Author Archives: Julie Evans

The Drivers of STEAM Education: Findings from Speak Up

Project Tomorrow has been conducting the Speak Up survey for 15 years now, collecting feedback from more than 5 million individuals during that time. We’ve been asking about STEAM (and STEM) issues over all those years. I was invited to present some of the STEAM findings in a webcast for the STEAM Universe: STEAM Research from the Front Lines: The Impact of STEAM on Teachers, Students, Administrators and Parents. You can find a recording of that session here:

As discussed during the webcast, these are some of the STEAM-related trends we’ve seen in recent years from our surveys of students, parents and educators:

  • Greater emphasis on students’ global skill preparation
  • New expectations from parents for skill development & digital learning
  • Value of personalized learning on the rise with new learning models
  • Students as content creators, not just consumers
  • Increasing criticality for connectivity at school and home
  • Learning as a 24/7 enterprise for students
  • Getting beyond assumptions & myths on career exploration

The webcast covered a number of topics, but I wanted to share some of the findings here behind what we see as four drivers of interest in and implementation of STEAM education:

1) Administrators’ desire to close the achievement gap and level the education playing field

Across all types of school districts (urban, suburban and rural), half of administrators told us that closing the achievement gap is one of the top issues that “wake them up at night.” And, when we asked what has the greatest potential to enhance their students’ achievement, their top four solutions were:

  • Enhancing teacher effectiveness
  • Integrating college and career ready skills within curriculum
  • Increasing STEM career exploration activities for students
  • Leveraging digital tools, products and solutions more effectively

When we look at these solutions, it is also important to look at some additional Speak Up feedback. For instance, no matter how we ask it, the top technology-related challenge that principals say they face is motivating teachers to change their practices to use technology in the classroom. Combine that with the top concern parents have about technology use in school – that technology use varies to much from teacher-to-teacher – and we see a common theme. (I wrote more about this issue earlier this year: Teachers’ Readiness and Willingness to Adopt Digital Tools for Learning.)

2) Parents’ concerns about their child’s future

Also driving STEAM education is parents’ growing concerns about their children being ready to compete in the future. We asked a more broad question of parents about what worries them about their child’s future. The top response was “My child is not learning the right skills in school needed to be successful in the future.” We were surprised to see this across the board: 58% of elementary school parents, 58% of middle school parents and 54% of high school parents. We also saw no difference in this finding when we looked at parents’ income levels or type of school (urban, suburban, rural). We even saw this in a survey we conducted in Mexico. It’s a global concern.

3) Need to integrate the development of college and career-ready skills into everyday curriculum

We asked parents and administrators about what the “right skills” are that students should be learning and we saw a lot of agreement.

workplace skills parents and administrators think students need

We also asked “what are the best ways for students to develop these “right skills?” Parents and administrators value the same experiences:

  • Work experience – job, internship, volunteering
  • Using technology regularly within school
  • Project-based learning experiences
  • Learning coding or computer programming
  • Taking advanced science and math courses
  • Taking career technical education courses
  • Doing real research or scientific experiments
  • Pursuing artistic or performance interests

4) Means to increase the effectiveness of the use of technology within the learning experience

And, that list leads us to the fourth driver we are seeing behind STEAM education. “Using technology regularly within school” was behind only work experience, according to parents and administrators, as the best way to learn the skills students will need in the future. Administrators tell me that STEAM education can be the means to increase the effectiveness of the use of technology within the learning experience. They see that STEAM education is a way to realize greater impact and to be able to measure that impact more effectively.

Speak Up 2017 includes new questions about why math matters, how students can best learn math concepts and interest in STEAM careers. We look forward to learning from all of the education stakeholders who will share their views between now and January 2018, and in sharing those national findings.

Speak Up 7 for 2017: Top digital learning trends in K-12 schools today

Each year, the Speak Up Research Project for Digital Learning polls K-12 students, parents, and educators about the role of technology for learning in and out of school. This survey represents the largest collection of authentic, unfiltered stakeholder voices on digital learning. Since fall 2003, more than 5 million K-12 students, parents, teachers, librarians, principals, technology leaders, district administrators, communications officers, and members of the community have shared their views and ideas through Speak Up.

