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…”

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…”

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…