In my school district, many after-school and extracurricular activities are led by teachers who not only bring a passion towards STEM subjects into the classroom, but also spend extensive personal time engaging students in clubs such as FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and Science Olympiad. Furthermore, the district now allows personal technological tools into the classroom, including cell phones and iPads. In the past the practice was to ban such devices, however recently I have seen more educators embracing the advantages that these tools can bring to the learning experience.
What is still missing is an integration of the many forms of online courseware that are currently available, often for free. I have not seen my district’s schools officially using anything like Khan academy or courses offered by universities, such as MIT’s Open Courseware or EdX (programs that I will discuss in more detail in a future post). There are some exceptions. For instance, some of the high school students fulfill the health credit requirement by taking an online charter school version of the class. In one case that I know of, this allowed the student to free some afternoon time on his schedule so that he could do an internship a few hours per week. Others take online classes to get ahead so that they have room in their schedules for more advanced classes.
Few would argue that one of the key components of meeting the STEM challenge is attracting strong math and science students into the teaching profession. However, we also need to allow the existing talented teachers, who are already committed and positioned to make a difference today, the freedom to explore and take advantage of technology in their own classrooms. I would like to see a lot more flexibility in the schools for a blended approach of traditional and online learning. There is no sense in bringing a lot of energetic, talented STEM graduates into a classroom that stifles their ability to creative engage students and limits their ability to fully leverage the varied resources available today.