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The 'x' factor: Reimagining STEM education

By Nicole Krueger 9/6/2013 STEM

While leaders around the globe bemoan the shortage of students pursuing science, technology, engineering and math degrees, a greater truth has dawned on the education community: Pumping out more STEM graduates isn’t enough.

Traditional STEM education fails to sufficiently prime students for high-tech careers, whose growth is expected to explode in the next five years. Computer science, computational thinking, inquiry and global fluency are just a few of the critical digital age skills that don’t fall under the traditional STEM umbrella.

“Part of the challenge with what we call the STEM pipeline is that it’s not just a matter of graduating more students through science and math as we’ve known it for 50 years,” said Jim Vanides, global education program manager for HP, which launched and supports the NMC Academy. “We need to give them new, more relevant, engaging and exciting experiences that map to the real world of science, technology and math.”

It’s time educators rethink their approach to STEM, he said, beginning with the acronym itself.

“Where does nanoscience fit, or biotech? There are more disciplines that are going to emerge in the future that aren’t part of STEM as we knew it in the 20th century. We need to bring STEM education into the 21st century.”

Enter STEMx, the new acronym intended to expand the scope of STEM education and shift the way teachers tackle these much-needed subjects.

Sharing STEMx Innovations

The reimagination of STEMx education is already happening around the world. The challenge now is to bring these innovations to light.

“There are many amazing examples of educators creating breakthrough ways of experiencing STEMx learning and teaching,” Vanides said. “We know there are exciting things going on around the world, so how do teachers discover them?”

To that end, ISTE has partnered with the NMC Academy to support the Global STEMx Education Conference, the world’s first massive open online conference dedicated to exploring innovative approaches to STEM-related learning and teaching.

 Modeled after the Global Education Conference and hosted by Web 2.0 Labs, the free online conference aimed to create an open marketplace of ideas where all educators could learn, share, connect and find new ways of teaching STEMx — all without having to travel or pay a registration fee.

“The potential of this kind of venue is it’s open to everybody. Everyone can participate, so we all benefit from new voices coming to the table and sharing their expertise and experience,” Vanides said. “Ideas will spread farther, and some of the silent voices in STEMx innovation will now have an outlet.

“STEMx Ed Con is all about awareness. Once you get an idea of what’s possible, you can make a strategic decision for the students in your classroom."

He suggests educators begin reimagining their approach to teaching STEM by taking an honest look at what’s working and what’s not.

“One of the most important things you can do is stop and take a broad view of what’s going on in your own classroom, and ask yourself, ‘Is this working for everybody?’ ” Vanides said. “If the answer is no, ask yourself, ‘How can I help those who are having a hard time?’ Take time to reflect on your own practice and the impact you’re having on students.”

Want to learn more ways to incorporate STEM skills into your lessons? Check out ISTE's STEM webinars.

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