Brief Session Description: Let’s time travel a few decades forward to see what science, technology, engineering, and math will be like, and the prominent role that the arts, design ,and creativity will play in the future. Right now, scientists and engineers are creating a future where biology and engineering mix with computation and computer science. The future holds things like driverless cars, buildings that heal themselves, “radical mycology,” which are plastics that adopt organic properties from mushrooms, clothes that adjust to the weather, robots, Artificial Intelligence, and holodeck-like experiences that will bend the definition of reality. However, this fourth industrial revolution is not some far away abstraction, all of these futuristic visions will depend on the ingenuity and creativity of people who are K-12 students today. We owe it to them to teach them how to make, design, and create using the most modern technology in their STEAM classes today.
What are the implications for K-12 education when subjects are being reinvented every year? Are we content with providing students with science classes that don’t cover any science invented this century? What questions do education leaders need to answer to make sure that the future of STEAM is part of schools starting today.
February 12, 2019 (in honor of Engineers Week), I’ll be the guest on a fun, informal webinar with the Makey Makey team! The Makey Makey is one of my favorite tools for physical computing. It’s versatile, easy to use, and you’ll never run out of ideas!
Engineers Week is near and dear to my heart. I have an electrical engineering degree and worked for a decade in aerospace. While I don’t work as an engineer these days, I still see the world through that lens, where challenges are just invitations to invent the future! The E in STEAM is often overlooked, or worse, misunderstood as something that only “some kids” can do. We will be talking about how STEAM can happen for ALL students in real classrooms, makerspaces, and libraries!
In a new study from Drexel University, researchers found that makerspace facilitators betray gender bias when talking about their students.
Never. They NEVER referred to the male students as boys. Why? It’s an easy slip to make, reflecting the norm that “boys” are the expected gender, the way things are supposed to be, and girls have to be pointed out.
The problem is, even when it’s unintentional (and the researchers in this study felt it was) it still has impact. If girls feel they are being singled out, even subtly, it can trigger feelings of not belonging, stereotype threat, and other well-documented consequences.
So next time you start to call out, “OK guys…” take a beat and see if there’s something else to say.
If you are thinking, Wow, get off my back, thought police… think about this. You wouldn’t say “Hey gals…” to a mixed gender group, would you? And you definitely wouldn’t say it to a group of all boys. The boys would think that’s an insult, right? Why is being called a girl the ultimate insult for boys, but girls are just supposed to live with being called guys all day every day.
OK folks…. OK class…. OK y’all… it’s not impossible. And it matters.
“The sheer number of identity references based entirely upon gender (“girls”) is deeply unsettling. Also note that the use of “boys” in referring to makerspace students did not occur at all in these interviews. This gender imbalance shaped attitudes and activities within the makerspaces:
Boys were twice as likely to hold leadership positions in group makerspace activities;
Boys were more likely to steer major project topics (robotics challenge, Lego, solar car design);
We also observed a gender disparity in expressed design agency (ability to design or guide project activities) in formal vs. informal learning makerspaces. Boys expressed greater agency in formal spaces whereas girls expressed greater agency in informal spaces.
This evidence suggests a persistent, but possibly unintentional, culture of bias reinforced by makerspace leadership. Research into boys and girls engaging in STEM learning reveals that girls and boys have equal potential to become proficient in STEM subjects (evidenced in our study through nearly equal makerspace participation in grades K-8).
While most leaders believe that makerspaces have the potential to function as a safe space where girls and young women can engage in an open collaborative learning environment while dismantling gender stereotypes, our research also indicates that more must be done to achieve an inclusive culture of gender equity.”
So there is another interesting tidbit. The boys “expressed greater agency” in formal spaces, whereas the girls reversed that role in informal spaces. Why? Perhaps because when it counts, boys are more aggressive in taking control? Or is it that instructors are tipping this balance?
All good research tends to create as many questions as it answers!
Making Culture is the first in-depth examination of K-12 education makerspaces nationwide and was created as part of the ExCITe Center’s Learning Innovation initiative. This report reveals the significance of cultural aspects of making (student interests, real world relevance, and community collaboration) that enable learning. The research highlights how makerspaces foster a range of positive student learning outcomes, but also reflect some of the gaps in inclusion common in the STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math) fields. The report was co-authored by Drexel School of Education researchers Dr. Kareem Edouard, Katelyn Alderfer, Professor Brian Smith and ExCITe Center Director Youngmoo Kim.
