Creativity, Innovation, Team Building, Leadership, Brainstorming, Idea Champions
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Last summer, I had the pleasure of creating a series of summer camps for local kids that provided an amazing look at some of the STEM happening in our area. This year, I am planning something a little different.
I became aware of the movement inspired by "Caine's Arcade" about a year ago, but it wasn't until our family had the chance to visit…
There is an engineering toy for girls called GlodieBlox. A Forbes article in October introduced the business world to this great toy, invented by a female engineer. The education world has become hooked and now the toy is not only in production, but selling like mad. Check it out, you will not be disappointed!
This is a direct quote from a meeting I had this morning with a parent from a local elementary school who is looking for resources for a lunch time STEM enrichment program for elementary students. The woman, whom I’ve worked with in the past, is a professional scientist with kids in school and has spent much of her free time over the last 4 years developing enrichment curriculum to volunteer in her school. It seems there are thousands of STEM professionals all over the world that feel an obligation to reach back into the schools and provide real-world science, technology, engineering, and math activities, experiences, and mentoring to have an impact on the quality of education.
That conversation punctuated a sentiment that I have felt growing around the world, recently. I’m hoping that ‘AuthenticSTEM Around the World’ can be that place. My work over the last 2 years has allowed me to collaborate with STEM education professionals in nearly all 50 states and in at least 20 countries. To be honest, I find myself having the same conversations with teachers and administrators around how to find resources and how to connect with professionals who want to help, and from industry professionals, how can I ‘do my part’? I’d like to have that conversation here, on ‘AuthenticSTEM Around the World’. I hope you’ll join me!
To join “AuthenticSTEM Around the World” community, visit: JOIN. Membership is free until we reach 5,000 members, so join early and tell your friends.
Whether you’re a teacher, parent, industry professional, or just someone wanting to contribute to the looming education crisis, please join and know you have a place to learn, here.
I have no preconceived notion of where it will go, but I do know I personally need a place to start gathering the resources I utilize as I work with organizations transforming STEM education. I hope you’ll join the community to provide your contribution to improving STEM education. And if there is something you are looking for, you feel comfortable turning to a global network willing to provide a resource.
To join “AuthenticSTEM Around the World” community, visit: JOIN. Membership is free until we reach 5,000 members, so join early and tell your friends.
I’ve also created a LinkedIn Group by the same name and you can join here:
Please feel free to share this invitation. I look forward to learning and connecting with you!
We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.
– Grace Lee Boggs
I want to share my experience, last week, at the Seattle Science Festival as an example of the amazing power of professional community. I was first turned on to the concept of science festivals during an interview I had with the education lead for the Cambridge Science Festival, now in its 6th year. That interview led to another interview with the manager of The Science Festival Alliance which is run out of the MIT Museum in Cambridge. The story of science festivals is fascinating and one I intend to chronicle as an excellent example of collaboration around informal science education initiatives – proof of local action having a global impact!
When I found out that Seattle was holding its first science festival this month, the Seattle Science Festival, I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity to experience the event; Seattle is only 3 hours away by car and to date it is the nearest science festival to take place, relative to Portland. I chose to visit during the week, to avoid the crowds. Although the major event – the Science EXPO day – took place over the weekend, I did have the opportunity to participate in two very interesting events, as well as an insightful lunch with the festival organizers, where I learned more about the challenges and rewards of planning and holding a regional science festival. Here is some of what I took away from the experience.
Breaking Bread: The power of a professional community
I was lucky enough to be a fly on the wall at a lunch that was organized by Ben Wiehe, the Manager of the Science Festival Alliance. In our initial interview, Ben introduced himself as someone whose responsibility is to “get people together to talk about science festivals.” Ben’s perspective of the importance of a professional community comes from his experience building a community around the idea of science cafes, as the Education Outreach Director for WGBH. He knows all too well how powerful it is to provide a network of support where there was no support, before. In our initial interview, he described a conversation he had with the coordinator of the Bay Area Science Festival, who said to him,
” You don’t understand how important this support is for me. There is no one that I work with, no one here is doing what I’m doing. If I didn’t have the Science Festival Alliance, I’d have noone to talk to about the challenges I face every day.”
The lunch I attended, in Seattle, was organized with the goal of community building in mind; a group of museum professionals from Los Angeles had traveled to Seattle, to experience the science festival and to learn from the organizers of the Seattle and Iowa Science Festivals. This meal was the opportunity for the two groups to break bread and share experiences. I listened as the LA team discussed the milestones they were facing and the Seattle and Iowa teams shared their lessons learned from their experiences from their respective events. They discussed everything from fundraising to event planning to evaluating success and it became clear to me how important this informal discussion was in scaling up the concept of science festivals.
