Education And STEM Education 

“Education is not filling buckets, it’s lighting fires” – W.B. Yeats

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For almost 200 years state education has been written in stone, carved by the British empire, designed for administrating that empire during the industrial revolution.  At the time is was a remarkable success, a systematic centralized approach to mass education throughout that empire reaching all corners of the globe.  This system was adopted over time universally and remains the main stay throughout the world.   

Times they are a changing.  We have learned a lot in those intervening years and society has changed considerably, the demands on education are not what they use to be.  Ultimately education is about producing a capable work force, and industry leaders today find a disconnect between how graduating generations were schooled and the reality of industries needs today.  What worked for the industrial revolution does not necessarily work for todays information revolution and careers of the early 21st century.  Creative problem solving and innovative solutions top the needs list, whereas schools focus on fact retention something that is no longer a high priority in the era of Google.  The sciences require critical thinking, and asking the right questions.

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Pedagogical philosophy and practice have taken a much more human centric, all inclusive approach.  We are rethinking and reshaping education into a very different art form, a much more nuanced personalized data driven understanding of how individuals naturally learn.  

With greater understanding of the nature of learning, and more effective far reaching technologies at our disposal, we are seeing an education revolution taking root and spreading rapidly.  In Scandinavia, notably Finland, whole state systems are managing the transition to modern more flexible methodology.   

Education is becoming more personalized, its more about environments and emotional development, more likely technology based.  As you read this Google and many other tech giants are redesigning education of the future.  Driven by AI networks, cloud computing and big data, the very notion of school will be turned on its head if not abolished.  Education wont be defined as the first years of our lives it will be a life long process, with us at all times, where ever we go, what ever we do.


Entertainment And Emotional Engagement 

“Learning is experience, everything else is just information” - Albert Einstein.  

Education in the 21st century will be defined by a love affair with emotional development.  Whatever education evolves into, one thing we know for certain, it will strive to achieve personalized meaning.  There are two ways emotions can play roles in the learning process.  There is the higher order, meaning and purpose that drive deep sustainable passions and interest, like hobbies or even careers, more on this in a later chapter.  Then there are the more direct experiences were an array of senses are engaged in any given activity creating impact. 

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200 beats per minute is a child’s heart rate on a thrill ride.  This is also a child primed for a learning experience.  Whatever the child is doing, the subject has, his or her, undivided attention.  The child is engaged at an emotional level.  Whether it is a negative or positive experience, does not subtract from the fact that this experience will be a memorable one.  That is to say, the experience will also provide the mechanism for strong recall.   The neural pathway created by the experience, a measurable physical effect, will probably be very strong and able to endure.   Learning is not just an academic endeavor, it is a biological/biochemical event of great complexity. 

In short ‘Entertainment’ is a seriously misunderstood and underutilized tool. The emotional experience provides a mechanism or gateway to a powerful learning experience.  Humans learn through experiences, and the more senses involved in that experience the greater its impact on the individual, the greater the impact the deeper the emotional involvement.  This means strong recall with enduring pathways, one of the objective of education.    

There is a growing consensus as to the need to overhaul the education system and move away from the traditional classroom environments to a more creative fluid and interactive learning environment, looking to create more meaningful experiences.  One that provides the missing emotional and meaningful content that, in turn, creates a more conducive learning environment.  There are very real concerns that the current system does not teach children the think and problem solve, but merely cram set information within a certain time frame to push students through a test system.  Thus neglecting the more important creative problem solving problem process.  

 

“Following successful K-12 STEM education, we identify three long-term, interrelated goals of STEM education: (1) increasing advanced training and careers in STEM fields; (2) expanding the STEM- capable workforce who serve as STEM educators, science communicators, medical assistants, computer technicians, and other STEM-related careers; and (3) increasing scientific literacy among all young people, supporting life-long interest and engagement with STEM. These long-term goals consist of many intermediate- and short-term goals, including learners’ participating in STEM practices, developing learners’ positive dispositions toward STEM, and creating social settings that promote life-long STEM learning. It is important to stress that STEM literacy is defined as involving far more than conceptual knowledge and skills: it also involves interest, reasoning, and understanding of real-world relevance. These aspects of STEM literacy are not secondary goals: they are intrinsic and intertwined with understanding and engaging with STEM.“

 

To truly engage the public and nurture the numbers in our collective favor, the solution is, among many things, largely a question of emotional engagement, purpose and meaning.  We are humans after all, we need to understand through experience, a personal experience.  Abstract, academic concepts or reasoning alone are not our strongest forte.   As such when bringing something of scale to the public domain it’s going to require emotional content and it's going to have to carry meaning.  Meaning that is relevant on an individual basis, to an individual’s current and future worldview. 

