Why Hidden Figures Still Exist in STEM

Reframing careers to spark the imagination of next-gen young women.

GUEST COLUMN | by Maggie Whitman

CREDIT truechild.org.pngOut of all the movies slated for awards at this year’s Oscars, Hidden Figures was surely the most thought provoking. Set against the backdrop of NASA’s space race with the Russians, the movie tells the story of the amazing – and unsung – contributions of three African American women. It’s an amazing story, but I wish we could say such figures are characters of the past and way more represented in today’s technical industries. Sadly, that is far from true.

Six decades after the movie’s characters battled male dominated workplaces, sexism and societal norms for the recognition they deserve, there is still an incredible amount of work to be done to help young women in STEM fields and workplaces truly flourish. In fact as our economy becomes focused around jobs where technological skills are increasingly favored, women still hold only 26 percent of these kinds of jobs.

If we, as educators, don’t take action now, young women will continue to be left behind in the evolving workplace and U.S. employers will miss the rich diversity of approaches, ideas and skills women bring to their chosen roles.

What can be done?

Teach middle school girls that STEM jobs are theirs, too

New initiatives to promote careers in STEM fields to high school girls have been underway for some time, but it’s clear we need to expose younger, middle school aged students, to the notion of jobs and careers in STEM fields. According to recent research, girls as young as nine or ten begin to self-select out of technical subjects, internalizing a belief that they lack the skill or aptitude to succeed in these kinds of fields. By the time they enter high school, societal barriers such as parental attitudes and peer group preferences help to widen this gap further and many girls will explore careers that tap into skill sets more traditionally associated with femininity and women.

Reframe STEM careers to motivate girls in the right way

It’s critical to fight traditional gender stereotyping by showing young girls there are many ways to make the world a better place, often a motivating factor for girl’s career choices. We need to demonstrate that they can make just as significant impact on the world and people’s lives by being engineers, or architects and auto-mechanics as opposed to the more traditionally selected teacher, caregiver and nurturer roles. A number of technical industries are already taking the lead in this approach: engineers without borders promotes global engineering support in third world countries and clever ideas like The Lift Garage are designed to help people out of poverty by providing free auto service and car repair; programs too like the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture offer innovative home design for the homeless. The future must in some ways be about reframing STEM careers as beneficial to society to spark the imagination of the next generation of young women.

Experiential, single-gender teaching as a new approach

A number of colleges, Dunwoody among them, have developed a more immersive approach to teaching technical subjects where a rigorous academic instruction is paired with ongoing experience with the tools, methodology, techniques and environments that provide real workplace familiarity. The aim here is simple: prepare all students and particularly young women for the still-challenging industrial workplaces so they can begin their first day on the job with comfort and confidence.

Lastly, some high schools are now experimenting with single-gender, opt-in classes in subjects such as automotive and engineering to encourage girls who perhaps may be intimidated by male dominated classrooms and topics. This is in no way a return to the gender-bias teaching of earlier generations, but it’s one more step in understanding educators and institutions need to be more attuned to helping girls and young women overcome the societal barriers associated with STEM career paths.

*Source: http://www.truechild.org/Images/Interior/learnthefacts/__femininity%20&%20stem.pdf

Maggie Whitman is Women’s Enrollment Coordinator, Dunwoody College of Technology in Minneapolis, MN. Write to: mwhitman@dunwoody.edu

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Cool Tool | Soundtrap

CREDIT Soundtrap.pngSoundtrap is quite possibly the first online music recording studio to work across all operating systems (Mac, iOS, Android, Windows and Chromebook), where you can collaborate with music makers from all around the world in an easy-to-use browser, cloud-based system. Music and podcasts can be started in the classroom on a laptop and continued on iPad, or smartphone. It provides an easy-to-use platform for all levels of musical interest and ability for K-12 through higher education. First releasing its product in June 2015, Soundtrap quickly expanded its consumer user base to more than half a million users in 200 countries. The company rolled out an education version of its widely praised product, after having already been named “The Best Website for Teaching & Learning 2015” by the American Association of School Librarians. Soundtrap is currently in use in more than 1,000 schools. It is also a Google for Education partner and its recording studio was included in Google for Education’s “Creative Apps for Chromebooks.” They signed an agreement with SYNNEX Corporation, one of the largest edtech distributors in North America, making this the first and only music education solution within the SYNNEX portfolio. Learn more.

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How Artificial Intelligence Will Transform Education

What the emerging technology will and will not do for teachers and students.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jon Roepke

CREDIT Pearson AI.pngArtificial Intelligence is all around us. From digital assistants like Siri and Alexa to algorithms that suggest what music to listen to on Spotify, AI in its many forms is now part of our everyday lives. And while soon we may all ride around in self-driving cars, the area where AI will most profoundly affect our lives is in education. As with virtual reality, artificial intelligence is still in its early days as an education tool, with minimal adoption in the classroom. But even more so than VR, artificial intelligence could fundamentally change the process of how we learn. Some of the most exciting in-class applications are intelligent tutor systems as well as AI teaching assistants, while outside the classroom AI will enhance the effectiveness of both self-guided as well as MOOC learning platforms (Massive Open Online Course).

