“Dream, Then Do” When It Comes to #STEM Teaching, Learning

For more than a decade, we have been talking about STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) education in the United States. For much of that time, though, our discussions haven’t evolved much. In too many corners of the conversation, we focus exclusively on how to teach math and science, mostly relying on the same methods and the same approaches we have used for generations.

It’s only been recently that we’ve acknowledged, for instance, the need to better address the T and the E in the conversation, particularly as we now look to add coding and computer science to the K-12 curriculum (and as we search for teachers prepared in leading such instructional pursuits). And we now embrace the idea of transforming STEM to STEAM, seeing how the arts (particularly music) can better connect the academics of STEM to the students of today. 
Eduflack has been fortunate to spend recent years looking specifically at how we can revolutionize teacher education to take full advantage of the opportunities available through STEM education. In states like Georgia, Indiana, and New Jersey, we have worked with dozens of universities to transform their existing STEM teacher preparation efforts, ensuring strong pipelines of effective educators for high-need schools that possess both the content knowledge and the pedagological skills to succeed. 

And through the work of the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning, we are now taking that even a step further, exploring how gaming, assisted reality, rich clinical experiences, project-based learning, and a time-independent program void of credit hours and Carnegie units can do a more effective job preparing prospective teachers for the rigors of STEM education in both the schools of today and the learning environments of tomorrow. 

Recently, I had the privilege to travel to Israel to see how a “start-up nation” focused on technological opportunities is addressing STEM education today. The ORT Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network is essentially a network of nearly 100 charter high schools focused on STEM instruction. Everything is taught in a dual-language environment (English and Hebrew), with many of the schools in the northern part of the nation adding the third language of Arabic to meet the needs of their Arab students. 

At every instance, the educators at ORT seek to use personalized learning to help connect STEM lessons to the STEM learner. They embrace the use of technology in the classroom, including the instructional applications of students using their own smartphones while in class. ORT actively recruits teachers who have developed meaningful content knowledge in the private sector, bringing their experiences as developers and designers for names such as Microsoft and Google into the K-12 classroom. 

Visiting schools across the country, I witnessed STEM seamlessly integrated with English language instruction and literature and even the Bible. One educator remarked that “this is a creative thinking place for teachers.” In multiple schools, I heard educators speak of changing “the exclamation points to question marks in learning,” meaning to them that instead of teachers offering the definitive word on everything taught, they saw their role as inspiring their students to ask questions and seek answers. 

“Kids don’t have to change. Let them be curious,” one technology teacher told me. “Teachers need to change.” 

And one engineer-turned-educator summed up his direction to his students as, “today you can dream, tomorrow you can do.” 

The students respond in kind, seeing project-based instruction as, “relevant to us.”  

As I was meeting with a group of students in Northern Israel, I inquired whether they preferred this new, project-based, STEAM-focused instructional model to the previous ways they were taught, the room exploded with a combination of rapid Hebrew, followed by laughter from some of the teachers. Clearly my meager mastery of the English language and my pathetic understanding of Spanish wasn’t going to help me, so I asked one of the teachers for a little assistance. 


His explanation made me understand I was in a STEM classroom much like the classes I visit here in the United States. Most of the kids in the class were not aspiring rocket scientists or brain surgeons. Many of them didn’t want to be in high school at all. But they were saying that if they were required to be in school, this was really the only way they would want to do it. For them, there was no other school choice. 

The visit to these ORT Schools helped me see there are some universal truths when it comes to the future of teaching and learning, truths that I see with every school visit or teacher discussion I have here in the states. Teachers want to be empowered. Educators see the enormous value in mastering content as well as being adept at classroom management. That their success is measured by far more than a test score. That they are eager for the instructional opportunities ahead, and charting new ground to meet the needs of tomorrow’s learners. 

And for those learners, personalized instruction is king. Project-based learning inspires. The real-life experiences of their teachers mean something. And what they can do with the content and knowledge obtained is far more important than how it can be measured. 

