“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. 

Reinventing Principal Preparation

One can’t throw a kettle ball these days without hitting upon some discussion about teacher preparation, the need to reform teacher preparation, or the desire to eliminate it all together. But it can be much harder to enter a meaningful discussion on school leader preparation.

Even though all those teachers need good administrators supporting them, even though we know that school leaders are second only to classroom teachers when it comes to impacting success, we seem to shy away from public discussions of leader development.

Fortunately, Education Week recently came out with a series, Who’s Ready to Be a Principal?, that does a deep dive into how we currently prepare school leaders, how we can support the 90,000 or so currently in the profession, and what we can do to improve both.

I’m particularly proud to be working with one of the programs that gets a shout-out from EdWeek. In Niche Training for Principals Aims to Fill Skill Gaps, Arianna Prothero writes of the Woodrow Wilson MBA in Education Leadership, a program developed by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and currently offered in three states (Indiana, New Mexico, and Wisconsin).

The entire series from EdWeek is certainly worth the read. If we are serious about improving our schools, ensuring all teachers have the supports they need, and giving every child a high-quality education, we must include principal preparation in our priorities.

 

Seeking the Teachers to Succeed in Today’s, Tomorrow’s Schools

Over at Forbes magazine, Dr. Arthur Levine – the president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and president emeritus of Teachers College, Columbia University – has a provactive piece on the need to better prepare educators for the challenges of both teaching in schools today and leading the creation of the schools of tomorrow.

In it, Levine looks at five important shifts that need to come to teacher education, including:

  1. A shift from teaching to learning
  2. A shift from classrooms to learning environments
  3. A shift from planning to learning design
  4. A shift from instruction to facilitated learning
  5. A shift from professionalism to leadership

 The full piece is here, and it is definitely worth the read. At some point, the preparation programs of tomorrow will be completely insufficient for the needs of today. Better to prepare for the future than to have it thrust upon us.

 

Transforming Teacher Education 

When we talk about the future of education, it can often be challenging for many of us to truly understand what the “tomorrow” actually looks like. We just can’t stop seeing things through the lens of the now, and thus can’t conceive what true reinvention or reimagining might look like. 

For the past three years, I’ve been fortunate to work with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation on its efforts to transform teacher education. We are doing little things, like collaborating with MIT, replacing credit hours with content mastery, using assisted reality to enhance the clinical experience, and actually build a new graduate school for prospective educators unlike any before it. 

These meager undertakings can often be hard to digest. So to aid the process, I helped produce a short video outlining our work. Give it a watch. Let me know what you think. And if you want to be involved in the process, let me know that too. 

You can find the video here — https://youtu.be/pqt58H8EY4A. 
Happy viewing!

The Quest for More Engaging History Instruction

Ultimately, fostering each student’s curiosity and sense of agency leads to habits of mind that support lifelong learning and civic engagement—and it is never a bad outcome when mastering required curriculum is exciting and fun. Teachers are also happily about the ease with which games can be tied into curriculum and standards and used to enliven content delivery and assessments while maintaining academic rigor. They are also committed to taking the lesson back to their colleagues—teachers teaching teachers, to make learning more dynamic throughout their schools.

– The Woodrow Wilson Foundation’s Stephanie J. Hull, writing about the importance of gaming in social studies instruction in The “Great Game” of Teaching History for GettingSmart.

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

Let’s Mess with Texas Teacher Ed

Over at the Houston Chronicle, yours truly has a new commentary on the challenges of teacher retention both across the United States and specifically in Texas and what the Lone Star State can do to improve the teacher pipeline.

As I write:

When it comes to many of the major factors driving teacher shortages, Texas is no different than most states. The politics surrounding teaching and the demands on teachers aren’t too different in Texas than they are in other states, particularly since Texas isn’t part of the day-to-day, vitriolic churn of Common Core. Yet retention problems seem far more significant than in other states.

One reason is teacher preparation. Texas currently has a higher percentage of inexperienced teachers than other states. And with high turnover rates, that percentage of new teachers continues to climb. In its zeal to address teacher shortages, the state has opened its doors to a range of low-quality, new, and alternative teacher preparation efforts, resulting in vast discrepancies as to the rigor of teacher prep here.

I also highlight three things that Texas can do to boost teacher education and teacher retention, including creating a clear set of performance measures for pre-service teachers, better root teacher education in clinical practice, and invest in strong mentoring for new teachers.

Give it a read. I promise it’ll be worth your time. You can find it here.