On January 13th, I had the good fortune of attending the Solve Talk, “Are We Teaching STEM Wrong?” hosted by Google, Solve MIT, Kara Miller, and MassChallenge. The panel, moderated by Ms. Miller, included Arthur Levine, Woodrow Wilson Foundation, Chris Rogers, Tufts, and Tina Grotzer, Harvard Graduate School of Education. As many of these panels do, the conversation moved past STEM as the main topic to a more general discussion about teaching and learning.
Each of the panelist, though experts in different disciplines, kept coming back to a similar theme: the education system is shortchanging students, under-resourcing educators, and not allowing for the kind of deep, student-centered learning opportunities necessary for a productive, engaged and successful future. It was not all doom and gloom, though. The panel, like Students at the Center, recognizes the wonderful things that are happening in education with movements like student-centered learning, deeper learning, connected learning/LRNG, and the maker movement pushing all stakeholders to change their expectations and redefine teaching and learning.
I’ll highlight a few of the quotes I pulled from the speakers that I think encapsulate some of the central conversations of the night:
“I really believe in testing…I don’t believe the tests today are really that good. Testing comes too late.”
Arthur Levine doesn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater—testing has its place, but let’s figure out whether we are doing it right. And if we aren’t (he thinks we aren’t), how can we do it better? He shared a great metaphor with the audience: testing should work like a GPS. Imagine if a GPS let you know you had been headed in the wrong direction AT THE END of your journey. How helpful would that be? You are already lost. Testing at the end of the year isn’t helpful—a student is already lost. Chris Rogers jumped in to suggest formative assessments as a way for “trading up for better and better explanations for why things are the way they are,” Levine and Grotzer nodding beside him.
“I have a problem with ‘training’ teachers—we are ‘developing’ teachers for dynamic environments. Give teachers opportunity to reflect and interact with other professionals.”
Tina Grotzer discussed educators as people “who are doing their best with very little.” Bravo! Very little lip service is given to the fact that a learning environment is a dynamic space catering to 25-30 human beings who want to be in that space for a reason. Teachers must manage that space (physical and psychological), facilitate learning, engage minds, and are (many times) pulled in different directions by the competing priorities of their “job” and their vocation.
“What do you want to do when you are teaching? You want to share a story, or your understanding of that story. You can 1) tell the story; 2) show the story; or 3) let students develop their own story and you argue your story until the two stories align.”
Chris Rogers focused on inquiry during much of the panel, and this quote succinctly captured many of the points he made during the evening about STEM education, and education in general. Solving a problem starts with what the student brings to the table in terms of knowledge and content. From there, a teacher can support the student in figuring out what they need to learn and demonstrate in order to solve a problem.
There is only so much a panel can cover in an hour discussion with Q&A, but I have to commend the panel for addressing some central ideas around education reform in a way that respected educators and students, as well as challenged held notions of what teaching and learning look like.