launched major gamification projects”.

These are major companies devoting time and resources to incorporating game strategy into a range of corporate activities — and to great results. The post goes on to note that companies such as “Spotify and LivingSocial have replaced the dreaded annual review with a mobile, gamified solution — with more than 90pc of employees participating voluntarily”.

Increasing engagement through games or game-like activities may seem bizarre, or even childish, but the evidence is clear: gamification can not only help expose children to technological processes, seemingly without them realising that they’re actually learning, but it can also be an important tool towards shifting culture and motivation.

As a recent piece in Forbes put it, it’s important to remember this key fact: “Gamification is 75pc psychology and 25pc technology.”

Ireland: A country poised for major STEM opportunities

Incorporating gamification into STEM educational approaches can help countries poised on the verge of STEM expansion to see STEM initiatives as not only crucial to their future economic success, but also kind of fun.

Ireland is one such example of a country that has put a lot of great emphasis on how to better handle STEM education. The STEM Education Review Group, led by Prof Brian MacCraith of Dublin City University, recently put out a report with nearly 50 actions that will help stakeholders collectively execute on their ambitions to elevate the impact of STEM education.

The Government then prioritised 21 actions for initial priority implementation, and these actions are focused on increasing qualified STEM instructors, increasing access to professional development for these educators, addressing inequity in STEM education, and increasing the focus on both enquiry-based learning and learning that happens outside the bounds of the traditional classroom (including extracurricular events, online learning and more).

The recommendations of the report come not a moment too soon. Ireland has seen a drop in both CAO points needed to qualify for a university-level STEM course, as well as overall performance in math and science, as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

‘Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn’
– BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

The latest PISA report revealed that Ireland’s ranking has dropped from 9th in science in 2012, to 13th. A statement released from the Ibec head of education policy, Tony Donohoe, made clear that stagnation or decreasing performance simply won’t jive with the countries priorities around STEM.

“The overall performance in science and mathematics is not good enough to support our economic ambition,” he said. “A major improvement in science and mathematics outcomes at school level is required if we want to compete at the highest levels.”

The focus on improvement in Ireland is clear, and the policy recommendations are both thorough and well-considered. But to make major gains in STEM education, it seems, going outside the bounds of what’s traditionally been done can make a world of difference.

Enter gamification. Incorporating game strategy in the classroom can help motivate not only students, but also teachers. Instead of STEM feeling like some mysterious or foreign presence in the classroom, students and educators alike can embrace the opportunity to do something different and challenging, all while improving the cutting-edge skills needed to truly thrive in our 21st-century global market.

Image: Getty / Gamification of Education

 

For further evidence on how gamification can increase engagement in STEM, look no further than the Smithsonian Science Education Center. In a post outlining five of the largest benefits to incorporating gamification, the Smithsonian notes that: “As gamification becomes more of a buzzword, it’s important not to write it off.”

According to the post, using games and game-like activities can aid in both cognitive and physical development, increase engagement and boost accessibility for students who may not always participate in traditional settings, and, finally, it’s a flexible enough approach to spill out of the classroom and into extracurriculars and real-world settings.

Back in Cork, Riordan, whose work was recently selected to be featured as part of the TED-Ed Innovative Educators cohort, said that she’s seen the power of interactive gameplay in her classroom, and often thinks of this famous quote from Benjamin Franklin to explain the impact of gamification for her students: “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.”

Gamification is far from a silver bullet but, when used as part of a comprehensive strategy to get serious about how to make STEM engaging, it can help actively involve students in their education and help them to score major points, both in the classroom and on the global stage.

This article was originally featured in Silicon Republic on October 2nd, 2017.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…

Competition Versus Collaboration In STEM Education

Image: Getty / STEM collaboration

Is it time for competition to take a backseat in STEM education?

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

If you’re a mentor or instructor working to promote STEM education, chances are that you’ve experimented with a little friendly competition in your teaching and learning dojo.

Playing competitive games with students is a seemingly great way to prime the pump for participation and generate some enthusiasm around academic performance.

And, beyond individual classroom pedagogy, competition and STEM just seem to go hand in hand — from science fairs that boast prizes for top winners, to corporate funding opportunities that reward ‘winning’ schools with resources.

But is fostering competition among STEM students actually that beneficial? Proponents of competition tend to cite the ways in which competition can provide students with a taste of the ‘real world’, in which they’ll have to be assertive and stand out from the pack in order to get ahead.

