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…”

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…

A STEM State of Mind: No Magic Kit or Subscription Required

Image: Getty / Brain STEM

STEM programmes and flashy subscriptions are not necessary to drive STEM education

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

When you think of the acronym ‘STEM’ or, to be more specific, when you think of STEM education in practice, what are you actually imagining? Be honest, now.

Allow your mental landscape to fill up with robots, online games or a slick subscription service packed with apps that promise a complete transformation of students into budding tech industry gurus or ‘STEMers’.

If your mental map is filled with smartphones and coding apps, you’re not alone, and you’re also not wrong to be intimidated by what looks like quite an expensive and complicated approach to put into practice.

But here’s the thing: truly sustainable and meaningful STEM initiatives are multidimensional and include all aspects of STEM, not just the shiniest bells and whistles that our current technology can make available.

A real commitment to STEM is less about a certain product or approach but rather, it’s a dedication to truly valuing the liberal arts and sciences, which, of course, includes the life sciences as well as robust critical-thinking skills. And the real kicker? These are the kind of educational experiences that talented teachers have been engaging their students in already for decades now.

So, how can boots-on-the-ground educators sort out the tools that will help them leverage their existing materials and pedagogy to make their STEM offerings truly effective and meaningful to students?

For starters, we might first take a look at where the current influence on STEM programming originates, and take some time to reframe what STEM education can really look like in practice, in all classrooms, and for all students, not just the privileged few.

The pipeline pressure

In a 2015 piece on the changing landscape of STEM education, dean of Georgia Tech, Gary S May, reiterates the common opinion that the foundation of current STEM initiatives is born out of a commitment to creating a “larger, more skilled workforce in STEM areas … [by] preparing and encouraging more youth to pursue these fields at a time when they were less inclined to do so, and to provide more support and training for teachers in the subjects”.

May makes clear his belief in this strategy, and warns against potentially “watering down” the focus on the four STEM subject areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to include the arts and other less ‘hard’ STEM subjects.

While his point is well made, May does not address one of the most concerning factors influencing modern STEM education efforts, which is the tremendous external pressures that the financial industry, technology sector and NGOs are beginning to play, ostensibly altering its future.

Heidi J Stevenson, writing in the journal Issues in Teacher Education, notes that in addition to increased federal funding to public schools, US “venture capitalists have responded to political appeals and are investing 80pc more in STEM education than in 2005”.

Stevenson goes on to ask an important question, and one that we should all be considering when assessing our curriculum planning and materials: “Are these STEM-aiding entities’ motives purely altruistic or profit-driven?”

When we look at efforts from industry attempting to help boost STEM education efforts to fuel the talent pipeline, some additional concerns also emerge.

A thorough 2015 piece in TechCrunch examines some of the takeaways regarding gender discrimination in both tech and venture capital fields.

Image: Getty / STEM State of Mind

 

The lack of diversity is often cited as a primary motivator for fuelling STEM educational programmes aimed at recruiting more women and students of colour into the STEM pipeline but this piece makes clear that one of the key barriers to more inclusive workplaces is the reality that “the lack of diversity in venture capital boardrooms is far more than a STEM pipeline issue”.

Providing flashy STEM education products to educators with the goal of training and recruiting underrepresented students sounds great at first glance. But if the tech sector doesn’t actually address the persistent top-down issues that create barriers for those students once they are actual applicants, then this approach is sorely misguided.

Mindset shift v ‘magic wand’

Increased financial resources for students and schools are always welcome but when it comes to STEM initiatives, it’s important to take a critical stance when off-the-shelf programmes are sold too aggressively as a kind of pricey ‘magic wand’.

Experienced educators know that the real foundation of STEM education requires critical-thinking skills, hands-on engagement, and opportunities to explore the natural world through trial and error, research and reflection, and genuine interest and curiosity in the problems — and potential solutions — of our shared planet.

When pedagogical materials come directly from companies whose sole focus is building up their workforce, and potentially their bottom line, it’s unclear if their commitment to true learning comes before their profit margin.