Implementation 

VPACC understands kinetic, interactive, tactile, immersive environments are key for stimulating meaningful learning experiences; the more senses being engaged; sight, sound, touch and smell the greater the depth of meaning and the deeper the connection to the subject matter.  A touch of white knuckle and the ability to raise heart rates is not a frivolous decoration, it is fundamental to VPACC’s strategy, we are aiming to tap emotional pathways.  This is the reason VPACC has focused on engineering immersive simulation and ultimately motion platforms allowing us to shape these responses with environments. 

Take them out of the classroom and put them in a spinning shaking cockpit of a spacecraft falling out of control in a fiery blaze from the edge of space alarm bells and their crew members screaming in their head sets and I believe you will get your point across.  Learning has many approaches; however experience, the physical act of doing, will leave an indelible impression.  

Give them challenging new toys that are attractive enough and they will be encouraged to try, to learn how to use them and in doing so will learn the craft and trade associated.  This is how children learn games like World of Warcraft in the most astonishing details and not math.  

As was said:

 

“If you wish your students to build better ships don’t teach them carpentry, teach them to long for the open ocean”.

 

Shaping Interest And Motivation

“When children are interested, education happens” - Arthur C.Clark.


It is well understood in academia that when it comes to learning interest is key.  Elegantly summarized in the above Clark quote.

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There are two identified forms of interest, psychologists refer to them as personal (or individual) interest and situational interest.  You and I may understand them best as someone who is deeply interested in a subject, a long term hobby or passion, this is personal interest and has long term patterns that persist over time.  Situational interest is more short term and may be provoked by environmental stimuli, an event or situation that peaks curiosity.  This form of interest is short lived.  There are other notable differences in the two, personal interests normally involve positive emotional connotations, feeling of satisfaction, achievement and being happy.  Studies suggest situational interest is not specific and can involve both positive and negative emotional reactions.  

One of the perplexing questions for educators is how do you shape situational interest into personal interests.  Many educators in formal and informal settings will be aware of a condition referred to as ‘single event exposure’.  An example might be a museum visit where children are exposed to a certain topic and become engaged and excited but the effect is short lived and dissipates over time rapidly if the child is not repeatedly engaged thereafter. Interest fades without follow up.   Mastering the art of bridging situational and personal interest is an important subject for education.  

 

A striking example was that a large group of youth became interested in astronomy after a sixth-grade astronomy unit. Both survey and interview results showed that even STEM-disinterested youth connected strongly with astronomy. In fact, one case-study youth who had shown little interest in science declared that she wanted to become an astronomer after the unit. However, because there were no readily available astronomy out-of-school programs, this triggered situational interest remained unsupported and gradually dissipated. This finding and others like it highlight the importance of connecting the STEM learning that takes place in schools with related out-of-school programs to ensure that youth with situational interest in STEM have ample opportunities for those interests to develop over time and become sustained.” 

 

While both personal and situational interest are important to learning there are distinct differences in how these states arise and what they mean for education.  In a classroom setting educators will try provoke situational interest within a focused subject and thus motivate students to engage the learning process.  Educators have learned over the years that certain approaches work better than other.  Presenting educational materials in more meaningful context, making the content more personally relevant for example, increase or stimulate focus and recall.  Social context matters, cooperative learning and interactions with peers in a team based strategy produce positive environments. 

Another tactic that is used to engage students is the perception of choice or self determination.  Even if this is presented in very limited and seemingly irrelevant way, it fosters perceived autonomy and self determination.  This again promotes a sense of personal or relevant engagement and meaning reenforcing situational interest.  

There are interest enhancing strategies used that help uninterested students engage, in recent years gaming subjects, making subjects more fun and game-like, has being a very successful strategy.  Meaning and personal reverence are important factors for nurturing situational interests into personal or long term interests, what psychologists refer to as “catch” and “hold” what VPACC refers to as a capture strategy.  