But is that truly the future we want to be preparing our young people for? Perhaps the best approach to educating students in the STEM fields is not to encourage them to build robots in order to determine which one is best but, rather, create opportunities for authentic collaboration and true group problem-solving.

Image: Getty / Solo STEM problem-solver

The pros and cons of competition

Anyone who has turned a teachable moment into a competitive game knows that doing so can help channel student energy in a more positive direction, and elicit whole group participation far quicker than a typical lecture can.

Competition can also encourage students to challenge themselves and work harder than they might normally in order to achieve a goal, and it can also encourage some students to work together towards a shared goal — even if that goal is beating the other team.

But competition can also bring out unsavoury behaviour in both children and adults. When children take competition too seriously in the classroom, it can become the opposite of a ‘fun’ way to diversify the lesson; rather, it can create anxiety, irritability and feelings of overwhelm or frustration.

Teachers can unwittingly contribute to this dilemma, especially when the competition has high stakes. What makes an otherwise ‘friendly’ competition have high stakes? When the winners earn a higher grade than the losers, or some other prize of significant value.

One way around this problem is to follow blogger and teacher David Weller’s golden rule: use cooperation to learn, and competition to review.

This keeps competition as a fun, low-stakes way to review material, but it doesn’t put the stress of winning or losing on children who are already tasked with learning a new skill or content area.

The benefits of collaboration in action

If we look beyond the common lens of education in Ireland to our global colleagues, we can see the impact of collaborative teaching and engagement methods at large. Finland, which, despite some recent slips, remains consistently at the top of nearly every category of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), has been studied by education reformers across the globe.

How does it do it? A 2012 article suggests that the key driver of education-development policy in Finland has been providing equal and positive learning opportunities for all children.

It has not endorsed student testing and school ranking as the path to improvement but, rather, it focuses on well-rounded curricula and equitable funding of schools throughout the country.

While equitable school funding doesn’t speak to individual teacher practices, it does reveal that Finland values access to education for all, over access to a select and excellent few.

When larger educational systems reward demonstrated excellence over funding equitable opportunities to access hands-on, dynamic STEM lessons and activities, then the system simply produces fewer students overall who are prepared to meet the rigours of the 21st-century workplace.

And Singapore, which has consistently topped the charts in PISA rankings in maths, reading and science, also ranks first in another area that PISA recently began measuring: collaborative problem-solving.

It’s no surprise, given that the tone of its engagement in STEM activities and events nationwide has been one of collaboration and shared learning, as opposed to a focus on winner-takes-all competition that, too quickly, can eclipse the goal of improving student outcomes for all.

Image: Shutterstock / Trophy checkered floor

Collaboration helps STEM students of all ages

Creating opportunities for collaboration in the classroom must be done thoughtfully, so as to avoid the perils of group work. Collaboration is not just about having students work together in groups, but about truly embracing a classroom culture in which all students are valued.

When students feel that their observations and thoughts are valued, they can begin to develop their opinions by listening to, and learning from, others.

Purposeful collaboration in the classroom is not just a great way to prepare students for the ‘real world’; it’s also a solid strategy for helping students learn to respect their peers and listen to different opinions instead of only wanting to articulate their own.

At the university level, students not only have a qualitatively ‘better’ experience when they work collaboratively, but the research suggests that positive collaboration with peers and professors alike can actually improve student retention and increase the overall efficacy of STEM programmes.

In a 2015 chapter for an academic collection on best practices in STEM education, writers Grant E Gardner and Kristi L Walters note that not only do students in collaborative classroom environments form stronger social bonds that can lead to degree completion and meaningful professional networks, but there is also much empirical support for these claims.

For example, in a meta-analysis of cooperative versus competitive student interactions on problem-solving tasks, the cooperative group consistently outperformed individuals on all forms of problem-solving.

Competition in the STEM classroom can be healthy and offer a number of benefits but, when competition is forced or contrived for the purpose of making a classroom activity ‘fun’ instead of rich and meaningful, then it can generate some major drawbacks, including increased anxiety and lower academic performance.

Embracing collaboration over competition is more than just ‘doing group work’; it’s about helping students identify as respectful thinkers who aren’t competing for knowledge but, rather, discovering it together.

This article was originally featured in Silicon Republic on January 2nd, 2018.


Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg

“Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…