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…

The Rise Of The STEM Toy

Image: Shutterstock / Toy Assortment

STEM Toys Can Help All Students, But Are All STEM Toys Helpful?

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

While the subjects that comprise the acronym STEM aren’t new, grouping these subjects of study — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — into a pedagogical approach didn’t become a trend in educational circles in the early 2000s. Today, as the movement has gained momentum across the globe, more parents are taking action when faced with traditional curricula that don’t offer their children the kind of content and pedagogy that will best prepare them for a career of innovation and problem-solving. Some families are advocating for better courses or enrolling their children in extracurricular STEM programs, while others have turned to the marketplace to find the answer they seek.

That’s right: STEM toys. STEM toys have actually been around for several years now. As the New Yorker reported back in 2013, the industry was already welcoming an increase in STEM-related toys for almost a decade. According to data from a research firm on the toy industry, “Sales of building sets rose 22% from 2011 to 2012, from $1.63 billion to $1.99 billion; sales of scientific toys and educational toys, while a tiny fraction of overall toy sales, grew as well, by 17% and 25%, respectively.”

STEM Toys Can Help All Students, But Are All STEM Toys Helpful?

One trend that clearly stands out in the toy market: subscription services. Amazon’s STEM Toy Club, which launched in 2017, is perhaps the most visible major company to offer such an option, but the e-commerce juggernaut is not the only retailer that’s gotten involved with STEM toys. A recent piece in Retail Dive makes clear that several other large companies, including Walmart and Target, also offer STEM subscription services. The idea is simple: Parents pay a flat rate per month, and their children receive a different STEM toy or kit each month.

Subscriptions services are a great way to build curiosity and interest in STEM for kids who might not otherwise be interested. After all, who among us under age 12 would refuse a new toy in the mail each month? But as a product editor quoted in the RD article makes clear, it can be hard to tell if retailers are offering truly educational, engaging STEM toys or just trying to capitalize on the trend of STEM: “Amazon is actually late to the game,” Jennifer Stein said. “STEM has become a fabulous term for marketers to use because parents buy into it, but it has been around. For it to be effective, it needs to be used correctly.”

One can assume that most seasoned STEM educators couldn’t agree more.

What To Look For When Making A Selection

So, how can parents — and educators — determine which of the new crop of STEM toys are actually beneficial and which are just getting in on the trend of STEM? Tech firm Technavio, which released a report forecasting the growth predicted in the STEM toy industry, breaks down educational toys into three categories: academic, cognitive thinking and motor skills.

Solid academic toys include math and science kits, as well as language learning toys, and these toys should actively engage children in skill acquisition or application. In other words, children should not be passive observers — a good academic toy should require them to think, interact with and/or manipulate concepts and ideas.

Cognitive thinking toys for younger children can include puzzles and construction sets that require children to think logically and apply reason. Cognitive skill-building toys for older students include classics like the Rubik’s Cube, as well as more advanced construction sets from companies like LEGO, which require older students to apply concepts of both geometry and engineering.

Motor skill-building toys are a growing subset of STEM toys and primarily apply to the youngest of learners. Toddlers and preschoolers can benefit from workbench sets or even simple, well-designed building blocks, which allow young learners to develop the physical skills they need to move and manipulate objects.

Image: Getty / Students Building Electric Model Car

For parents who want to give their children additional opportunities to learn and practice STEM skills, quality STEM toys can be a great option. A growing market means that retailers are looking to capitalize on the opportunity, so it’s important to do your research and look for toys that offer dynamic, hands-on learning as opposed to just encouraging students to pretend to “do science.” While imagining a world in which they can grow up to be an engineer or a web designer is valuable, it’s most important that children actually get real-world experience by engaging in problem-solving as opposed to playing with something fun that just makes them look the part. After all, hard work can definitely feel like play, especially in the STEM fields, so look for toys that offer that sweet spot of rigor and joy, and watch your child’s interest in STEM take flight.

This article was originally featured in Forbes Community Voice™ on May 29th, 2018.


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

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

The Future STEM of Education Needs Mixed Reality

Image: Getty / Virtual Reality Hero

While the future of work is already happening, what about the future of education? And how will mixed reality come into play?

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

As we round out the decade, the scope of what technology can make possible in our scientific explorations seems almost limitless. As new innovations arise, technologies will scale, and access to these tools increases.

With easier access to ever-more powerful consumer electronics, is it possible that everyday students and teachers in STEM classrooms across the globe will soon be able to leverage even more powerful tools in their pursuit of deep core concepts, experimentation and discovery?

