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…”

How Video Games Help Students Level Up STEM Learning

Image: Getty / Child Using Tablet Poolside

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

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

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

What Makes Gaming So Engaging?

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

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

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

Image: Getty / Children Playing Video Games

 

Building Games Around STEM Subjects

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

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

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

Behind The Scenes With Video Game Coding

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

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

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

Image: Code Ninjas / Student Learning How To Code

 

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

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


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

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

Early STEM Benefits Both Students and Educators

Image: Getty / Two Students Building Electronics

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Getty / Students Engaging In STEM Learning

Ideas and Approaches for Incorporating STEM into the Early Childhood Classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

Can gamification solve the STEM talent gap?

Image: Getty / Wooden Geometric Game

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

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

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

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

Image: shareconnectinspire.blogspot.com

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

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

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

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

Gamification 101: Not just for ‘gamers’ any more

Image: Getty / Gamifying The Classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ireland: A country poised for major STEM opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Getty / Gamification of Education

 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Competition Versus Collaboration In STEM Education

Image: Getty / STEM collaboration

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

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Getty / Solo STEM problem-solver

The pros and cons of competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

The benefits of collaboration in action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Shutterstock / Trophy checkered floor

Collaboration helps STEM students of all ages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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…