Leveraging Emerging Trends to Produce Future-Ready Students (webinar)

A Q&A with FETC presenter Sylvia Martinez 

Originally appeared in District Administration magazine online

In this brief Q&A, Martinez shared insights on the key emerging trends in schools, thoughts on technologies like AR and AI, and classroom practices that are working best to leverage this tech. Read on for an introduction to some of the ideas you can expect to explore in her webinar and FETC session.

The recent advances in the area of physical computing make it something that can be introduced into classrooms in every grade level and subject area. Physical computing is the intersection of the digital world and the physical world. It incorporates things like robotics, but goes much further to include all kinds of things like wearable technology, understanding sensors, collecting and interpreting real world data, and more. Students who are interested in any subject, not just STEM subjects, can investigate physical computing projects that support their interests. New microcontrollers like the BBC micro:bit, combined with new easier to use software make building computer-enhanced inventions easier and more affordable than ever.

Allowing students to invent and be creative with technology does not mean that we favor technology above all other means of expression. We are simply adding tools to the creativity toolbox. If we believe, for example, that puppet shows are good (and they are), why shouldn’t the puppets have eyes that light up, or sensors that trigger sound effects, or have an AI module embedded in them? These opportunities invite all kinds of students to express themselves and make meaning in the world.

For technologies like AR, AI, adaptive computing, robotics,and other emerging tech, what is the key to making them relevant in education? In other words, how do we make sure they are enhancing learning instead of distracting from it?

New technology innovations will be adopted in one of two very different ways by schools. In some schools these innovations will be used to deliver old lessons with new bells and whistles. However, if new technologies possess educational “nutritional value,” it is incumbent upon us to find ways to use the new gizmos to expand what students can do. Using AI in a Scratch program you write, or building your own AR or VR simulation is enhancing learning. Using AI or VR to deliver a lesson, grade a quiz, or make a virtual frog pop out of a textbook is not.

The challenge is for schools to keep offering students real and relevant experiences and not fall back into ingrained habits. The focus needs to be on what students do, not what we do to students. Educators who have embraced technology can say “yes, and” to new things that are entrancing schools while keeping the focus on student-centered constructive creativity. 

What is one classroom practice you’ve observed that is working especially well to leverage emerging trends for the benefit of students?

Using students as tech leaders and mentors has enormous benefits in classrooms. One of the issues that educators face when introducing emerging technology into the classroom is the simple fact that there is a lot to learn, and it seems that technology changes so fast that there is never enough time! This may lead to procrastination hoping that someday it will all settle down and there will be time to figure it all out before introducing it to students. Unfortunately that day may never come.

Teaching students to become mentors for peers or near-peers offers tremendous benefits to all involved. Mentoring is a tried and true practice that helps both the mentors and the mentees. Students who are mentors learn confidence and become leaders in their schools. Teachers benefit from not having to be experts in everything, handing off responsibility to students. This also walks the talk of student empowerment and encourages the idea that invention and creativity come from everywhere and everyone in the school community.

Webinar archive

Sylvia Martinez’s sessions at FETC 2020

Wednesday January 15, 2020

W151$ | Disruptive Lenses for School Leaders: Making, Agile Development, Design Thinking
Room: Lincoln Road C
Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

C024 | PBL Gets a “Make” Over — Prompts and Assessment for Maker Classrooms
Room: 224-225
Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 1:00 PM – 1:40 PM

C065 | STEAM to the Future: The 4th Industrial Revolution is Here!
Room: Lincoln Road C
Wednesday, January 15, 2020: 3:20 PM – 4:00 PM

Thursday January 16, 2020

W205$ | Grow is the New Make: Bio-making and Bio-hacking
Room: 238-239
Thursday, January 16, 2020: 8:00 AM – 10:00 AM

C150 | Making for All: Inclusive Maker Projects and Makerspaces
Room: 224-225
Thursday, January 16, 2020: 11:00 AM – 11:40 AM

C228 | Ethics, Empathy, and Educational Technology
Room: Lincoln Road C
Thursday, January 16, 2020: 2:00 PM – 2:40 PM

ISTE 2019 Sessions

ISTE 2019 will be June 23-26, 2019 in Philadelphia. Hope to see you there!

