Where Are We Now…
by Rama K Ramaswamy, Julia de Peyster, Sue Sours
Wellesley Library’s Wakelin Room was almost at capacity this week, on March 19th as the Wellesley Science and Technology Expo (part of Wellesley Education Foundation) steering committee along with Innovations in STEM (science, technology, engineering mathematics) panelists Dr. Dean Woodring Blase, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Wellesley Public Schools and Dr. Robert Martello, Professor of the History of Science and Technology, Olin College, spoke not only about how to identify but how to create conditions at home, in our schools and our community for students to create, learn, produce and innovate, based on Dr. Tony Wagner’s book (Creating Innovators- The Making Of Young People Who Will Change The World) and moreover, where we are today with respect to Wellesley Public Schools.
Both Blase and Martello’s presentations revealed a speaking from the heart tone and language meant to inspire and communicate to parents, fellow educators and the layperson in the audience with a more realistic attitude and a view towards making change happen. By a show of hands, two thirds of the audience were in STEM related fields, are parents and live in Wellesley. The audience also included a technology teacher from Weston Public Schools, a student from the Winsor School, a Wellesley artist who spoke about STEAM- adding in the Arts component and Wellesley’s Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Lussier who outlined his year 1 strategic plan goals for Wellesley last December 2013, with the assistance of The Wellesley Education Foundation, to strengthen and expand K-12 STEM offerings. When asked about education and innovation, Lussier says the following, it's an exciting time to be in education! We are becoming more focused on not just developing student's content knowledge, but also preparing them to apply that knowledge in the real world. We want to develop students who can think out of box, challenge assumptions, and innovate.
Blase and Martello spoke about key concepts outlined in Wagner’s book such as intrinsic motivation and how to achieve innovation in the classroom as well as discussing what STEM and STEAM look like for students both at Olin College and in Wellesley’s Public Schools. Currently in Wellesley, students have access to BioTech: MIT and BioBuilder, some computer science via code.org and MassCAN, afterschool clubs such as Science Olympiad and Women’s CS Coding at WHS and reaching all students are thewhat, how and why of Curriculum and Instruction through which students learn about evidence-based STEM content, district-wide. The goal, Blase says is to create a multidisciplinary learning environment by building expertise she says, in coordinated collaboration- where teachers are able to learn from industry giants and go beyond the walls of their classrooms and bring learningand the real world together for students. This year, Wellesley Public Schools have begun their Physics and Earth Science pilots and will be gathering data on their progress in addition to putting together a curriculum review timeline, projected out to FY17-18 (see attached chart).
Through the book, Creating Innovators, and a recent Wall Street Journal article titled, Educating The Next Steve Jobs, Wagner points to Olin College as a good example of how half its students create interdisciplinary majors such as Design for Sustainable Development or Mathematical Biology. In an excerpt fromCreating Innovators, when Wagner asks an Olin College engineering student about the role that failure plays with respect to his learning, the student said, I don't think about failure- I think about iterating. This type of multidisciplinary thinking- moving students through different phases of defining and identifying problems, assessing critical thinking and communication skills- all eventually leading towards being intrinsically motivated, says Martello is what Olin emphasizes. Blase, understandably points out that Olin’s student pool is about the size of one of Wellesley’s seven public, elementary schools but she says, we [WPS] are still small enough where we can utilize these strategies. Through the process of curricula review, Blase is continuously assessing which areas need support in terms of equipment, teacher training and STEM enrichment. She projects that with sustained community support and WEF’s continued funding stream for multiple aspects of education, in the next three years ten teachers will be able to attend training, teach computer science and coding for example; that will eventually have built in platforms leading to industry and possible future careers. Blase has begun the process of convening WPS art, math and science teachers to come together to learn from each other and build a unified K-12 vision. The evening concluded with Blase saying, not since Sputnik has there been this much energy and excitement around the STEM fields around the United States and Wellesley is no exception; understand and enjoy your kids.
Panelists Blase and Martello, along with moderator Sheila Olson fielded several questions and comments from the audience such as, wanting to know whether or not they had read and considered the plethora of research being published about evidence-based learning and which techniques work and how best to apply those towards Wellesley’s K-12 schools; one parent-scientist asked about how our national philosophy might be changing from the post 1930’s ideology of picking out the diamonds in the rough and weeding out everyone else, yet another parent asked about enriching opportunities for women in STEM, another parent spoke about considering the adoption of more Montessori approaches for WPS K-12 and finally an audience member suggested that we as a community and school system apply the same attitudes towards STEM as we have done for liberal arts and literacy- we don’t talk about reading with our kids, we read with them, she said. On behalf of the Wellesley Science and Technology Steering Committee, Olson suggested to the audience to please check out a copy of Creating Innovators, available for loan at the Wellesley Library; or show this news item when you purchase the book (e-version available with QR codes and other hyperlinks embedded) at Wellesley Books and 10% of the purchase price will be donated to the Wellesley Education Foundation- a tax-exempt, non-profit with a mission to provide grants to educators for innovative educational projects at all grade levels; check out Tony Wagner’s TedTalk, please like the Wellesley Expo on Facebook and be sure to register and sign up for the Exhibits, Women in STEM Panel Discussion, Speaker Series and/or Meet The STEM professionals, all available at the Expo- April 5th, Wellesley High School 10am-4pm.