Audrey Watters of Hack Education explores this question in a 2015 blogpost, and she sums up many of the concerns of venture capital funding for STEM initiatives thusly: “So, when we ask, ‘Who’s investing in edtech?’, we can’t simply look at the dollar flow for our answer.

“We need to pause and consider why this narrative casts innovation as something that happens outside of education institutions … why it’s focused on venture capital, for example, and why it’s focused on start-ups and not schools.”

A more sustainable approach to STEM education should obviously happen within our schools, and should rely on robust training for educators who are looking to add to their already diverse set of pedagogical skills.

In addition, students should be given real opportunities to engage in hands-on activities that require knowledge and application of skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and not just plopped in front of the latest software.

Today’s entrepreneurs and corporations have the power to create beautiful, engaging programmes, but when it comes to building a sustainable grassroots movement designed to reach all students in schools globally, encouraging them to become stronger critical-thinkers and problem-solvers, there’s most likely never going to be an app or kit for that.

This article was originally featured in Silicon Republic on November 6th, 2017.


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

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

What Does It Really Mean to Give Students an Equal STEM Education?

Image: Getty / Teacher Helping Students in Robotics Class

Can we really achieve STEM education equality by giving everyone the same thing?

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Language matters. This is especially true in the world of STEM education. The words we use to talk about the concepts, policies and content that underlie the education of a rising generation of global students truly have great import.

When we talk about giving students an ‘equal’ education, or an ‘equitable’ education, what are we really saying? How do these concepts differ from simply providing ‘an education’, and why must STEM education specifically pay attention to issues of equality and equity?

The answer is as simple as it is complicated. Excellent STEM education should be geared towards reaching all students across the globe, no matter their race, gender or country of origin.

To truly equip the next generation with the tools and skills needed to create innovative, durable solutions to the challenges of our modern world, we must build in systems and practices that ensure all students have access to quality education.

We must also, however, take a look at whether some students are starting just steps from the finish line while others haven’t even gotten to the racetrack.

Image: maroke/Shutterstock

Equality and Equity 101

For starters, are ‘equity’ and ‘equality’ the same thing when it comes to STEM education? Not quite.

A piece on the blog Think Inclusive provides an example that helps illustrate the difference between equality and equity in the classroom: “Students may see other students receiving supports, accommodations or modifications and feel wronged, not realising that the goal is for all students to work in their zone of proximal development.”

This example will be all too familiar to educators who deal with managing a classroom where differentiated instruction is the norm.

Sometimes shortened to ZPD, Vygotsky’s pedagogical concept of ‘zone of proximal development’ is a zone in which students can work with some guidance to move their skills beyond what they can do independently.

It is widely used as a framework for educators to support students with educational activities that help them move at a pace that is rigorous but accessible.

If two students have very different needs, then it certainly wouldn’t be equitable to provide them with equal assignments.

Rather, the educator has the responsibility to provide appropriate instructional supports so that students of all ability levels have equitable access to the learning objectives.

Another example, this one outside the realm of education, can also illustrate how approaches to true equity don’t necessarily mean that people receive the same services but, rather, appropriate services for their needs.

As noted in the 2017 European Commission report on gender equality, “in conflict-affected countries, displacement, economic insecurity and marred social networks lead to more unstable environments, increasing the risk of sexual violence. In countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, the EU has since 2004 supported the work of the Panzi Hospital in meeting the full spectrum of needs of survivors of sexual violence, and women with severe obstetric injuries.”

In this example, the response to the issue of gender-based violence is not to provide the same supports to men and women in an effort to provide equality to both genders, but rather to look at the distinct issues affecting women and provide supports that respond to those gender-specific concerns.

Moving beyond equality to true educational justice

So, how do educators, administrators and those tasked with instructional design help move students beyond a place of mere equality to true educational justice?