I hope to see old friends and new at FETC 2019 in Orlando, January 27-30, 2019. I’ll be talking STEM/STEAM, Creativity, Making and Makerspaces, PBL for Making, What’s New/What’s Next for STEAM, and more. Use my discount signup page to save an extra 10%!
Creativity is not just being artistic or having new ideas. As many schools are working to incorporate STEM and STEAM into the classroom, design and creativity are the key to real and relevant experiences in the classroom.
Adding more and different technology to the classroom toolkit invites students of different abilities and interests to experience STEAM subjects. This creates classroom conditions that invite technology understanding and creativity for all students, even those who think they “don’t like technology”.
In many cases, digital tools, electronics, and programming are seen as something only a few students (the “nerds”) want to try. Yet these are powerful learning opportunities that all students should engage in.
Design is a way to make thinking visible, connecting abstract pedagogy to the real experiences of children. The A in STEAM is not about decorating science projects or coloring math worksheets, but a way to add design and design’s cousin, aesthetics, into classroom projects.
Next Generation Science Standards provide new directions for engineering practices. Again, design is the key to this. Design is the process of engineering. It provides a framework to solve problems, using the science, math, and technology that students learn. These standards are not “business as usual” for schools. Looking at them as simply a rearrangement of existing curriculum ignores the revolutionary addition of engineering design to the expectations for science curriculum.
Formative assessment strategies that strengthen the project process in real time as students work through design and engineering projects.
Inclusivity that ensures that new technology and engineering experiences invite and support students who might not have the background or inclination to see themselves as engineers.
Equity in STEM areas for girls and other under-represented groups is not a matter of finding the young people who can do the work asked by the current curriculum, but to find new curricular areas and connections to the interesting and relevant STEM and STEAM opportunities found in the real world.
Everyone has a role to play
Leaders keep the vision alive in the face of multiple distractions. They allow new ideas to flourish and provide support for educators to work out the details, while still moving the ball forward.
Coaches help both the early adopters and the cautious “this too shall pass” reluctants to create a shared, achievable vision.
Teachers find ways to weave the old and new together in a coherent way for students. This means being a learner, leader, and a designer. There is no question that this in itself takes creativity. Teachers are asked to do more with less, and to make more time where there is none, all the time staying current with research and personalizing learning for every student. What could be more creative than that?
In the quest for STEAM, there will be tensions and questions. Can science be creative? Doesn’t math always have one right answer? Aren’t basic facts and rote memorization the ways that science has always been taught? Where will we find the time to do more in depth projects that give students creative opportunities? If students are doing more creative and personalized work, how will we assess it and meet learning objectives? Am I creative enough to make this work?
And yet, we know that students thrive when given the opportunity to do relevant, meaningful, and creative work. Together, we must push against paralyzing fear that there are too many variables and not enough time to figure it all out.
We have a ways to go
Creativity is often misunderstood as simply a personal attribute – you are a creative person or you aren’t. Yet the word is crucial as schools struggle to implement STEAM programs that are defined only as subjects – not as mindsets. The “A” in STEAM is incredibly important – it is the verb of the sentence, and at its heart is the creative process. It is understood that artists have a creative process, but less well understood that scientists, engineers, and mathematicians do as well.
When schools work to understand what STEAM really means, there are certainly parts that seem easier than others. All schools have math and science classes. Technology is taken care of as we increasingly adopt computers into classroom practices. Engineering is a small but growing option in many schools.
However, we have work still to do. Science and math classes need to adopt modern ways that real scientists and mathematicians work. You can’t just put a sign up that says “STEAM Academy.” Students want and respond to science classes that are real and relevant, where they can engage in making things that make the world a better place, and in doing so, learn about the underlying laws of the world around them.
Technology is not only about computers, but about the basic human desire to change the world. Engineering is not just a college major, but a way for even young children to design and build things that help them make sense of the world.
When all of this is taken into consideration, you cannot help but notice that creativity, meaning literally to make things, is a key component. Design is the process of engineering and technology is the tool. Creativity is the mindset.
Recasting STEAM this way also invites more students who are not the “usual suspects” into the fantastic world of STEAM.