Smart AI in education can leverage a good teacher’s abilities and free them to work with students on the most high-value skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity.

In our current system, K-12 teachers don’t have the capacity to cater to every student’s specific needs. What if each student had a personal tutor that could closely monitor their progress, understand how they learn, and determine where they need more help? It is well documented that one-on-one instruction is the most effective form of education. AI-powered tutors, called Intelligent Tutor Systems, have the potential to provide this kind of customized, personal instruction at scale. Pioneering companies such as Thinkster Math, Carnegie Learning and Front Row are showing promise in this arena. Such intelligent tutors will be able to track a student’s performance, learn what kind of concepts the student finds difficult as well as discover which learning methods and tactics work best for them. AI tutors won’t take the place of the teacher, but will help teachers be more intimately aware of each student’s learning process and be better equipped to help them succeed. Intelligent tutors can also increase students’ meta-cognition, helping with self-awareness and self-regulation.

On the other side of the equation, AI-powered teaching assistants can take over the burden of time consuming tasks like grading and record keeping. This can enable teachers to focus on the more creative and value-added aspects of their work. In the 2015 paper Intelligence Unleashed by education company Pearson, the authors suggest that another area where AI can help teachers is in collaborative learning. Collaborative learning modules, such as a group presentation on a history subject or a team science project, have powerful benefits. Students learn to listen to each other, engage in constructive discussion and share knowledge. AI assistants can help take the place of the teacher in moderating group activities and/or participating in the discussions. This can help the teacher administer more collaborative learning projects than they could support by themselves.

AI can also help fulfill the promise of online learning. Whether self-directed platforms like Khan Academy or MOOCs like EdX and Coursera, these platforms have hundreds of thousands of users and generate millions of pieces of data. These platforms are now using AI engines to sift through the data to find patterns that help identify which lessons are effective and which ones need improvement. Using AI to optimize instruction can improve student engagement, which will increase course completion rates. At the same time, online AI tutors can also be used to fill in students’ gaps of understanding and help them overcome obstacles. Given the massive scale of these online courses, an AI tutor’s ability to monitor performance and provide high-frequency feedback can provide an interactive learning experience that is impossible for the teacher to provide.

With such powerful technology already available, why have schools and universities been so slow to adopt AI in the classroom? One obvious reason is lack of funds. Another is that there is not yet enough concrete evidence that AI technologies help students achieve learning objectives. Finally, there is the misguided concern among teachers that, like workers whose jobs are being taken by robots, they will be rendered obsolete by AI tutors. On the contrary, smart AI in education can leverage a good teacher’s abilities and free them to work with students on the most high-value skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity.

One likely impact of AI-assisted learning is that the line between traditional classroom education and online/self directed learning will likely become blurred. AI tutors will help students optimize among the multitude of resources available, and will enable them to have greater ownership of their education process. Perhaps the ultimate effect of the personal AI tutor is that it could usher in a new mentality of continuous, self-directed learning in which we all remain students throughout our lives whether we are in a classroom or not.

Jon Roepke is the director of product management for Belkin International, Inc. He leads the creation and fulfillment of new business ventures, and helps define and develop technology solutions, including mobile apps and hardware for next-gen learning environments in partnership with Apple, Samsung, Google and other core technology leaders. Follow @Belkin

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Cool Tool | Cognero

CREDIT Cognero.pngHere’s an end-to-end assessment platform designed to either be seamlessly tied into existing learning and/or content management platforms or used standalone to support the entire learning path. Content authoring and management, assignment management, student delivery, and analytics are all supported in Cognero, one easy-to-use, completely online platform. The platform currently has over 9 million registered users with over 100 million unique assessment items on multiple instances with over 100,000 individual recorded assignments delivers online daily. It also supports printed tests in addition to online assessment. Learn more.

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Cool Tool | WeVideo

CREDIT WeVideo for Schools.pngNothing inspires students like creating and sharing great stories. More than 6,000 schools use WeVideo visual storytelling tools in and out of the classroom to engage students in all facets of learning. WeVideo projects help instill deep knowledge about topics by cultivating skills like collaboration, communication and critical thinking. It encourages student creativity, storytelling, engagement and multi-modal learning, and it delivers:

• A safe and secure environment (COPPA- and FERPA-compliant)

• Cloud-based tools that are always available, on any device, on or off campus, with no software to install or maintain. It is accessible whenever creativity and growth opportunities strike.

• Effortless collaboration and management for group projects and peer review. Students can work together in teams to develop and finalize a video project. Students are encouraged to achieve shared goals and grow the professional and technical skills needed in today’s multimedia organizations.

• Tools that grow with students’ age and skill levels, from their first day to their first feature film. Students make creative decisions demonstrating understanding and mastering concepts. It starts students with a simplified Storyboard editor and then gradually works up to a more advanced Timeline editor with advanced features, with video tutorials to guide them along the way.

Learn more.

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