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6 Experts on the Future of STEM

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Marty Lange

How can education technology encourage students to become more interested in STEM education?

Education technology makes STEM instruction increasingly more engaging and rigorous for today’s learners. We’ve seen incredible uses of technology to drive hands-on STEM learning in classroom labs and makerspaces, where students are gaining crucial skills for the workforce through actual practice with areas like coding and robotics. But it isn’t just about getting students excited with STEM and introducing new tools to the classroom. Purposeful education technology can also provide an important boost in rigor, particularly through the lens of personalized learning, which fosters engagement, places student voice at the center of instruction and provides each learner with a tailored learning experience. Using education technology, educators can help students gain both the knowledge and the skills they need to succeed in STEM programs through college and career.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to a teacher striving to engage a student in a subject he or she may not have interest in due to its unfamiliarity? 

So much of student engagement comes back to relevance. In order to get excited about learning, students have to feel that the information and skills in a lesson are relevant to them as individuals. The challenging part for educators is to present subjects in a way that sparks creativity, curiosity and interest. Education technology can help with this process because it allows educators to share content in an interactive, explorative, and even social manner. Technology that empowers educators to personalize the learning experience is particularly impactful because it enables students and teachers to collaborate and create instructional plans that are directly relevant to each learner.

How can teachers and their community encourage career discovery in the classroom to strengthen our future workforce?

Many educators empower their students by connecting with local professionals or community businesses, allowing their students to ask questions about a career or even helping them gain experience through a mentorship. Facilitating conversations and connections this way can make ambitious career options feel more tangible to students. I think the key is not to view the classroom as a fixed space but a fluid one and to provide students multiple opportunities to learn and grow outside of school walls. Additionally, educators can position students for success in the workplace by fostering critical workforce skills such as digital literacy, effective communication and reasoning through project-based learning in the classroom.

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Donald E. Bossi

President, FIRST®

How can education technology encourage students to become more interested in STEM education?

Education technology serves as a critical tool to help students prepare for a future that is increasingly technology- and data-driven. When students work together to build a robot or an app, they’re also building essential digital literacy skills and learning how to problem-solve, think critically and work as a team. FIRST® programs use robotics challenges as a tool to spark interest and self-motivation in students because, well, robots are fun! In fact, FIRST was founded 30 years ago on the idea that if we celebrate STEM the same way we do sports or entertainment, we can show young people how learning is not just important but exciting. Research shows that students who participate in our programs become more interested in doing well in school, taking more challenging math and science courses and going to college.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to a teacher striving to engage a student in a subject he or she may not have interest in due to its unfamiliarity? 

Inspiration leads to education, so focus on inspiring the student.  I’ve seen success when teachers encourage self-directed learning through hands-on, project-based opportunities for students. In this model, they can provide project goals related to the subject – ideally with a real-world connection – and then offer students gentle coaching along the way. Students will learn to think independently, experiment, troubleshoot and learn from failure, which are invaluable experiences. When they finally succeed, students gain the self-confidence to face future unknowns.

How can teachers and their community encourage career discovery in the classroom to strengthen our future workforce?

Teachers can encourage career discovery in the classroom by engaging professionals from the local business community to mentor students. Inviting an engineer, mechanic, marketer or business leader to your classroom can demonstrate for students how their lessons and activities translate into careers. That becomes even more effective if these professionals can serve as ongoing mentors, guiding your students and acting as a valuable sounding board throughout projects. Through FIRST programs, students get facetime and mentorship from professionals across many industries. This helps students develop the self-confidence that they can do anything they put their minds to.

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Mark Elliot

CEO, Boxlight

How can education technology encourage students to become more interested in STEM education?

It’s important that technology is added in a way that increases value and takes lessons to a new level. Allowing students to measure, see, and experience their world in a new way adds deeper understanding. It also engages students with STEM in ways that wouldn’t be possible without the technology.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to a teacher striving to engage a student in a subject he or she may not have interest in due to its unfamiliarity? 

Find common ground in their own world or day-to-day experiences. Even when something seems unfamiliar, there is always a connection that can be intertwined with an experience the student relates to. By using technology, educators can help students discover the world and make connections right from the classroom.

How can teachers and their community encourage career discovery in the classroom to strengthen our future workforce?

