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All Places > STEM Summit > Blog > 2016 > October

One of our attendees, Jovana Grbic, wrote a very detailed summary of the STEM Summit. She's graciously agreed to let us share her thoughts here on the community site. You can find Jovana's ScriptPhD work here:


Thoughts/summary/resources from the @SciAm/@MacmillanLearn #STEMsummit on Education:

The meeting, gathering leaders in science communication, educators, and leaders from private, non-profit and public sectors, focused on how to best use the power of data to achieve quality education and lasting passion for STEM.

WHY STEM? This was the underlying theme of the October 15 conference, at NYC’s Academy of Sciences. The overarching goal by promoting STEM to younger students is better-informed citizens with tools for scientific engagement in public discourse. There are basic foundations that studying STEM builds, such as driving curiosity, asking questions, assessing evidence, building hypotheses, and then testing them under complex conditions, even changing your mind when the evidence calls for it. These are essential fundamentals to approaching a complex world, both in terms of career choices and civic engagement.

Secondly, STEM-related careers are anticipated to greatly proliferate in the 21st Century (even as there is a consistent skills gap in the complimentary workforce) as urgency grows to deal with major world issues (that all require a technological solution), such as feeding the population, providing global education, energy and housing by 2050, which have been elucidated as the Grand Challenges by the National Academy of Engineering.

WHY STEM IN EARLY EDUCATION? The challenges outlined above are systemic, and require a large-scale educated, competent population. Kids are in school every day for a large chunk of the day. They’re young, they’re impressionable, and teachers have access to them, so it’s a natural starting point. Despite such a perfect opportunity to use data and tech in classrooms as teaching tools and to drive STEM knowledge, there remains a tremendous schism between students in terms of technology tools for STEM, innovation and tools for the eventual workplace between students in variable populations. Compounding this problem, noted by Dr. Russ Shilling, the executive director of STEM initiatives in the US Department of Education, is that there is urgency within the US government to accomplish a lot on the federal level in very little time because of tremendous government personnel turnover in the US political system. This is true of education reform of Ideally, a holistic approach, teaching all STEM fields together, ubiquitously, across all school environments in the nations. This is the major goal of 100Kin10 (, a not-for-profit organization that aims to train and disseminate 100,000 STEM teachers by 2021.

WHY DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM? Whether we like it or not, digital and social media are irreversibly here. Kids are learning interactively from them, making digital skills an essential toolkit for students to develop. The question is what are they learning and how are they learning it? Dr. Michelle Zimmerman, a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, suggested that using the internet and tools such as Twitter, Snapchat and live videos as vectors for communication and “publication” of data learned real-time in a classroom can actually buoy a student’s experience.

Use of integrated technology can improve spatial learning, but not at the expense of traditional learning. For example, augmented virtual reality/artificial intelligence tools, such as VR headsets, can help bring 3D learning to biology, chemistry and space exploration, which visually supplement traditional classroom instruction. “Big Data” technology, such as IBM’s Watson, will be personalized an intimate within the next 25 years, from genomics to health care to daily life, so we have to be smarter to keep up and ahead of how to utilize that technology, which starts with early education.

HOW DO WE FORM STEM CONNECTIONS WITH STUDENTS? Leaving the enormous task of K-12 STEM education to teachers alone is ineffective and impractical. As technology is integrated into learning, there is an enormous responsibility for science communicators to engage on social media, forming a worldwide connection between teachers, students, and scientists – ultimately building a portfolio of learning to a young age. Indeed, professional scientists and engineers make some of the best STEM teachers – they bring passion, expertise and persistence to students. With 250,000 STEM graduates in the US every year, they MUST be key outreach vectors, brick by brick, to schools in local communities. (Side note: I was involved in a science outreach program for underprivileged elementary school kids in the Chicago area as an undergraduate student at Northwestern, and cannot underscore how true and valuable this guidance is, particularly for kids that get no science instruction in the classroom.) The New York Academy of Sciences is fostering mentorship programs and global social partnerships for advancing science education – access them here:

Several speakers reiterated the importance of “hands on” science and experimentation, including a lab initiative at Renton Prep School. By mimicking science environments on a micro (read: classroom) level, including experiments, publishing of data, exhibits and getting hands-on, kids learn risk-taking, connect with the world, failing and re-learning. When their experiments and learning have “stakes,” such as being seen by adults and other companies, kids put more effort into their projects and retain more long-term. Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, of the Sesame Workshop (makers of PBS’s “Sesame Street”) pointed out that it’s a shame that kindergartens and preschools have much science instruction, when in fact, these are pivotal years to cement curiosity and passion for STEM, as well as laying the groundwork for skills and the desire to learn more. Kids are natural “scientists” – they want to explore, find out how things work and are super curious. This makes the adults in their lives essential and indispensable. They are the children’s link to science. Scientific American has partnered with Sesame Workshop on an initiative called Bring Science Home, with lots of resources for adults to do fun experiments and ask questions with children:…/bring-science-home/

