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STEM Conference Inspires, Shares Strategies to Close Gaps

AACTE’s Washington Week kicked off with diverse perspectives, enlightening anecdotes, and compelling conversations at the special conference “Progress and Factors That Contribute to Closing the STEM Achievement Gap,” sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Five presenters joined AACTE leaders on two panels discussing ways to improve learning outcomes of underrepresented populations in the STEM fields.

Hall Davidson, Vasanta Akondy, and Armando Sanchez-Martinez at STEM Conference

The conference began with presenters Armando Sanchez-Martinez, manager of Editorial Santillana in Mexico, and Vasanta Akondy, co-manager of the Verizon Innovative Learning Program (VILP), who together provided a global perspective on innovative solutions to increase access to STEM education in Mexico and India.

Sanchez-Martinez presented a comprehensive look into Mexico’s educational landscape, including a detailed explanation of sociocultural factors that contribute to local achievement gaps and of the current educational movements and solutions to closing the gap. Akondy highlighted the importance of VILP and its efforts to recruit more girls in India into the STEM fields. The aim of this program is to provide a community network of support while focusing on student engagement and providing technological resources to underfunded schools.

Using technology to transform learning in the classroom via mobile devices was at the center of Hall Davidson’s compelling presentation of ways to incorporate affordable instructional tools that can revolutionize the way teachers interact with students. Senior director at Discovery Education, Davidson urged colleges of education to prepare teachers to use technology, particularly in order to empower students’ learning in science and math through digital textbooks.

Linda Rosen and Douglas Larkin at STEM Conference

The second conference panel included presentations from Douglas Larkin, assistant professor in the Department of Secondary and Special Education at Montclair State University (NJ), and Linda Rosen, chief executive officer of Change the Equation. They both promoted teachers’ preparation in STEM as an economic necessity in terms of employment and for addressing global issues such as environmental degradation and universal healthcare.

“If you’re going to teach, you need to have experience with it,” said Larkin. He also expressed the need for retaining experienced educators as critical to meeting workforce needs. Using his state as an example, Larkin noted that “25% of teachers in New Jersey have less than 5 years of experience.” If the state were able to retain all of the teachers entering the field, then there would be no teacher shortage, but rather higher quality teachers and therefore higher quality learning, including in STEM fields. He argued the future of STEM teacher education lies in committing to a 3- to 5-year timespan in training, with mentoring during the first years being just as important as preservice preparation. He also advocated for more use of high-leverage practices and more robust and valid assessments of teacher quality.

Rosen touted educators’ preparation to teach STEM skills as “a driver of state economy” in the view of her organization, which is a coalition of corporations committed to promoting more rigorous STEM learning for all PK-12 students. Change the Equation facilitates partnerships between business and education to ensure all students are STEM literate by collaborating with schools, communities, and states to adopt and implement relevant policies and programs. Rosen’s resounding message was that high-quality STEM education means a high-quality future.

The conference provided insight into domestic and cross-national STEM frameworks. AACTE’s Rodrick Lucero, vice president for member engagement and support, moderated the panel discussions and posed the question of the best way to amplify education in any context. The presenters advocated for addressing educational equity in the global landscape of poverty alleviation, accessibility of resources, and proper facilitation of the teaching workforce. Another common theme was the importance and necessity of time to discover the best solutions. The conference was an accurate reflection of STEM goals—informative, innovative, and interesting!

Did you miss the STEM conference? No worries: Video recordings of all the presentations will soon be made available! You may also access presenters’ materials in the AACTE’s Resource Library.

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