As a recent article by author Joseph Levitan in the American Journal of Educationexplains, “in contrast to equality and equity, a just education is focused on ensuring that each student has the opportunities to find, figure out, and develop their skills and abilities based on their values and their communities’ values … It is about seeing students as agents in their own education who have rights and inherent abilities.”

This means that crafting STEM programmes and policies should take the whole person into account, and that includes any barriers that students experience as a result of their race, gender, ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic status and so on.

A 2016 report that examined the role of libraries in supporting STEM equity includes a literature review that summarises the barriers as well as possible recommendations for students from a range of protected classes.

For example, one citation notes a long list of supports that could help students from racial minority groups have more just access to STEM programming, which includes “summer bridge [programmes], mentoring, research and experience, tutoring, career counselling and awareness, learning centres, workshops and seminars, academic advising, financial support, and curriculum and instructional reform.”

Notice a trend? To provide equitable STEM education, many of these recommendations suggest enrichments that happen beyond the walls of the traditional classroom.

It’s clear that offering true equity in STEM education means that we must think outside of the box, and think about what true access really looks like for the students we serve.

If we rise to the task at hand, not only will we be doing the right and just thing for our planet’s youth, but we’ll also be looking out for our best economic interests in the long run.

The European Institute for Gender Equality has found a number of benefits to closing the gender gap in the STEM field.

Image: Getty / Happy Students

 

A recent summary of findings notes that “in monetary terms, closing the STEM gap leads to an improvement in GDP by €610bn to €820bn in 2050 … total EU employment would rise by 850,000 to 1.2m by 2050 … The new jobs are likely to be highly productive because women graduating from STEM often progress into high value-added positions in sectors such as information and communication or financial and business services.”

These are exciting times for progress, innovation and growth, and the actions we take today will have a major impact on our shared future. To succeed, we must bring all students along in our mission to create meaningful, dynamic STEM education — not just those who are already poised at the finish line, ready to take another lap.

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


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

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

Insights Into Early STEM Learning

Image: Getty / Early STEM Classroom

Educators need guidance and support to create positive experiences for children.

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

An often-cited statistic is that the human brain grows to 90% of its adult size by age 5. Early childhood is also critical for the healthy development of synapses — the neural bridges between brain cells that expand abilities such as communication, complex thought, innovation and movement.

The years from birth through primary school comprise a particularly rich time for encouraging the growth of curiosity and creativity necessary in later life for careers related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Fostering STEM learning at an early age helps children develop a can-do attitude toward careers in these fields.

However, learning needs to be developmentally appropriate. Furthermore, educators need guidance and support to create positive STEM education experiences for children.

Early STEM Learning Affects Career Choices

In a March 2018 report, the Institution of Engineers of Ireland noted that discovery and exploration are key tenets of early childhood education that “overlap” with “core engineering traits/behaviours.” Engineers Ireland (EI) suggests fostering “critical thinking and problem solving from a young age” in a primary curriculum. It has indicated that providing STEM curriculum from primary through secondary education may eventually help avoid downturns in the number of engineering apprentices. As of 2017, the number of trainees in Ireland remained about 38% lower than at the 2007 outset of the Great Recession, according to the report.

According to a report from King’s College London, “Most young people’s science aspirations and views of science are formed during the primary years and solidified by the age of 14.” It notes research supporting the efficacy of a “sustained, longer-term programme” for building information about science careers into science curriculum.

In 2014 Scholastic article about the necessity of a maker space as a part of STEM education, journalist and educator Gary Stager asserted that science learning eventually will merge core ideas with hands-on practice of science and engineering. In short, students will be expected to demonstrate how these ideas work. This thinking at a higher level begins at preschool when children are encouraged to make their own creations while playing with building blocks, other materials and computers. If it continues throughout a student’s education, it likely will make the student more valuable to STEM employers.

