Nikki Jones

Summary of STEM Summit from ScriptPhD

Blog Post created by Nikki Jones Employee on Oct 28, 2016

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.