After lunch, I had the chance to talk with Dr. Gina Schatteman, who organizes the iExplore STEM Festival in Iowa City and she shared her perspective of the benefits of a science festival,
“It’s just so exciting the connections we make in planning this type of an event. Although the festival itself is great, what is so amazing is the conversations that take place leading up to the event. People who weren’t talking to each other, and never would have found each other, are now working together towards a common goal. It’s just really a powerful concept.”
What can we learn from Coca Cola?
After lunch, I made my way to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which was hosting an open house in its visitors center and showing a series of videos about the various initiatives the foundation has funded. While I have been somewhat familiar with the Gates Foundation, from some of the Education initiatives they’ve funded in the US, I had no idea just how much they have done on the Global Health front, both in research and in developing countries. It’s clear that innovation is key to the mission of the foundation:
I could spend all day writing about all that I learned from these videos, but the most relevant theme for me was from a TEDx speech that Melinda Gates gave about the innovation of Coca Cola. She talked about the 3 things that the development sector can learn from Coca Cola – specifically 1) how to use real time data to drive decisions, 2) tapping local entrepreneurial talent, and 3) marketing to the specific needs and aspirations of the region.
You can watch her full TED talk in the video above, but one of the most powerful points she made is in the messaging strategy of Coke. She shared the song “Wavin’ Flags” by Somali hip hop artist K’naan that Coke used in its commercials throughout Africa during the 2010 World Cup as an example of aspirational marketing, a way of connecting to people in developing countries though their own cultural perspective. The song is inspiring and clearly struck a chord with the masses; Coke translated the song into 18 different languages and it hit the top of the charts in 17 countries. This is the lesson of Coke, how to make a difference globally through local messaging. Hear the song and the commercial in the clip below:
I took away so much from this one speech, particularly around the theme of applying lessons from one sector to solve the problems of another. This was exactly what the Science Festival Alliance was for me, a model of informal science education that has lessons that can be applied to the STEM education community as a whole. This idea of sharing of best practices and fostering never-before-had conversations, surely there are lessons here that we can apply to education! No doubt, I’ll share more on this in future posts as the concept of Science Festivals has made it into my research as a case study in successful STEM initiatives.
Better Science through Chocolate
If you know me at all, then you know that for me, touring a chocolate factory is right up there with a visit to the North Pole. No surprise then that I jumped at the chance to participate in a tasting tour of Theo Chocolates. Theo Chocolates got its name from the TheoBromma tree which tis the plant that grows the cacao bean, the main ingredient in chocolate. Theo Chocolates is also one of only 20 chocolate makers in the US (surprising!) and was the very first USDA Certified Organic and Fair Trade Certified chocolate maker in the US (amazing!).
This tour was just plain awesome, and if you are ever in the Seattle area I recommend you stop by for one of their daily tours. The interesting thing about Theo Chocolates is that you can definitely feel the social responsibility of the company just oozing everywhere. Beyond the Fair Trade practices with the farming industry, Theo has partnered with a handful of charity organizations – such as World Bicycle Relief, PCC Farmland Trust, and the Jane Goodall Institute – to benefit their missions as well as to make and sell really good chocolate!
I learned so much on my visit to the Seattle Science Festival, much more than I can share in one blog post. The take-away, though, is in the power of community!
You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math
and hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you’ve got this,
then you follow this,
and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this.
- Taylor Mali
When I first saw Taylor Mali perform this poem, it brought me to tears, and at the time I had no idea why. But after years of working as a teacher and with teachers, I can finally articulate the emotion that this work evokes. Purpose. Teachers who take their responsibility to society seriously are truly a gift. Much like the salmon swimming upstream, from the outside looking in, it is tough to know why teachers do what they do. But we sure know it when we’ve been touched by a gifted teacher and we so rarely share our appreciation of the work that they do, everyday, in the face of daily challenges beyond our comprehension.
This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, so I encourage you to thank those teachers in your lives, or better yet, thank a teacher who has helped to make you who you are today. I guarantee, if you stop to think about it, you’ll remember a moment in time when a teacher made an impact in your life. Tell them how much you appreciate the difference they’ve made in your life!