Learning Must Be Developmentally Appropriate

The onset of schooling varies by country. For example, in Ireland, although state-funded primary schooling is available by age 4, it isn’t mandatory until a child is 6 years old. In the UK, public education includes part-time nursery school for all students beginning at age 3 and primary instruction begins at 5 years old. This is also a common pattern in the United States, where an increasing number of states are providing free preschool education. Whether you refer to early childhood learning as preschool, primary school or nursery school, successful STEM education considers the developmental needs of children at different ages. For greatest success at fitting into the teaching day and helping children make connections between different learning topics, STEM needs to be approached in a cross-curricular way and meld with activities such as art, play and music.

For example, according to cognitive psychologist Amy Shelton, who heads research at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, curriculum that includes block play helps young children gain “fundamental skills” necessary for building interest in STEM learning. Therefore, tinkering with construction toys helps build academic strength. A STEM lesson involving Magformers, which creates 3D brain-training magnetic construction toys, might involve children in the following activities:

Having an open dialogue to discuss and draw their inventions.

Counting different-looking toy pieces (i.e., one triangle, four squares, two pentagons, six colors).

Testing the capabilities of objects they build.

What looks like play is actually intense learning.

Early childhood and primary-level educators are, of course, concerned that STEM instruction is developmentally appropriate. Writing for the non-partisan, nonprofit think tank New America in 2016, Lisa Guernsey cringes when recounting some of the misunderstandings concerning early STEM learning. Guernsey emphasizes that effective STEM learning allows for exploration. It doesn’t involve skill-and-drill activities such as reciting math facts or science vocabulary. Another misperception she often encounters is the view that STEM learning is specialized and takes time away from arithmetic, reading and writing.

Instead, at the early childhood/primary level, STEM should involve experiences such as:

Observing and discussing the movement of insects.

Considering math ideas like “more” and “less” while building with blocks.

Working in teams to solve problems.

A large part of early inquiry concerns developing a go-along, get-along attitude. In March 2017, the BBC News highlighted the importance of relationship learning in an article about Northern Ireland primary students working in teams to build vehicles that “could travel on land, sea and air.”

For a group of students building a solar-powered vehicle, this experience included learning about circuits and switches. Other skills gained involved modifying original drawings to make an invention work, compromising on solutions and thinking about recycling.

Image: Getty / Happy Students Conducting An Experiement

 

Helping Facilitate Early STEM Education

Many teachers feel hesitant about helping young children explore scientific and mathematical ideas. PBS recently videotaped a University of Chicago pilot project aimed at helping early childhood educators become more comfortable facilitating STEM lessons, such as what objects float and why.

PBS noted that pressure is on preschool teachers to begin the STEM learning process because of poor assessment results in standardized science exams at the fourth-grade level. The short video points out that the featured university project focused on helping teachers learn how to facilitate the process of inquiry rather than teaching them the scientific principles behind the projects.

The goal is to help teachers feel more confident about getting students to make observations and discuss questions requiring something more than “yes” and “no” answers. Inquiry is a process that requires teachers to wait before sharing their own answers to student questions and to learn that it’s OK not to have all of the answers. What is important is to help students become critical thinkers. Supporting inquiry-based learning is one of the most effective strategies we can deploy today to promote STEM literacy, ultimately equipping children with the skills for success in tomorrow’s workforce.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on June 20th, 2018.


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

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

A Decentralized Internet Will Preserve Innovation In STEM Education

Image: Getty / White House plugged-in

If money can be decentralized and, to some extent, anonymized, can’t the same model be applied to other things?

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Net neutrality may be dominating the news headlines this month thanks to recently proposed policy changes at the federal level, but to understand this important issue beyond the sound bites, it’s important to get a sense of what net neutrality actually is and what’s at stake. The larger movement is bigger than the question of whether or not your favorite streaming TV shows will slow down — it actually impacts how we communicate, learn, earn money and share and store our most personal information.

Net neutrality may be currently positioned as a polarizing political issue but, in reality, the efforts to preserve an accessible, open and secure internet are bipartisan and totally essential to the work of growing a rising class of STEM-educated Americans.

