MIT Stem Pals
March-April 2015

Using Technology to Reshape STEM Education
From Kim Spangenberg

Kim SpangenbergAt the Virtual High School (VHS), we’ve heard the call loud and clear - we need to change the way we approach teaching science, technology, engineering, and math. We’ve seen the shift in student expectations from content acquisition towards skill development and application of knowledge, thanks to Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. How do we reimagine classrooms to better prepare students for college and careers in STEM and to encourage students to pursue interests in these areas? Part of that answer is using technology to rethink how we deliver STEM education, breakdown classroom walls, and provide new and exciting opportunities for our students.

With endless information at their fingertips, students need a unique set of skills to access and apply content in meaningful, constructive ways. A few of these skills include the ability to ask probing questions, explore content, evaluate information, and engage in argument. With the help of technology, VHS students can visualize the most complex molecular processes, predict outbreaks using mathematical models, and access the same research tools and data sets that scientists have. They can tour and collect data from various parts of the world using Google Earth, remotely manipulate lab equipment, and participate in active scientific research through Citizen Science projects. Endless, high quality open educational resources engage our students in STEM content beyond the classroom walls, serving to introduce and strengthen understanding of content and acquire and reinforce skills.

With thoughtful technology utilization, physical walls of classrooms disappear. Through online classrooms and other technology tools, students and teachers from around the world can make meaningful connections. Students can pursue interests beyond what their local school or district might be able to offer, and teachers can inspire students from any region. Whether it’s experiencing a visiting lecture through MIT Blossoms, skyping between classrooms, or participating in a virtual course, the range of experiences in these new types of classrooms are vibrant and invigorating, for both students and teachers. Equally important is the fact that skills required for functioning in these classrooms - clear communication, careful time management and virtual collaboration - are invaluable to students’ preparation for college and careers.

Imagine studying Earth and Space Systems Science by classifying galaxies, using Google Earth to calculate the rate of spreading of the seafloor, touring biomes across the globe, and comparing geology across the United States. Imagine investigating the impacts of climate change with classmates from many different regions and/or countries and then debating the best approach to mitigation and adaptation based on both local and global concerns. What an impact these classes will have on our future! Let’s use technology to provide global perspective without having to leave the classroom and empower students to learn content in context. We have the responsibility to connect our students, fuel their passion, and develop their perspective as the leaders of tomorrow.

Kim Spangenberg is Manager of STEM at the Virtual High School in Maynard, Massachusetts.

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