WHY REFORM EDUCATION? There have been many articles written about Finland’s education system as the best in the world – both unorthodox and remarkably effective. Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish educator and author of the “Finnish Lessons” book series, offered a few suggestions that could help integrate more effective STEM programs. US schools over-rely on “Big Data,” the tests that measure correlation between material and learning, which is what our policy (and curriculums) is largely based on. However, we often don’t know the causes behind these test assessments and learning is variable based on a student’s circumstances. Indeed, depending on where kids live, teacher quality comprises only 1-14% of the most important factors to learning. Small data is much more significant – the clues that teachers get in real time for what does/doesn’t work in their classroom and how individual students learn. STEM in K-12 would benefit from a balance between a focus on standardized testing and classroom assessments. Secondly, while learning is deeply personal, technology is fragmented and heterogeneous. Integrating technology into learning spaces will require a perfect “sweet spot” solution.
Education reform will also improve inclusiveness, diversity in STEM education and barriers to learning and pursuing STEM-related careers. Alarmingly, there has been no progress on women’s economic participation and global equality over the last few decades, and very little data on gender disparity in learning – this extends to STEM jobs. We need more data to prepare disaffected groups and improve their education experience at earlier stages. This will require more than government action (as stated above); it’s a collective expertise meld between non-government organizations, private companies, not for profits, and academic institutions.


To join the conversation, ask questions and access resources discussed during the summit, visit the Macmillan community page:


For information and innovative tools (as well as reviews) on digital literacy and technology access for young students, visit the non-profit organization Common Sense Media:


Several media pieces came highly recommended from panelists and contributors, including the acclaimed education reform documentary (and book) “Most Likely to Succeed” (, Pasi Sahlberg’s revolutionary “Finnish Lessons” book series on education change in Finland, and “Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends” by Martin Lindstrom.

The 4th Annual Macmillan Learning/Scientific American STEM Summit features a distinguished roster of speakers! Our speakers are leaders in education, policy, technology, and business. Learn more about this year's speakers here. In addition to being thought leaders, many of this year's speakers have also written books. Click the links below to learn more about the books written by our speakers.


Paul Krugman

Dr. Pasi Sahlberg

Dr. Rosemarie Truglio

Dr. Margaret Honey


And don't forget to check the STEM Summit Community for links to videos from the sessions. We'll upload the videos soon! In the meantime, keep the conversation going with #STEMeducation on Twitter and LinkedIn!

Dr. Michelle Zimmerman, instructor at Renton Prep and Microsoft Innovative Education Expert, spoke at this year's STEM Summit in New York City. As a tribute to her awesomeness, Michelle create a Microsoft 'mix' from the Summit. Click here to view Michelle's mix!

Data plays a major role in the science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM) subjects. Whether students are collecting information on a science project or analyzing trends on their stats homework, collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data is vital for every student to know and understand. In fact, according to this Forbes article, “The Hiring Scale is 73 for jobs that require Big Data skills with 13 candidates per job opening as of November 16, 2015.” The demand for data jobs is on the rise and a STEM education can help students develop the skills they need to capitalize on this trend.

But this isn’t the only way in which data impacts STEM classrooms. As our world becomes increasingly digital, data is being used to improve every facet of education. Twenty years ago, getting text alerts about student performance via an app on our smartphones was too alien of a concept to even fathom. Today, we have the ability to check in via mobile on overall class analytics and can monitor where and when individuals are struggling or need intervention—in real time. This is essential when it comes to the intense nature of learning new subjects, where correct assessment and tailored remediation can mean the difference between failing and succeeding. The big data influence on education has new insights into learning and complexity.

Improving STEM education with Big Data

Our society’s current capability to capture massive amounts of information—in both our everyday lives and academia—is overwhelming. The collection, analysis, storing, and communication of all this information amounts to what we refer to as Big Data—or data so massive and complex that we can’t process it by traditional data processing means.

In the education field, schools amass information on everything from day-to-day attendance to student’s performance on standardized tests. This information compiles into national averages, where we’re able to study trends and make educated predictions.

In higher education, professors can use Big Data to see if attendance is slipping; if students have stopped logging into online assignments; and, in some cases, even pull up a heat map of students’ current involvement in homework assignments. There are cases where college campuses use data to track when students visit the student center or library and offer incentives based on this information.

Insight into these Big Data trends can change everything from how institutions offer financial assistance, to how we measure curriculum success.  

How Small Data might be the next big thing in education

While Big Data is important to pushing education forward, it turns out that it might be only one piece of the puzzle. Big Data equals big picture and when we only look at the big picture, we fail to see the individual (and often more interesting) reasons behind the results.

According to our STEM Summit 4.0 presenter Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, “These [big] data sets…often don’t spark insight about teaching and learning in classrooms; they are based on analytics and statistics, not on emotions and relationships that drive learning in schools. They also report outputs and outcomes, not the impacts of learning on the lives and minds of learners.”

Overall, Big Data fails to report on some of the insights and emotions behind the results. A professor may be able to look at test results and see that 90% of their students passed the final exam, but did they retain that information? Do their students feel that the information they learned will help them succeed in the real world? This type of Small Data analysis is as important to the evolution of education as Big Data is.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to data and STEM education, both Big and Small Data have their place in any successful classroom. Educators should have access to overall, big-picture trends, but they should also have the flexibility to make choices based on their own personal insight into their classrooms. By analyzing both Big and Small Data, you can ensure your students are learning to the best of their ability.