As a community, we need to do far more to spotlight what is happening in American classrooms today. To capture how PBL is affecting both teacher and student. To demonstrate the impact STEM has on all students, regardless of expected career path. To call out how teacher preparation programs are breaking the old models to meet the demands of the future. To talk about the dreams of today, so we can do tomorrow. 

A Few Future-Looking Qs for DeVos

As Washington and the education community gear up for Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearings to become the next EdSec, over at BAM Radio Network I explore a few areas we really should look into, but likely won’t.

Sure, we could spend the entire hearing discussion past actions on charter schools, vouchers, reform advocacy, and reform dollars. But rather than just talking the past, what if we actually explored the future and how the U.S. Department of Education can impact the entire education community.

The nation needs a clear vision of accountability, teacher preparation, modes of learning and expectations for all. Now seems like as good a time as any to start asking. Give it a listen here. You won’t be disappointed.

Improving #TeacherEd for Today … and Tomorrow

Imagine if teacher preparation programs were focused on the doing, instead of just on time served. Educators already know the best learning happens when it is rooted in real-world problems and real-world engagements. So why aren’t prospective teachers learning in programs that are designed in the form of such challenges and that mirror the real work of real teachers?

Imagine if teacher preparation programs embraced individualized instruction. Educators already know that their young students arrive at the classroom with different levels of knowledge, different experiences and different preferred learning styles. Prospective teachers are no different than those they will one day teach. So why aren’t more teacher education programs focused on the learner, with programs based on the needs and preferences of that adult learner?

From my latest at US News & World Report, looking at how competency-based learning may be the future in teacher preparation

The New PDK Poll is Here, the New #PDKPoll is Here!

Last week, the good folks at PDK released the results of the 48th Annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. So what do we think?

The most interesting number each year is how we grade public schools. In 1974, 48% of Americans gave their local schools an A or B grade. Today … 48% are still giving As and Bs to their local schools. The grade for our nation’s schools as a whole doesn’t fair nearly as well, with only 24% giving As and Bs to the nation, but that’s on par with grades over the past three or so decades. (Good thing ESSA is handing over authority from the federal to the localities, huh?)

On the purpose of education, 45% of those surveyed say the purpose is to prepare students academically, 26% say its to prepare students to be good citizens, and 25% say its to prepare students for work. So despite recent-year pushbacks, it seems school ensuring all kids are “college and career ready” is winning the day.

When evaluating the public schools, parents offer a significantly higher opinion on what’s happening than non-parents. Whether its providing factual evidence (47-37), preparing students to work well in groups (43-33), or enhancing critical thinking (36-28), those adults closer to the learners in the classroom are far more likely to say local public schools are doing extremely or very well.

When it comes to learning standards, only 7% think standards are too high, while 43% say current standards are too low. Interestingly, “too low” scores high with urban residents, adults in households earning more than $100,000 a year, and Republicans/conservatives.

Those surveyed still see “lack of financial support” the top problem facing local public schools, coming in at 19%. That’s more than double “lack of discipline” or “concerns about quality,” and almost three times the number who worry about the “quality of teachers.”

Continuing on the money trend, there were a few head scratchers. Of those who were confident higher taxes will help schools improve, nearly 30% said they oppose raising such taxes. And of those not confident higher taxes can result in school improvement, more than a third (35%) said they would support increased property taxes for the purpose. And if those taxes are raised, 34% of all those surveyed want to see it go to teachers.

When presented with an “either/or” decision on ideas to improve the schools, those surveyed:

  • Overwhelming supported more career-technical or skill based classes (68%) over more honors classes (20%)
  • Leaned toward raising teacher salaries (50%) over hiring more teachers (40%), even though smaller classes beat larger classes 51-40
  • Emphasizing more “traditional teaching” and using more technology battled to a draw, 43 all

The full survey results, found here, are definitely worth the read. Of particular interest for all should be a deep dive into thoughts on parent/school communications.

