K-12 Leaders, Educators Find Inspiration at 2021 STEAM Leadership Conference
On April 15 and 16, more than 270 K-12 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) decision-makers, school administrators, curriculum and after-school coordinators, informal educators, principals, teacher leaders, and artists gathered virtually for the 2021 STEAM Leadership Conference at Georgia Tech. Sponsored by Honeywell Hometown Solutions, the fifth annual conference was hosted by Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC).
“The world is evolving at a rapid pace,” said Lizanne DeStefano, executive director of CEISMC and professor of psychology. “These changes have encouraged schools to adapt and reimagine STEAM education. We are excited to welcome this group of educators as they pitch new ideas and develop mindful designs that not only raise academic achievement but also increase resilience and civic responsibility in the next generation.”
The theme for this year’s conference, “The Path Forward: Leveraging STEAM Education in an Evolving World,” encouraged participants to engage in an array of experiences and find ideas, resources, and connections to help them build K-12 STEAM education. Throughout the two-day conference, K-12 STEAM educators, staff, and leaders discovered solutions and innovative ways of leveraging immersive technology, community partnerships, citizenship, and diversity for the betterment of STEAM education.
Georgia Tech’s Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Steven W. McLaughlin, served as one of the conference keynote speakers.
“A strong K-12 educational system means more Georgia students are prepared and ready, and also see Georgia Tech as their school of choice and a place where they can thrive,” said McLaughlin. “Engaging students, long before they exit high school, with cutting-edge science and engineering, getting them excited about innovation and discovery, is one of the ways to make that happen. To do that, we need to support K-12 STEAM teachers with professional development opportunities and help them bring more technology, problem-based learning, and innovation into their classrooms.”
With an overarching focus on building leaders through authentic STEAM learning experiences in remote, blended, informal, and hybrid learning environments, four conference tracks highlighted key themes in K-12 STEAM education innovation: bringing informal educational practices into the formal classroom, developing and leveraging community partnerships, providing access to equitable STEAM education and civic engagement, and social justice pedagogy and practice.
Making the Informal Formal
In 2020, the pivot from the formal classroom to remote and hybrid learning environments highlighted the impact of learning that happens outside the confines of the classroom. It also made educators develop creative, innovative ways to connect with students and facilitate learning in an informal environment. Sessions in this conference track focused on ways to build upon informal learning experiences, including civic responsibility, community engagement, activism, and more.
For example, one informal learning experience that CEISMC provides for students is their Summer P.E.A.K.S. (Programs for Enrichment and Accelerated Knowledge in STEAM): one- to two-weeklong day camps for K-12 students featuring robotics, game and app development, digital design, atmospheric science, and sustainable energy programs. These will return to on-campus programming in July.
Additionally, during the pivot to remote learning in 2020, CEISMC staff and faculty developed and distributed more than 2,000 STEM learning kits to K-12 students and families across Georgia, and curated a set of STEM education resources for families home schooling. They also provided professional development on virtual teaching, lesson planning, and curriculum development for more than 1,300 teachers.
With the broader reach of virtual platforms, last year CEISMC staff were able to serve 62,500 K-12 students from Georgia, the U.S., and, for the first time, students in other countries as well. In fact, the response to CEISMC’s virtual programming was so positive that they plan to continue offering it regularly.
The Power of Community Partnerships
Connecting both community and business partners with practicing teachers, K-12 students, and university faculty and students can expand the skill sets, resources, and expertise of educators and leaders, further enhance their ability to connect with students, create meaningful learning experiences, and spark students’ interest in STEAM careers they might not have considered otherwise.
Through one such partnership, with Honeywell’s support, CEISMC provides Atlanta metro area teachers with innovative professional development in software engineering. Teachers attend a monthlong software engineering bootcamp on the Georgia Tech campus. The following fall, those teachers lead their middle and high school students in a competition to solve real-world problems using software engineering. A recently added leadership cohort will support teachers as they attain a computer science certification, further improving access to computer science coursework and careers.
Project CITIZEN: STEAM Education, Equity, and Access
Through its interdisciplinarity, STEAM education can be an avenue to support students as they learn to use their voices and actions to effect change in their communities and become well-informed, responsible, respectful, and civically engaged citizens. Sessions in this conference track focused on ways to create equitable STEAM education that teaches and fosters civic engagement.
One such effort is underway at Georgia Tech this year. In partnership with Amazon, the Institute is seeking to develop the coding skills of future socially conscious entrepreneurs through a music-mixing competition that features artists like Pharrell, Ciara, and Common. Winning middle and high school students receive $5,000 scholarships or grants to support startup businesses.
Fusing Social Justice and STEAM
Social justice movements have gained global traction and made a great impact on students and school communities. Part of the role of K-12 educators is to help students contextualize their current lived experiences and empower them to embrace their differences and gain new perspectives. Sessions in this conference track focused on ways to implement social justice pedagogy and praxis into STEAM education.
On Thursday, April 15, keynote speaker ReAnna Roby, postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University Peabody College, addressed reconstructing STEAM education into an equitable space for students. “I am challenging us to think about how we might reimagine our science and STEAM+ [education] broadly, because what we have currently does not work,” said Roby. “Those who would benefit are most disenfranchised.”
Some of those efforts to reimagine STEAM education are already underway. In honor of CEISMC’s 30th anniversary, this year the Center will launch a number of new initiatives that will provide scholarships and expand access to STEAM education and higher education for people of all backgrounds.
- In partnership with code.org, CEISMC plans to train more than 300 teachers across Georgia in coding and teaching computer science.
- With support from the Goizueta Foundation, CEISMC is also launching a new round of GoSTEAM for middle and high school teachers in Gwinnett, Clayton, and Atlanta Public Schools.
- With support from the Blank Foundation, CEISMC will continue its partnership with Atlanta Public Schools to offer a full range of summer STEM programming for more than 1,000 students in the Washington Cluster of schools.
- With a new grant from the National Science Foundation called Remezcla, CEISMC is expanding the Earsketch platform, a very popular music-mixing platform, to include Latin rhythms and instruments, to expand its appeal to an even larger number of K-12 students.
- The Georgia Tech Georgia Intern Fellowships will resume on-campus programming for its 30th year of operation as well. The program provides paid summer STEM internships in industry workplaces and university laboratories for K-12 science, mathematics, and technology teachers.