We’ll be hosting a deeper dive into the power of data at our upcoming STEM Summit 4.0, where we have a stellar lineup of presenters.  

In the meantime, please join the conversation on our STEM Summit 4.0 community site and get the data discussion started!

We’re gearing up for another exciting STEM Summit this year, and our presenters are getting ready to answer all your questions on how data—both big and small—can impact the classroom. As we consider the implications of how data analytics can transform education, we’ll hear from some of the greatest minds and experts at this year’s event.

Here’s your chance to get to know the faces of this year’s summit and take a peek at what they’re working on at the moment.  

Dr. Paul Krugman - @paulkrugman

Nobel Laureate economist, educator, and bestselling author Paul Krugman is our keynote speaker this year and we couldn’t be more excited to have him on board. Krugman also writes a New York Times column where he discusses his thoughts on macroeconomics, politics, social policy, and more. It’s a fascinating read into the mind of one of our generation’s greatest economics leaders.

Dr. Pasi Sahlberg - @pasi_sahlberg

The success of Finnish schools is the envy of nearly every country on the map—which is why we’re thrilled to have educator, scholar, and bestselling author Dr. Pasi Sahlberg joining us for this summit. Sahlberg’s stance on data and STEM education is original and refreshing. During the summit he’ll be discussing what he considers to be the next big thing in education: small data.  

Dr. Michelle Zimmerman - @mrzphd

Over the course of her impressive career, Michelle Zimmerman, PhD, has taught grades from pre-K to 10th. In addition to being an assistant principal and lead teacher, she is also a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert. In this role, Zimmerman advises Microsoft and educational institutions on integrating technology in pedagogically sound ways, and helps them build educator capacity for using tech to improve learning.

Dr. Russ Shilling - @Russ_Shilling

The Executive Director of STEM Initiatives for U.S. Department of Education, Dr. Russ Shilling, will be providing us with updates from the frontlines of STEM. As an early pioneer in the educational games movement, Shilling has been busy ensuring students from pre-K and beyond are engaged in STEM.

Blair Blackwell - @blairblackwell

As manager of Education and Corporate Programs at Chevron, Blair Blackwell heads up U.S. education-focused social invest initiatives for the company. According to this Huffington Post Q&A article, “Blackwell views education as a fundamental cornerstone of prosperity and has been involved in many facets of education throughout her career, ranging from working on education reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina to working with students in Kazakhstan.”

Terri McCullough - @mterrim

“The truth is that women hold around one in four of all STEM jobs despite making up half of the population,” Terri McCullough, director of Clinton Foundation initiative No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project, stated in a recent article. McCullough and the Clinton Foundation are working to change these numbers, which is outlined in McCullough’s Fortune article The Myth Women in Tech Need to Stop Believing.

Talia Milgrom-Elcott

As executive director and co-founder of 100Kin10, Talia Milgrom-Elcott is leading the organization to unite the nation’s top academic institutions to train and retain 100,000 excellent STEM teachers. Milgrom-Elcott’s article in The Hechinger Report offers useful advice and tips on how to recruit and train more STEM teachers.

Jason Osborne - @PaleoExplorer

Chief Innovation Officer of Ector County Independent School District and Co-Founder of PaleoQuest, Jason Osborne is currently working on the launch of PICK Education, which is aimed at bringing the curriculum to life.

Dr. Adam Black - @adamrsblack

Our new Chief Learning Officer here at Macmillan Learning, Adam Black, will also be joining us at this year’s summit. Black has a passion for building transformational digital learning products, and for the past 25 years, this passion has driven him to pursue leadership roles in efficacy, learning science, learning analytics, impact evaluation, digital innovation, and technology for a wide variety of education disciplines, sectors and countries.

Dr. Rosemarie Truglio

Dr. Rosemarie Truglio is the Senior Vice President of Curriculum and Content at Sesame Workshop—a position she has held since 2013. Prior to that, she was Sesame Street’s Senior Vice President of Education and Research for 16 years. She currently oversees Sesame Street’s interdisciplinary curriculum and the content development across television, toys, publishing, home video, and theme parks. She will discuss how we can support and influence more STEM educators in early childhood education.

Gary Knell - @garyknell

"We find it imperative that we fill in the gaps in students' global and geographical knowledge, so that we equip them to succeed in an increasingly global workplace," president and CEO of the National Geographic Society, Gary Knell, stated in response to a recent survey commissioned by the Society and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Knell oversees the Society's nonprofit activities on a global scale and his career in media spans more than three decades—including 22 years at Sesame Workshop.

Be sure to follow these leaders on their social accounts where they share valuable information and content as the STEM curriculum continues to evolve and change. You can also follow the STEM Summit 4.0 conversation live on social via #STEMEducation throughout the event.

If you’d like to interact with our speakers, visit our community site. As part of the community, you can ask Paul Krugman a question prior to the summit that he will then address during his keynote speech.

We look forward to seeing you soon!