STEM has been used for nearly two decades to refer to the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Incorporating it in primary schools not only helps make students better prepared for higher education, it also creates a stronger rising workforce of future problem-solvers and critical thinkers.

But STEM is not only an acronym; it’s also a way of looking at the world. Examples abound of STEM’s increasing reach, as well as its potential to change our students, our school and our future capacity for innovation across industries. And, increasingly, there have been some incredibly exciting innovations in the field of mixed reality.

The term mixed reality encompasses both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) — technologies that may fundamentally change the way that educators can approach STEM in classrooms all across the globe.

The power of mixed reality

A recent piece in EdTech magazine listed access to STEM through VR as one of the top three trends expected to shape education in 2017. The reason? VR can encourage motivation, build collaboration and offer educators an expanded tool belt of ‘real world’ learning opportunities — all without students and teachers having to leave their classroom.

As opposed to AR, which only overlays some digital objects in the 3D world — think Pokémon Go or Google Glasses, for example — VR creates a totally immersive world. This is currently achieved through special systems or headsets designed specifically to immerse users into an alternate or ‘virtual’ world that they can explore as if they were in the real world.

And EdSurge reports that companies who create educational applications of their tech products are eager to collaborate with educators — and not just to turn a profit. Utilising well-designed STEM programmes and products can help to improve student outcomes, and create a more educated class of citizens who remain connected and skilled in STEM content areas.

So, what do some of the possibilities look like for mixed reality in both STEM fields and classrooms? A recent piece in Digital Bodies reports that these technologies can reach as far as our solar system.

It said: “Using OnSight — a NASA and Microsoft-developed software tool — researchers no longer study images of Mars. They can use holographic teleportation to examine the planet’s surface from a first-person perspective. The 3D terrain is rendered through images received from the Curiosity rover as well as orbiting satellites.”

Utilising this kind of technology can help bring the natural world right into the classroom, and universities are taking note.

At Stanford University, the Virtual Human Interaction Lab has already begun to exponentially widen learning possibilities for students and researchers. The lab offers students the chance to explore totally immersive VR environments to learn about the factors shaping our modern lives — like the acidification of the ocean — through a virtually hands-on lens.

Students are not only able to ‘see’ the concepts they’re learning about in action, but also interact with the virtual environment to actively participate in the scientific method, all by just slipping on a headset.

And, at Texas A&M University, not only are undergraduates and graduate students getting to access their Immersive Mechanics Visualization Lab, but professors are also partnering remotely with high-school students to help them use immersive 3D technologies to participate in the global F1 in Schools competition, which tasks students to use robotics technology to build the car of the future.

Image: Getty/ AR Mechanic

Students at the lab can get feedback on their 3D designs from actual aerodynamics experts who, using this immersive technology, can ‘walk around’ the car designs and provide concrete feedback on ways students can improve their designs.

It’s a powerful way to connect students with experts outside of their community, using a technology elegant, inspiring and effective enough to give them an edge on the competition.

These examples illustrate the power of mixed reality to bridge conceptual learning with real-world learning. And it’s not just the education world that’s getting in on the movement. The industry of video game development has begun a kind of renaissance — artistic and economic — with the inclusion of VR offerings.

As more capital streams into this industry, it’s more important than ever before for schools of all kinds to remain on the ground floor of innovation so that young people from all walks of life can access the learning potential that VR can offer.

Next steps in a digital world

There has never been a more urgent time for out-of-the-box solutions for the challenges of our modern world. In schools across the globe, children are facing difficulties, and so are the adults running the systems that are supposed to serve them.

One potential upside? Our current crisis in education is also an opportunity for disruption, innovation and a fresh start. And mixed reality may be one option for doing just that.

While VR is the more dramatic of the two, less-immersive AR can be an excellent way to reach students where they are, by capitalising on the increased use of screen time that has become a reality for modern students.

AR can also level the playing field of student equity by eliminating the need for expensive materials, including specialised gear. This may sound counterintuitive, but innovations in AR have led to increased democratisation of technology access — for example, using cardboard viewers as a low-cost alternative to costly digital viewers.

As more educators and innovators come together to collaborate, we can find creative, low-cost methods of scaling these technologies for the everyday teacher, together. And examples of this work already happening are all around us.

In January 2018, the annual Educause Learning Initiative meeting brought together institutions and organisations to work under the theme of ‘Achieving Student Success Through New Models of Learning’.

In that same month, innovators from a range of industries came out for the Consumer Technology Association (CES) Expo, which offered a dizzying range of workshops for marketers and other stakeholders devoted to figuring out the best way to leverage mixed reality in industries from advertising to education.