What does this all tell us? The public’s perceptions of public schools, both locally and nationally, aren’t as bad as many have made them out to be in recent years. Like our collective test scores on NAEP and international benchmarks, it seems our views — good or bad — about the schools have largely stagnated. Even with all of the ugliness in recent years about Common Core and testing, things are pretty much holding constant.

More importantly, we see those closer to the classroom — the parents — have more positive views on what is happening. And those parents are eager and hungry for additional information and greater interaction with their public schools.

While there is a lot to parse here, and many will cherrypick those data points that prove their own beliefs (or disprove the thoughts of those they rail against), the PDK poll provides an important foundation for discussion on where we are, where we are headed, and where we want to be.

(Full disclosure, Eduflack served, proudly, as a member of the PDK Poll Advisory Board this year.) 

Earth Day, #CommonCore, and Environmental Ed

As we celebrate another Earth Day, we are seeing more and more examples of how instruction in the environmental sciences — even for our youngest learners — can be about more than just lecture and the recitation of facts.

As I write for BAM Radio’s EDWords, there are strong ways to connect Common Core and Next Gen Science Standards with environmental science instruction and student interests. The Think Earth Environmental Education Foundation provides us just one example of what is possible.

From BAM Radio’s site:

While many may think that aligning with Common Core and NGSS means a tightly controlled, proscribed curriculum with on room for creativity or tailoring to specific students, we are seeing more and more that that simply isn’t the case. With offerings like Think Earth, we are given a clear view of how our youngest learners can learn subjects like environmental science in ways that just enhance what they are already learning in their science and math classes.

Teaching “to the Common Core” provides an unending number of paths to the creative educator. They have third graders market vacations to the outer reaches of the solar system and they can have first and second graders understand natural resources and conservation in ways that their own parents may not quite appreciate.

 

 

For Students’ Sake, Let’s Look to Student Data

Over at Education World, I have a new piece that looks at the important role student research and data can play when gathered and utilized properly. From Data Quality Campaign to ACT to NWEA to Project Tomorrow to ERCA, we can see the value data plays, particularly in understanding student perceptions on key issues, including their college and career aspirations.

As I wrote:

For years, we have grappled with the notion of “assessment literacy,” where educators, families, and policymakers can better learn the importance of data collection and the ability to distinguish a valuable data-gathering tool from a lousy one. At the same time, educators have demanded that any student data collected needs to be used to help the student, and not just as the impetus for punitive action.

Teachers are right. We probably don’t focus on what is helpful to the student nearly as often as we should, particularly when it comes to student data. And that’s a cryin’ shame. The student perception information coming from organizations like Project Tomorrow and NWEA is incredibly important. It provides a glimpse at how what is taught in the classroom aligns with student interests and passions. It helps us better understand the path today’s young learners are on as we encourage them toward college and career success.

I hope you’ll give it a read.

 

 

Celebrating #NJSTEMWeek By Celebrating #STEM Teacher Ed

This week is NJ STEM Week. Across the Garden State, educators, policymakers, and the business community have been celebrating STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) and its importance in building a strong economy, stronger society, and stronger citizenry.

Over at Medium, I reflect on some of my own STEM experiences over the years, while highlighting some of the great work the Woodrow Wilson Foundation is doing to recruit, prepare, and support STEM teachers for high-need schools in New Jersey. As I write:

Whether one wants to become a rocket scientist or a poet, there is no denying that children today benefit from a background in the STEM disciplines. The big question is where and how do we find the teachers, particularly in our high schools, to deliver that benefit?

Programs like the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship are seeking to answer that important question, leading work in five states to help construct a strong pipeline of excellent STEM educators for our nation’s high-need schools. In Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation partners with 28 universities to deliver STEM-focused teacher education. In each state, prospective teachers receive the strong academic preparation, valuable K–12 classroom-based clinical experiences, and meaningful mentoring to become the STEM teachers our states, districts, and communities seek.

I hope you’ll give it a read.