Net Neutrality 101

Put simply, those who favor net neutrality are arguing for a system in which internet service providers (ISPs) are not allowed to give preferential treatment to some content and/or users over others. The most common metaphor in use is that of the “fast lane” vs. slow lane”; for example, net neutrality supporters argue that ISPs will be able to control access to content and prioritize some content for some users into a fast lane.

This policy is getting attention because it is a clear shift from a February 2015 move by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that issued regulatory policies in an attempt to ensure net neutrality. The most significant portion of this policy was that it classified ISPs as utility companies, which then required them to be subject to regulation to protect consumers. Supporters of this policy argue that it prevents ISPs from providing inequitable access to content and security.

In November 2017, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his intent to repeal the 2015 policy ensuring net neutrality. In a statement on the official FCC website, Pai argues that the 2015 “decision appears to have put at risk online investment and innovation, threatening the very open Internet it purported to preserve. Requiring ISPs to divert resources to comply with unnecessary and broad new regulatory requirements threatens to take away from their ability to make investments that benefit consumers.”

Image: Getty / Executive limiting access

 

The current battle over net neutrality attempts to position regulation as a barrier to innovation, but this assessment fails to take into account the tremendous innovation already happening within our STEM fields across the worldwide global networks that connect us. The future of innovation is here, but we need to preserve equal access to information for all, instead of just the corporate few.

Why K-12 Needs Net Neutrality

Educators and administrators have had their eyes on the net neutrality standoff for a long time. Today’s classrooms have begun to incorporate more and more technology, which means that even the smallest disruption in service or accessibility can throw off multimedia lesson plans designed to get students truly engaged with hands-on digital problem-solving.

Back in May of this year, a post in the Ed Tech Round Up made clear the dangers of doing away with an accessible internet, and quoted a statement from the American Library Association, which put it thusly: “Net neutrality is essential for library and educational institutions to carry out our missions … The internet has become the primary platform for learning, collaboration, and interaction among students (and educators).”

Not only could slower speeds and inequitable access disrupt the flow of instruction, but these concerns will also weigh heavily on administrators who have to constantly weigh the cost/benefit of incorporating technology into the classroom. As a recent piece in EdWeek Market Brief explained, “School and library officials worry that if those protections are curtailed, deep-pocketed companies could pay to have their content delivered more quickly, while the flow of other online resources for educational purposes would be slowed or otherwise diminished.” In other words, without net neutrality, schools could easily have their hands forced toward a smaller range of pedagogical products with more financial backing, as opposed to keeping their classrooms open to a range of tools that offer meaningful educational benefits.

The Future Of The Internet Is A Decentralized One

The upside of this debate is that it’s serving as a rallying cry for a broad range of STEMers, including students, parents, educators, scientists, engineers and innovators who see this as a chance to work together toward building alternatives to the current way we approach internet access. With our collective power, we can create a decentralization strategy to ensure that future generations have access to the same educational and technological opportunities that we have today — or even better options that we haven’t yet devised.

Image: Getty / Ethernet and the American flag

 

So, how do we create a path forward? A 2013 piece in The New Yorker compared the success of the Bitcoin revolution to the possible implications for internet decentralization. The piece describes Bitcoin’s use of blockchains to do away with the need for a single central control point and asks the very timely question, “If money can be decentralized and, to some extent, anonymized, can’t the same model be applied to other things, like e-mail?”

Decentralization has been in the news and in our culture, for some time. As Mashable reports, a character on the HBO show Silicon Valley recently proposed just such an idea, a kind of “new internet” that values privacy and security over big business control of information flow. If nothing else, the promise of a sort of new internet can inspire us to think more broadly today and to remember that the work of STEM education should be preparing our young people for precisely such work.

As educators, our goal is to expose young people to means and methods of problem-solving through experimentation and innovation. Today, we must take up that task with an even greater sense of urgency, because the problems that lie ahead of us — those issues of access, information security and the role we want to allow corporations to play in our daily lives — those problems can only be solved with the kind of innovative thought that STEM fosters in classrooms all across our country and our internet.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on December 7th, 2017.


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

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