The future of STEM education can be built on the shoulders of the mixed reality revolution. Simply put, when traditionalism fails, innovation flourishes. And, through true educational innovation, we may finally find meaningful solutions to the systemic problems that have outpaced our capacity for too long.

This article was originally featured in Silicon Republic on February 5th, 2018.


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

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

How Advancements In AI Could Radically Change The Way Children Learn In The Classroom

Image: Getty/ AI Classroom

 

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

Advances in technology continue to change the way we live, earn a living and learn. These shifts affect not only the types of courses that college students take, but also may soon alter the very capacity of our brains’ abilities to create and store memories. The story of how technology affects the way we live and learn is one that is still being written, but we’re excited to track the ways in which the future is already happening — in our classrooms and in our minds.

Distance Learning, Online Learning

According to a 2017 study, 30% of all enrolled higher education students take at least one distance learning course. Distance learning refers to any courses that take place fully in an online space with no in-person meetings or class requirements. Distance learning classes typically feature a blend of learning approaches, some traditional and some more innovative.

One innovative approach that’s being used in both distance learning courses as well as in-person courses is commonly referred to as online learning. Unlike distance learning, online learning does not necessarily happen far from the classroom walls; rather, online learning refers to a blended learning strategy that incorporates online learning tools into the classroom experience.

Image: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg

 

Online learning allows students to learn in a broader range of styles instead of simply sitting and listening to an instructor. It’s also the form of learning that is conducive to the advancements being made in artificial intelligence, and is arguably more effective for the needs of our modern workplace. But there are new challenges that come along with new approaches as well.

The Robots Are Taking Over…Our Brains?

As a recent WIRED article explored, some educators view tech tools in the classroom as a means of “cheating,” while others see that the very nature of learning has begun to evolve. The piece quotes David Helfand, a professor of astronomy at Columbia University, who puts it thusly: “The notion of education as a transfer of information from experts to novices — and asking the novices to repeat that information, regurgitate it on command as proof that they have learned it — is completely disconnected from the reality of 2017.”

This means that typical tasks associated with teaching and learning — like studying and memorizing information — have nearly become outdated thanks to the technological tools at our disposal. Today’s learners are able to outsource basic thinking tasks to tools like Wolfram|Alpha, a form of AI that uses language processing systems and a constantly expanding library of data sets to offer highly specific answers to typed user questions. And this just may be the beginning: Scientists have already begun to experiment with the use of embedded technology in our very brains to enhance our ability to create and store memories, which opens up questions about the possibilities of greater brain-tech connections impacting our need for time in the classroom.

So, what does the reality of the future actually look like, and how will that affect how students learn? According to some tech experts and scientists, technology may begin to play a much larger role in our ability to process and store information, and this could happen much faster than you might think.

A recent webinar presented by Dr. Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, and Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, revealed some startling predictions about AI and the brain. According to Kurzweil, “In the 2030s, we are going to send nano-robots into the brain (via capillaries) that will provide full immersion virtual reality from within the nervous system and will connect our neocortex to the cloud. Just like how we can wirelessly expand the power of our smartphones 10,000-fold in the cloud today, we’ll be able to expand our neocortex in the cloud.”

Image: Getty/ Brain Memory

 

If this sounds like science fiction, think again. Kurzweil has long published scholarly articles and books about his predictions regarding the pace of technological change, and the accuracy of his predictions regarding cloud computing, wearable technology and the breadth of the world wide web have been widely reported. Already, several entrepreneurs, including Elon Musk(Tesla, SpaceX) and Bryan Johnson (Kernel) are working to develop technological tools to connect our brains to computers for a range of purposes, including faster processing time and a greater capacity to fight neurological diseases. And researcher Mikhail Lebedev has worked to amass a growing body of research on the technological “augmentation of brain function.” To put it simply: The future is now, and our brains are the next frontier for tech’s impact on our lives.

Changing Technology, Changing Marketplace

A totally wired future might be closer than we could even imagine, but we don’t need to look too far afield to see the impact of technology, including AI, in our daily lives, classrooms and workplaces. As more and more industries continue to automate, the very nature of work is beginning to change. More front-line jobs are being replaced with automated workers, but the need for more advanced thinking around how to manage and synthesize AI in the workplace is also growing.

To best equip tomorrow’s leaders, we must provide students with technologically rich, dynamic learning tools that emphasize critical thinking and innovative problem-solving skills. In other words, we must prepare our brains to not just compete with technology but to coexist with it so that we can collectively move forward into an unprecedented and exciting shared future. This will ultimately impact when and how we are traditionally educated and how we’ll transfer and apply that knowledge in the workplace.

This article originally appeared in Forbes Community Voice™ on Aug. 7th, 2017.


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

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