” If we trained airline pilots the way we train teachers, we’d give them a 2-year training program behind maybe a simulator, but most of it would be lecture. And then we would give them the hardest plane to fly! We wouldn’t give them an easy plane to fly, because the pilots with seniority get that plane. They would never get training again. Everything they would learn during their career, they would learn by happenstance. And if they can survive 30 years, then they can get the easy planes to fly. We don’t train doctors the way we train teachers, we don’t train lawyers the way we train teachers. We don’t train airline pilots this way. You would never think of [doing that]. We wouldn’t do this to any other profession, but somehow teaching is different.”
I love this analogy because it highlights how little we as a society value the profession of teaching. There is no other profession that expects its novices to be fully fledged the moment they receive a license or certificate. Anyone who has spent any time as a teacher can attest to the fact that the journey of a teacher is a lifelong journey, that requires ongoing development and improvement. However the fact that the profession isn’t widely seen as a “craft” means that when the challenge of reforming the education system enters the dialogue, the topic of teacher effectiveness becomes a debate about accountability and teacher merit. Perhaps, the solution involves taking a look at the profession of teaching and elevating it in importance and value to our society.
Two weeks ago, I spent some time with Linda Shore, the Director of the Teacher Institute at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, when she shared with me some of the history and impact of their approach to professional development for science teachers. It struck me how powerful this is in addressing this perception of the profession. Linda describes the program as a lifelong journey and explained that their program takes the approach of a Guild, much like the process used in medieval times, because they believe developing mastery as a teacher requires support from mentor teachers, the opportunity to develop new strategies, and a peer community to share ideas and best practices. Nowhere is this more critical than when instituting a change in pedagogy such as integrating STEM education.
“The way we look at teachers in the Teacher Institute is, it’s a Guild. Just like a Medieval Guild. Just like the old guilds of practice where you’d study to be a tailor or you’d study to be a goldsmith, and everybody knew it took a lifetime to become a master. Nobody expected you in your first 2 years to become Master Goldsmith. But for some reason, with education, you graduate from college and you’re supposed to be fully baked. Or perhaps we’ll give you a little induction, we’ll tweak you a little bit, and then congratulations you’re a fully fledged Master Teacher. That just happens, nowhere. But that’s how we train teachers [in this country]. At the Teacher Institute, we’ve always seen it as a lifelong journey that you never finish, you’re always aiming to get better. You spend the rest of your life, like a concert violinist improving your craft, getting better, talking to people who know better about something than you do, getting better, still. That is the idea that is infused in our whole program. When these beginning teachers start, we make it very clear, ‘Congratulations, you’re going to be here for life, because this is a guild. And the ‘cloth’ we’re dealing with is student centered learning.’ “
What a powerful idea! Just this morning, I spoke with Ms. Reo Pruiett from Educate Texas (formerly Texas High School Project) to discuss the success that Texas has seen with it’s statewide STEM education initiative. In 2007, the Texas Education Agency initiated the THSP to design and transform high schools around the state to have a STEM focus, using a blueprint that outlined 7 keys to school design. Ms. Pruiett shared with me some of the challenges leaders in their program have faced over its 5 year history. One of these challenges has been in getting buy-in to the change in pedagogy. She described the shift from traditional instruction, where the teacher was expected to be the’ expert’, to a project-based learning approach, where the teacher facilitated the learning, and put the responsibility for working hard on the student.
“We use project based learning to build connections because that’s what also mirrors what you have to do in the workforce, in industry, and in the real world. As we worked through developing project based learning for our teachers, it was a challenge in the beginning for teachers to give up the more traditional approach and to build out concepts where you blend the learning. Because we’ve been so test-driven, teachers think, “What if I teach like this and they don’t score high?”
This approach has proven itself in Texas where the T-STEM Academies are transforming schools from under-performing, with low graduation rates, to schools with high percentage of graduates who move on to 2- and 4-year colleges.
“That’s been a challenge that we’ve been overcoming. Because now kids are making the connections and because we’re making real world connections, they are better problem solvers. And it really does not cause you to lose ground. They’re still going to do well on your state test. Just because you teach the goals and objectives in a different way, doesn’t mean learning hasn’t occurred. In fact, the learning is much better, because the kids will remember how to do this at a greater rate”
Si much of the work in education reform focuses the importance of improving teacher effectiveness, but we must not only improve effectiveness, we need to INSPIRE change and transformation. As Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems with the same thinking that caused the problem!” In order to see the scope of transformation necessary in our education system, we must first begin to look at the Teaching Profession as one that is critical to the health and success of our Nation. Just as we encourage our most capable students to aspire to be doctors, lawyers, and business and community leaders, we must encourage our best students to enter the profession of teaching! It is that important! Let’s do the work…