Give students opportunities to see how what they learn applies to jobs in the real world. This allows students to relate their interests to long-term career choices. Hosting career days, taking children to work and career field trips are fantastic, and these relationships can be established online through virtual collaboration.

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Barbara Holzapfel

General Manager, Microsoft Education

How can education technology encourage students to become more interested in STEM education?

Innovations resulting from STEM fields have positively touched nearly every aspect of human life. Modern STEM learning experiences include approaches that provide real-life, engaging experiences, develop deeper cognitive skills, and apply social and emotional learning while still exploring specific content knowledge. Education technology can support STEM approaches by inviting students to create and be creative in new ways. Students can explore and demonstrate their ideas using 3D tools or immerse themselves in sandbox-type virtual worlds to collaborate, build and experiment with electricity, chemistry and construction or to explore the universe. Data can be bought to life from hands-on experiential problem-solving activities to excite, intrigue and promote further inquiry. I am personally very passionate about promoting diversity in STEM. It is critical to economic progress and we recognize that diversity is critical to fill the rapidly growing pipeline and need for STEM talent. Our research recommended introducing STEM and computer science at an early age, supporting “learning-by-doing” and providing positive role models.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to a teacher striving to engage a student in a subject he or she may not have interest in due to its unfamiliarity? 

Learning is all about relationships – relationships between ideas and relationships between people. As our Class of 2030 research highlighted, students want teachers who know them, know how they learn best and are experts in their field. When taking a student-centric approach, educators can draw upon rich insights and data sets to understand preferred learning styles, learner ability, social contexts and other relevant data, then use that information to personalize learning. Beyond these insights and data sets, technology provides immersive multi-sensory experiences that inspire curiosity, collaboration tools that unlock the knowledge and skills of students, and communication platforms which help overcome time, space and even language to explore new perspectives and ideas. So my advice would be to always seek to humanize the learning with technology, not simply use it to digitize the curriculum. Learning is about relationships between people and ideas; technology can help extend these beyond the classroom and beyond time and space.

Both parents and teachers lack confidence in their abilities to support early STEM. What can we do to change that?

One of the things our recent research told us was that teachers would like to personalize learning experiences more, but time proved to be a barrier. Currently, technology can help teachers reallocate up to 30 percent of their time towards tasks they see as more high-value, like providing personalized feedback and investing in relationships. Beyond saving time, technology, powered by analytics and AI, can provide insights into individual student achievement, support more inclusive learning opportunities and individualize pace, content and approach at scale. For teachers, making sense from data sets to understand learning progression and match with interventions is often a manual activity. This tight feedback loop is critical for intervening early and often and making changes to best support the learner. AI can be considered a cognitive partner for the teacher, providing a holistic view of the student from multiple data sets showing performance, learning style, interactions, engagement and contribution – all in real time. Predictive analytics can recommend course-corrections and model the outcomes of interventions, which are especially powerful when students can explore their learning and achievement pathways themselves.

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Shelley Pasnik

Vice President, Education Development Center

How can education technology encourage students to become more interested in STEM education?

Technology and media can be incredible tools, even early on when young children first begin exploring. As my colleagues working with producers at places like WGBH and PBS tell me, “Digital media can allow children to manipulate time and space (e.g., by speeding things up or zooming in) to “see” science phenomena that usually are not observable, experiment like a scientist by trying out solutions quickly and without real-world consequences, and deepen children’s understanding of cause-and-effect relationships by providing instant feedback.” Digital tools alone aren’t enough, though; they are most effective when paired with hands-on exploration.

What is one piece of advice you’d give to a teacher striving to engage a student in a subject he or she may not have interest in due to its unfamiliarity? 

How many times have we heard students say, “I’m never going to use calculus” or “chemistry” or fill-in-the-blank, “so who cares?” STEM comes alive when students see the relevance to their lives and the world around them. When we can make those subjects real and relevant for students, motivation and engagement will follow.

Both parents and teachers lack confidence in their abilities to support early STEM. What can we do to change that?

It’s true; many adults in students’ lives are often unsure about STEM learning. In a recent national survey, for example, we found parents’ confidence about science trails confidence in other areas like literacy, math and social skills. An effective confidence booster is realizing you don’t have to know the “right answer.” Instead, parents and teachers can get in the habit of wondering aloud — asking who, what, where and why questions — and looking for answers together.

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