STEM Education and Changing the Paradigm

By Drew Lacy, Communication ’14

On Thursday, Aug. 2, Gleason Auditorium traveled through space and time as part of the International Space University’s Space Studies Program. Over 130 students gathered to “perform” their research, insights and recommendations, all of which were set as flash forwards into the future. (Okay, so maybe not literally, but some science requires a little imagination, too.)

The students had spent the past eight weeks digging deep into the issues that are currently facing the future of space exploration.  Halfway through their Space Studies program, the students broke off into four groups, each working on a separate topic. These included STEM education, space colonies, space debris and space stations. The program concluded with a full day of science-meets-performance-art style presentations covering assigned topics.

I was able to catch a really great presentation on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education (also known as STEM). The ISU students took to the stage as holograms of their past selves. Their mission:  dissect the state of STEM education back in 2012 for the audience and highlight how it has evolved into a globally accepted curriculum that inspires new scientists and pushes the boundaries of space exploration.

According to these ISU time travelers, “the artistic pencil called space really did write a new chapter” for STEM education. Space provided the canvas and inspiration for budding scientists to dream bigger and made science, technology, engineering and mathematics the vehicle to get there.

The ISU student holograms found that the planet only became STEM literate once the real value of STEM education was conveyed with job and profit motives coupled with artistic expression and inspirational role models. The ISU students felt strongly that artistic expression was a key component to keep STEM interesting to young minds, including dynamic teaching methods that encourage and value independent study.

It’s that same theme I saw in the TEDxISU speech with Sarah Jane Pell. When you combine creativity with science, you get something way better than a sum of the parts.

It is through this self-empowerment that STEM finds itself into the hearts and minds of students dreaming of new worlds.  Artistic expression could be implemented through entertainment, games and other interactive elements.

STEM EducationISU students felt that inquiry-based education is best fostered as a collaborative effort, bringing together learning institutions, organizations with similar missions and the community. In this simulated model, students would utilize an up-to-date curriculum created by industry thought leaders to solve modern problems, with the support of their academic institution and the community to help guide them.

It provides a framework where the community and supporting organization are invested in the collaboration, which further empowers and inspires the students to become engaged in solving challenging problems.  Basically, it makes it easier for students to succeed in topics they might otherwise find boring, because each one is a key component of something more exciting.

Even better news from the “future” ISU students: they believe that this cross-collaboration will lead to a future where a job finds a student, not the other way around. It’s also a system that makes grades irrelevant. Hooray!

While absorbing the ISU student’s presentation, I couldn’t help but think that a shift in how we educate teachers is already happening here at Florida Tech. We recently adopted a new methodology for preparing future STEM educators. The FIT 4 UTeach program is shifting a paradigm, one in which we will now prepare scientists first, teachers second. In this way, we are adopting some of the recommendations made by the ISU students through a program where we teach scientists how to teach, not teachers how to teach science. Basically, we want to be a Bill Nye incubator.

I think it is funny that my entire experience with ISU started with missing an opportunity to meet Bill Nye, and here I am writing my final post about the program and I can’t let it go. We can’t expect all of our teachers to be Bill Nye, to inspire and engage through thoughtful entertainment, but we can dream can’t we? Could this be the model of how an educator has to be in order to capture the hearts and minds of students…so we can boldly go where no man has gone before?  Maybe we’ll just have to rely on Bill Nye’s hologram…coming to a school near you.

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One Comment

  1. Sorry you missed Bill Nye! I’ve been seeing him on Dancing with the Stars recently.. He dances surprisingly well! What an awesome event to attend and participate in! It’s great to see and hear how STEM education is evolving and changing the students of tomorrow. The future is looking brighter everyday! Thanks for the link about The FIT 4 UTeach program. I work for summer tech program that finds and seeks out knowledgeable STEM educators to work with and expand the minds of today’s students. It’s fun and exciting to be involved in such an innovative and creative field. Keep up the great work!

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