Accepted proposals

The case for creativity and design in STEAM

  • Scheduled:
    • Sunday, June 23, 1:30–2:30 pm EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)
    • Building/Room: Available in May

STEAM to the Future: What’s Next in STEAM, Design, and Making 

  • Scheduled:
    • Monday, June 24, 1:30–2:30 pm EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)
    • Building/Room: Available in May

We Have a Makerspace, Now What? Four Directions Forward for Leaders 

  • Scheduled:
    • Wednesday, June 26, 8:30–9:30 am EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)
    • Building/Room: Available in May

Panel Conversations

More Stupid Ideas in EdTech (and why you should totally do them) 

  • Scheduled:
    • Monday, June 24, 10:30–11:30 am EDT (Eastern Daylight Time)
    • Building/Room: Available in May

Waitlisted proposals

.Girls & STEAM: Equity, Inclusion, and Excellence

Declined proposals

What’s a microcontroller and why should I care?

Podcast: What’s the connection between learning and tinkering?

I had the pleasure of being a guest on the EdTech Bites Podcast with Gabriel Carrillo. 

We had a great conversation about learning, tinkering, “real work,” and other topics. This podcast is part of a series of podcasts leading up to FETC in Orlando Florida in January 2019.

Gabriel is having a contest for his podcast listeners to win a copy of the brand new second edition of Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. Listen and find out how!

I’ll be at FETC speaking about STEM, making, tinkering, a look ahead to what’s new in STEAM, and much more! (Join me with this discount code.)

Don’t miss a special book signing on the FETC exhibit hall floor – you can be one of the first to get the new edition of Invent to Learn! (See my FETC schedule here.)

Can’t wait? Buy the new edition now!

Making and ELL: Conversational Confidence

Making Culture Report thumbnail
Download full report from this site.

In a new study from Drexel University, researchers found that makerspaces help students learning English to feel more confident using their new language skills.

Making Culture: A National Study of Education Makerspaces, confirms something I’ve heard anecdotally from educators. Doing interesting things means that students talk about the interesting things they are doing.

Now there is a study confirming this (and more).

“In our research, we observed the potential of makerspaces to improve engagement with English language learners (ELL) and students facing disciplinary issues. First-generation English learners expressed greater agency and self-confidence from their experience in makerspaces. These students felt empowered to work on new language skills in the open and collaborative environment through conversations with their peers. Student interviewees suggested that working on creative problem-solving projects reduced the fear of making mistakes when speaking out loud, fostering greater fluency and retention:

  • ELL students referenced reduced anxiety with language around school activities based on collaboration in makerspaces.
  • ELL students referenced using technical manuals as part of their literacy development.
  • ELL students referenced using technical manuals as part of their literacy development.
  • ELL students expressed being more comfortable using their native language to problem solve or complete assignments in the makerspace than in other STEM settings.

 Teachers also frequently referenced specific changes in behavior in their ELL students from makerspace participation, leading them to believe that engagement had improved.”


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.

The Case for Creativity in STEAM

Creativity on display at FabLearn NL 2018

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.

Key ideas

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.

CMK18 reflection – building intentionality

It’s been a month since we wrapped up the 11th annual Constructing Modern Knowledge. I hope to offer other posts about the experience, but this is one short thought. Often people say things like “Oh, you just put out a lot of fun stuff and play. That’s not the way school really works. How does that help a teacher when they get back to the real world?”

At CMK, we try to offer a view of what education looks like with as few compromises as possible. The goal is that an attendee sees that a successful learning experience is possible, and even wildly successful, without many of the things we assume are “normal” at school. 

The hope is that when that educator goes back to their school they are more aware of the compromises, and then can choose them with more intentionality. Every human endeavor has some element of compromise, and school is no different. But it’s easy to overlook that structures like grades, age segregation, textbooks, quizzes, separated subjects, the bus & bell schedule, etc. are choices, not handed down on stone tablets.

So if the experience of CMK helps a teacher go back and think about choices in curriculum, courses, or their own practice, that’s the point.

ISTE sessions – Chicago in June

I’ll be speaking at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) June 24-27, 2018.

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.