STEAM to the Future: 50 Years in 50 Minutes
Tuesday, June 26, 10:15–11:15 am
Location: Available in May
Let’s time travel 50 years forward to see what science, technology, engineering and math will be like, and the prominent role that the arts, design and creativity will play. This session will provide entertaining and thought-provoking insight into the challenges of adapting today’s classroom and curriculum for the future.
STEAM: The TEA Stands for CrEATivity
Tuesday, June 26, 11:45 am–12:45 pm
Location: Available in May
Creativity is not just being artistic or having new ideas. As many schools are working to incorporate STEM and STEAM into the classroom, design and creativity are the keys to real and relevant experiences in the classroom.
This 30 minute keynote covers why the maker movement is something schools should pay attention to, and how to get started using the maker mindset and tools to revolutionize all subjects. The power of design as a way for students to learn is just beginning to be recognized in schools around the world. As innovative schools develop makerspaces and more hands-on curriculum, students benefit from real and relevant exploration of STEM and other subjects.
Here’s the problem with intensively focusing on STEM and STEAM as primarily about students getting good jobs in the future. The jobs simply aren’t there.
I’ve never advocated for STEM experiences and classes because of jobs. We should teach children how amazing the world is AND that they can have a hand in exploring, discovering, and understanding the world. I’ve asked audiences worldwide to try this mental reversal – if there AREN’T amazing STEM jobs out there, should we not teach science?
And now it turns out that this is true. So let’s review:
Schools around the world are embracing the idea of authentic hands-on technology-rich projects for students that support all subject areas. Students say these project-based learning (PBL) experiences are powerful and engaging. Teachers agree!
But often there seems to be no time to integrate these experiences into the classroom. Curriculum is overstuffed with facts and assessment tests loom large. How can teachers take the time for “extras” like in-depth projects? When do busy teachers have time to learn about technology that is ever-changing? Several recent trends combine futuristic technology from the maker movement with design thinking – creating experiences that engage and inspire learners in areas that integrate well with curricular expectations.
PBL + Maker
Maker technologies like 3D printing, robotics, wearable computing, programming, and more give students the ability to create real things, rather than simply report about things. They provide onramps to success in STEM and other subjects for students who are non-traditional learners. Students are empowered by mastering difficult things that they care about, and supported by a community that cares about their interests.
These opportunities are not just good because it’s about getting a good grade, but it’s about making the world a better place with technology that is magical and modern. 3D printing is a fantastic learning opportunity because students can work in three dimensions, making geometry and 3D coordinate math come alive. But that’s not all – it’s literally making something out of nothing. It transcends getting the right answer by adding creativity, complexity, and best of all, you get a real thing in the end. For some students, this makes all the difference.
Look for ways to
Introduce challenges that are open-ended
Solve real problems (student-designed rather than teacher-assigned)
Use an iterative design methodology
Allow time for mistakes and refinement – there should be time for things that don’t work the first time
Support collaboration with experts in and out of the classroom
Another aspect of the maker movement is the “maker mindset.” Similar to a growth mindset, this is a personal trait valued by makers world-wide. Like MacGyver, the TV show about a tinkering crime-fighter, the maker mindset is more than just persistence. The maker mindset is about being flexible, thinking on your feet, looking for the unconventional answer, and never, ever giving up.
It’s a mistake to think that you can teach students persistence about tasks they don’t care about. That’s not persistence, that’s compliance. When the classroom is about invention and making real things, persistence becomes personal.
Students who experience success on their own terms can translate that to other experiences. Frustration can be reframed as a needed and welcomed step on the path to the answer. Students who figure things out for themselves need teachers to allow a bit of frustration in the process. In the maker mindset, frustration is a sign that something good is about to happen. It’s also an opportunity to step back and think, ask someone else, or see if there is another path. This may be a role shift for teachers who are used to answering student questions quickly as soon as they hit a small speed bump.
Luckily, with maker technology, it changes so rapidly that no one can be an expert on everything! In fact, this rapid evolution may make it easier to adopt the attitude of “if we don’t know, we can figure it out.” This attitude is not only practical, but models the maker mindset for students.
Adding maker technology and the maker mindset to the well-researched and practiced methods of project-based learning is a winning combination! Maker + PBL = Engaging learning opportunities for modern students and classrooms.