NAYTEA PODCAST: Learning excellence requires innovative educators are not afraid to take risks


Todd Dugan


Sharon Xueqing Feng & Frank Zhao

The involvement of American schools in STEAM education varies widely. Some schools buy tech devices for all the students but without transforming teaching methods and find that they still haven’t appreciably resolved inequity. If a student is doing old-style math problems on a laptop or iPhone, it is still old-style math problems. The technology has not transformed the teaching in to 21C learning.

Access to high speed Internet is also an ongoing issue. Approximately, 1 in 5 students in rural areas do not have access to the Internet. Given the issue of school closings because of COVID-19, this means that these students are not able to access online learning. This issue is receiving increased prominence in the media as more and more people are realizing that this inequity is not acceptable.

STEAM education is potentially life-changing for students. It used to be called the Gifted or Talented Program where students with exceptional talent were separated from other students and give special instruction. This often changed the trajectory of their lives and careers. This is what STEAM curriculum can do for all students.

STEAM should not be consigned to the lab. It should be infused in all areas of K-12 curriculum. Every subject, every day should involve some element of STEAM learning. It is not a single subject or a single class. Having a STEAM teacher and a STEAM class is missing the point. STEAM curriculum offers a way of looking at learning that integrates a variety of subjects. For instance, on a given day, the school could coordinate the topics presented in math, science, and social studies classes to focus on a single issue. For instance, students could consider the impact of losing the Rain Forest or ways to address the spread of the Coronavirus.

Learning excellence requires innovative educators who are not afraid to take risks. 97% of innovation comes from copycats. These are teachers who are willing to take a risk and try something

new even if it fails; they learn something from it.

Too often teachers play it safe when the principal visits the class to evaluate the teacher. This is when teachers should try something really novel. But this doesn’t happen by accident. The principal has to create a culture that encourages teachers to be innovative even if they fail. If they learn from the process, the students will benefit when the process succeeds.

How schools evaluate teachers has a direct influence on innovation. A weakness of the current teacher evaluation process is that it focuses on planning and preparation, classroom management, and instruction.

Innovation could be considered within the instruction area but often it goes unnoticed as part of an evaluation or may be viewed as counterproductive in terms of classroom management. Therefore, teachers are less inclined to be innovative.

Principals that embrace STEAM education often provide quick, meaningful feedback which is more useful for teachers and the students they teach than the traditional performance review conducted once or twice a year.

Due to the challenges of COVID-19 and school closures, students who were behind in class are falling further behind now. In many school districts, the focus is on how to distribute meals to students, not how to effectively deliver learning at home.

School closures have, however, highlighted the need to take a new look at education. With students staying home, tardy slips don’t seem very important and no one is staying after class for misbehaving. The new realization is that learning can occur anywhere. It is not limited to the 50 minutes that each class typically takes during a school day and doesn’t always come from a textbook. Sources of learning abound. We should be focused on making certain that students have what they need to master or become at least minimally competent in each of the subjects or necessary skills: creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. STEAM curriculum is an essential means of delivering these competencies.

The population of the earth is living through an historic moment in the fight to control COVID-19. STEAM offers an important and useful way to learn from this situation. Students should be encouraged to study at how people in the different locations around the world reacted differently to the Coronavirus and how the results they experienced differed. They could then be challenged to prototype alternative approaches and investigate what results those approaches might have achieved.

Learning isn’t limited to school; it’s all around us.

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Todd Dugan is Superintendent of Bunker Hill Community Unit School District 8 in Bunker Hill, Illinois, USA. He is a strong advocate of STEAM education and was awarded the 2017 Technology Learning Leader of the Year (1 of 3 such awards given in the USA) and was named the Illinois State University Superintendent of the Year for 2018. His professional interests include technology and all forms of innovation in public education aimed at disrupting barriers to equity.

Saron Xueqing Feng established and leads NAYTEA (North American Youth Technology Education Association). She started her career working in the area of conservation education at the research base of the Giant Panda Center with international education projects in alliance with WWF and UNESCO. She established and built the education brand of CODE.GAME K-12 STEAM study platform into a successful brand reaching 20 countries in North America, Africa, and South Asia. It is consistently ranked among the top of most popular education platforms in South Asia. As a result, she continues to lead important efforts to increase the number of well-trained teachers while enhancing the ease with which millions of students access quality instruction.

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