Defining moment for STEM
By Andrew Raupp
We’re approaching an important milestone for STEM education: The movement is nearing its 30th anniversary. The crucial, yet often overlooked, origins of the modern-day STEM movement began in the early 1990s with Dr. Charles E Vela through his work at the Center for the Advancement of Hispanics in Science and Engineering Education (CAHSEE).
That STEM is turning the corner into full adulthood makes perfect sense, given its multi-decade evolution and widespread appeal. The teaching of science, technology, engineering and math as a philosophy rather than siloed subjects and rote memorization has come into its own. In fact, we’re about to experience a long-awaited convergence of educational technology and STEM pedagogy that will finally realize a grand vision for STEM education.
What is this vision? It’s one that goes beyond just the excitement of technological gadgets and instead results in proven and quantifiable educational outcomes. It puts student learning and the development of scientific thought processes front and center, having technology serve learning and not the other way around.
Artificial Intelligence: Changing The Way We Assess Learning
When we think about technology in the classroom, we tend to focus on hardware and those shiny 1:1 tablets. But artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving instruction in less flashy but more dynamic ways. One major way AI is revolutionizing the classroom is through assessment. Learning apps typically begin by appraising student knowledge and then tailoring instruction and practice based on individual needs. In an ideal world, this type of technology can help teachers effectively differentiate learning and ensure that, truly, no child is left behind. Math and world language are great candidates for AI-assisted assessment and placement since students must master certain skills before moving to the next level.
AI in education has exploded in recent years, thanks to affordable computing power, cloud storage accessibility, and a veritable big data “snowball effect.” The more students use an app, the smarter it gets, as there are more data points to learn from. As the AI gets more intuitive, it could free teachers to spend less time on testing, monitoring, and placement, and focus more on student engagement.
Extended Reality: Flipping The Script And Leveling The Playing Field
It’s tempting to think of extended reality (XR) as a superfluous toy rather than a tool, especially given its popularity within the gaming community and string of high-profile bankruptcies. But the possibilities for using it in education are practically endless.
For starters, the collective suite of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) offerings have matured into effective pedagogical instruments, which can help students with unique needs or who live in remote areas with hands-on training. Digital instruction materials like those from Labster and Merge EDU also deliver less expensive solutions for schools to provide high-quality lessons by simulating complex concepts — options that could help districts with shrinking budgets maintain quality and equity in STEM.
By offering students more opportunities to fully immerse themselves, XR encourages more experiential and kinesthetic learning — crucial components of scientific thought and experimentation. It has also been shown to improve retention and encourage creative exploration when used for teaching, which makes it a potential game-changer in the classroom.
Robotics: The Future Is Already Here
Robots are so much a part of our daily lives that we actually already take them for granted. If your car can parallel park itself, or if you have a Roomba vacuum, a hand-controlled drone or automated lawnmower, you’re working with robots. Robotics breakthroughs have made this technology less expensive and widely available. It is about to burst into classrooms.
As with AI and XR, one of the most exciting aspects of robotics in STEM is the development of accompanying curricula that lets students lead learning through collaborative projects. The best programs will get students thinking like engineers to develop robots that solve problems, which can bring together a wealth of STEM skills, including math, computer programming, engineering, logic, and more. Robotics challenges students to experiment in real life instead of passively receiving information, so it’s a prime example of everything that we want the STEM movement to be: active, engaging, and forward-thinking in preparing students for jobs of the future.
Tech and Teaching: Putting It All Together
It’s easy to be enthusiastic about bringing incredible new technology into the classroom, yet there are some critics. However, what’s most encouraging about STEM is the way that pedagogy and technology are finally coming together in ways that promote a flexible, interdisciplinary approach that helps all learners succeed at home and in the classroom. This is finally the decade where we’ll see it all come together.
For an idea of what this grand future could look like, consider UBTECH, a pacesetter in the artificial intelligence and robotics industry. UBTECH Education has launched a grant program offering its innovative kits to schools across the country. The organization has paired a tested and aligned curriculum with professional development to help staff fully integrate STEM into their teaching.
UBTECH is also committed to making their programs more inclusive by encouraging use throughout the school, so that students with varying interests and skills all have equal access. UBTECH’s one-two punch of scalable AI and foundational robotics would be impressive on its own, but their comprehensive development of hardware, content, and instructional support is where the company is continuing to distinguish itself. Others could learn from them as an example.
As STEM education rounds the corner into a new decade, it’s encouraging to see cutting-edge technology making its way into the classroom, effectively and equitably. Even better are the new partnerships developing between tech companies and educators — a true meeting of the minds that allow students to reap the benefits of innovation in both materials and pedagogy. With this convergence of talent, energy, and innovation, STEM education is ready to launch a new generation into the future with everything needed to succeed.
Andrew Raupp is the founder of @stemdotorg, with the mission of democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy and practice. Visit his website at https://stem.org/.