“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. 

Cultivating #STEM Teachers in Michigan

It is only because of the commitment of states like Michigan that there is now a critical mass of educators experienced enough to mentor others. Collectively, Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellows demonstrate the potential and power of the opportunity for teachers to learn from peers, one example of the way in which teachers at various points in their career path can and should enjoy incentives to collaborate and lead. When teachers collaborate with each other, they leverage the investment of time and preparation each teacher has made into a return for thousands of students beyond their own classrooms.

Woodrow Wilson Foundation EVP and COO Stephanie J. Hull in the Detroit News

Making a Difference as a #STEM Teacher

“I always felt that STEM is a field that we really need more African-Americans working in and I felt that I could make a difference in that aspect.”

Woodrow Wilson Georgia Teaching Fellow Darryl Baines, at a State Capitol announcement where Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Woodrow Wilson Foundation President Arthur Levine announced the 2016 Georgia Teaching Fellows. The program is designed to help Georgia recruit, prepare, and support exemplary STEM teachers for the state’s high-need schools.

The full story, written by Janel Davis, is in the June 2 Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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.

 

Non-Fiction, #CommonCore, and Deep Learning

Not a day can go by without someone criticizing the Common Core State Standards or blaming the Common Core for all that ails our public education system. And while assessments are usually the prime target for Common Core haters, the standards’ emphasis on non-fiction texts have drawn greater scrutiny in recent months.

No, Eduflack isn’t going to (AGAIN) rise the defense of Common Core and all that it stands for. Instead, I’d just like to provide a terrific example of how an exemplary educator can use the expectations under Common Core, mix it with a non-fiction topic, couple it with student collaboration and teamwork, and produce a final learning experience that is a winner for all those involved.

Full disclosure here, I am completely bias. The teacher in question is my daughter’s third grade teacher. Earlier this year, she had students work in pairs to develop “marketing” brochures for each of the planets in our solar system. Students did research and identified key facts. They organized those facts to make a compelling argument. They were then asked to present their findings as if they were travel agents, trying to convince families to visit a particular planet. Bunches and bunches of Common Core standards and expectations, all wrapped up in a project-based science lesson that demanded teamwork and critical thinking.

Here’s the brochure my daughter and her partner came up with. They were tasked with marketing Uranus, and played up the terrific aspects that a cold, ice planet could offer a little kid.

This was one of the most engaging lessons I’ve seen in either of my kids’ classes in recent years. And it is a great example of how the Common Core should be taught and can be taught by a great teacher. It demonstrates that Common Core isn’t about memorizing facts or relying on worksheets or boring children into submission.

No, Common Core can be about real, deep learning. And in the hands of good teachers who are empowered to use it right, Common Core can be a wonderful guidebook for meaningful student learning.

 

Excellent Teachers, Equitable Distribution, Real Results

Last week, the New York Times’ Eduardo Porter had an interesting commentary looking at whether educators are really the ones who should be tasked with fixing all that ails our society. In tackling the discussion of whether American students are really lagging or whether, when we adjust for all sorts of outside factors, they are doing just fine, Porter concludes by noting, “Teachers are paid poorly, compared to those working in other occupations. And the best of them are not deployed to the most challenging schools.”

That last point, one of how we get our best teachers in front of the classrooms and the kids who need them the most, is one of the most pressing issues facing public education today. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education requested a report from each of the state departments of education, explaining how they were addressing the equitable distribution of effective teachers. But those reports still doing get exemplary teachers where they are most needed.

In response to Porter’s piece, Stephanie Hull, EVP and COO of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, offered some valuable insights. On the pages of the NYT, Dr. Hull wrote:

Getting excellent teachers into all classrooms is a national imperative. To meet this challenge, we must also improve teacher education, producing more and better prepared teachers, especially in shortage areas like STEM and special education. This is the only way to ensure a strong pipeline of teachers who know how to meet the needs of all students.

In states like Georgia, Indiana and New Jersey, we are seeing how programs specifically intended to recruit, prepare and support exemplary teachers for high-need classrooms can have a positive effect on the community and on the student.

She knows of what she writes. The work she mentions in places like GA, IN, and NJ is exactly what she is doing through the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship. And when you find a way to recruit, prepare, and support exemplary beginning educators to teach STEM in high-need schools, and you get those teachers to stay in those schools and classrooms well beyond their obligations, you must be doing something right.

Is Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship THE answer to the equity problem? Of course not. There is no one way to solve the issue or to improve access to great teachers for all kids. But programs like WWTF are definitely a part of the solution. It’s one of the reasons I’m so committed to helping that program, and others like it to succeed. Instead of just talking about what it can do or making promises of what is possible, programs like Teaching Fellowship are actually building pipelines of STEM teachers committed to careers in the schools that need them the most. How novel …

#Edtech and E-Learning Influencers

This seems to be the time of year for rankings and lists in the edu-space. In addition to Education Next’s annual list of the Top education folks on social media, Onalytica this week released a fascinating read, Edtech and Elearning: Top 100 Influencers and Brands.

In teeing off their study, Onalytica notes:

Blended with traditional teaching is the use of advancing technology to support learning. Institutions are behaving more like brands, looking to spur innovation in the same way that businesses can, utilising entrepreneurial and startup practices to improve learning. Being ahead of the game in the field edtech and elearning is one of the best ways to make yourself more attractive to prospective students and increase your reputation.

I’ll let you read the full report. The mapping out of the networks is particularly interesting. But let’s jump right to the rankings. First up are the influencers. For this list, Onalytica looked at normalized page ranks. And like Education Next, they are using Twitter feeds as the base.

Sylvia Duckworth (@sylviaduckworth) comes in first, with the top 10 being rounded out by David Anderson (@elearning), Alice Keeler (@alicekeeler), Jeffrey Bradbury (@TeacherCast), Scott McLeod (@mcleod), Monica Burns (@ClassTechTips), Tom Murray (@thomascmurray), Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher), Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist), and Kasey Bell (@ShakeUpLearning). Yours truly, @Eduflack, comes in at number 46 (somewhat remarkable as I don’t focus on edtech the way most on the list do, thought I do favor it).

And what of the brands? We see a top 10 that includes: EdSurge, EdTech K-12 Magazine, eLearning Industry, Mindshift, Education Week, ISTE, EdTech Higher Ed, Edutopia, jisc, and Edudemic.

The role of education technology and e-learning in discussions, policies, actions, and outcomes in education is only going to continue to grow. As we all try to navigate this world, the primer offered by Onalytica is a great place to start. So many of these influencers and brands are on my go-to Twitter read list. And now I have a few more to add.