 

“Once people find something that captures their interest, depth refers to whether they hold onto that interest and integrate new experiences into their identity. That is, initial momentary interest can lead to long-lasting hobbies or passions, providing a renewable source of engagement and meaning” 

 

While studies suggest distinct differences between these two-forms of interest they are closely related and influence one another in complex ways, variables depending on the individual and environment.  Personal or individual interests can have a strong impact on what environmental triggers are effective at creating situational interest.  Educators cannot influence what intrinsic interests children bring into the classroom but the right environmental settings and application of effective strategies can provide opportunities to foster situational interests.

 

“Group work, puzzles and computers were found to spark interest in math but failed to maintain students interest over time.  Meaningfulness and involvement on the other hand proved to function as empowering variables by holding and sustaining students interest.” 

 

The goal here it to provoke intrinsic motivation.  Intrinsic motivation can be seen when an individual, i.e., a student, has been influenced by a particular environment stimuli, perhaps a class or lecture and who's situational interest has been elevated to a point that that individual now engages in this subject in his or her own time.  Perhaps by reading books or researching the subject deeper online. They have developed an interest that has motivated a personal learning mechanism.  The result is knowledge and value and the relationship between interest and intrinsic motivation maybe become recursive, turning captured interest into held interest. 

As well as intrinsic motivation there are also extrinsic motivating factors to consider, such as external rewards.  It is worth noting that research has shown in general that extrinsic rewards do not necessarily motivate. In fact where personal interest may be concerned extrinsic motivation like rewards, evaluation, deadlines and competition could undermine intrinsic motivation.  Further analysis finds the question not so clear cut and that extrinsic rewards can and do have a place depending on whether students initially share personal or situational interest.   There are distinctions between the two and careful consideration and application of extrinsic motivation can be effective.  For a more complete picture regarding motivation in an academic environment  one also has to take account of the role of individual goals.  Specifically professionals include mastery based goals as an important component that shapes interests and motivation.  

“External interventions may be critically important for unmotivated students who lack interest, intrinsic motivation and mastery goals for academic activities.” 


Self-Learning And Self-Organization

An important fixture of the of VPACC’s program would be to enable and encourage self-learning and self-organization.  We don’t teach children to fly, we give them access to or provide them tools and encourage the children to self-teach in a social environment in a more organic fashion, using all the networking tools at their disposal today. 

 

“Several things are known about self-directed learning: (a) individual learners can become empowered to take increasingly more responsibility for various decisions associated with the learning endeavor; (b) self-direction is best viewed as a continuum or characteristic that exists to some degree in every person and learning situation; (c) self-direction does not necessarily mean all learning will take place in isolation from others; (d) self-directed learners appear able to transfer learning, in terms of both knowledge and study skill, from one situation to another; (e) self-directed study can involve various activities and resources, such as self-guided reading, participation in study groups, internships, electronic dialogues, and reflective writing activities; (f) effective roles for teachers in self-directed learning are possible, such as dialogue with learners, securing resources, evaluating outcomes, and promoting critical thinking; (g) some educational institutions are finding ways to support self-directed study through open-learning programs, individualized study options, non-traditional course offerings, and other innovative programs.” 

“First he argued that people who take the initiative in learning (proactive learners) learn more things, and learn better, than do people who sit at the teachers’ feet passively waiting to be taught (reactive learners). He underlined that they enter into learning more purposefully and with greater motivation, tend to retain and make use of what they learn better and longer than do the reactive learners. A second reason is that self-directed learning is more in tune with natural processes of psychological development. An essential aspect of maturing is developing the ability to take increasing responsibility for our own lives - to become increasingly self-directed. A third immediate reason is that many of the new developments in education put a heavy responsibility on the learners to take a good deal of initiative in their own learning.” 

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Self learning is a powerful tool that provokes deeper learning.  It allows the student to take ownership and responsibility which in turn leads to deeper emotional connections to the subject matter.

VPACC’s mission is to provide the public and its youth with a set of exciting problems and challenges, in the most creative and immersive setting. Encourage and enable the process of solving those problems, allowing for, and encouraging, self-learning and self-organization as teams or communities of teams.