Following are seven trends we are watching based on the more than 514,000 Speak Up surveys submitted from educators, students and parents from October 2016 to January 2017.

1. Funding, the achievement gap and staff morale top the list of superintendents’ concerns.

Over the last six years, the same six issues have topped this list of “what wakes superintendents up at night,” but the levels of concern have intensified.

In 2010, Superintendents said:In 2016, Superintendents said:
Funding (51%)Funding (64%)
Test scores (44%)Achievement gap (48%)
Achievement gap (39%)Staff morale (43%)
Staff morale (39%)College and career skills (38%)
College and career skills (20%)Teacher recruitment (38%)
Teacher recruitment (16%)Test scores (35%)

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Teachers’ Readiness and Willingness to Adopt Digital Tools for Learning

At the ASU GSV Summit this week, we explored the current state of teachers’ readiness and willingness to adopt digital tools for learning with Alan Arkatov from USC Rossier School of Education, Ann Linson from East Noble School Corporation and Jessie Woolley-Wilson from DreamBox Learning.

Everyone see lots of technology in schools these days, but is that technology also changing teaching and learning? The classrooms of today still look a whole lot like the classrooms of yesterday:

Yes, the chalkboard is a white board and paper and pencils have been replaced with laptops, but other than that? Beyond the physical differences we see in classrooms, the other changes we have seen are minimal – despite the opportunities technology presents to transform learning.

While new Speak Up data shows us evidence of external indicators of change, they also indicate the lack of real systematic changes in activities, attitudes or aspirations of teachers. More than 38,000 teachers shared their views as part of the Speak Up 2016 Research Project for Digital Learning from October 2016 to January 2017.

More than two-thirds of teachers report external indicators of change:

  • Using more videos in the classroom
  • Texting with colleagues
  • Relying upon cloud applications more
  • Being in classrooms with student access to devices

But fewer than one-third say they:

  • Use online primary sources within instruction
  • Facilitate a class blog or discussion forum
  • Use an online curriculum with students
  • Create investigations for students w/digital tools
  • Engage in online professional learning communities

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Students’ perceptions of school vs. learning – not the same thing!

Special release of selected California Speak Up 2016 data for the CUE 2017 National Conference

While 84 percent of California middle school students say that doing well in school is important to them, their interest in school vs. learning mirrors what George Couros has often talked about as a fundamental divide. For example, 57 percent of California middle school students like learning about new ideas, 62 percent like learning how to make or build things and 70 percent say that they like learning how to do things. However, only 49 percent are interested in what they are learning at school, and only a slight majority (52 percent) says that the subjects they are learning in school are important for their future.

But, is this disconnect in name only? Do the students’ belief statements really align with their actions or is this just the latest example of a generational angst?

Consider this: while one-third of students in middle schools and high schools in California admit that they are bored at school, 75 percent are regularly sourcing and watching online videos outside of school, on their own, to learn about things that interest them. Four in ten middle school students are using social media to learn about people’s ideas and to identify people who share their learning interests, not just posting selfies and random comments about celebrities. And, this may come as a surprise to some English teachers, 45 percent of California students are tapping into online writing sites to self-improve their writing skills.

This self-directed learning is purposeful and most importantly it is driven by the students themselves around what they perceive as learning needs or interests. This self-learning imperative actually represents a very organic form of self-blended, personalized learning empowered by a ubiquitous access to technology and an overwhelming hunger for information, knowledge and learning experiences that are more challenging and meaningful than what is happening in the classrooms at their school.

View our infographic: California Speaks Up! Results from Speak Up 2016 at CUE 2017

The same is true today for career exploration – students are more likely to want to find and watch a video about an aspect of a career that interests them or take an online personalized quiz to learn about their strengths than attend a standardized one size fits all after school program or summer camp for career exploration.

This disconnect is also manifesting itself in how students are doing homework. Sensing that in many communities, teachers were still reluctant to assign digitally based or internet based homework for a number of reasons including equity of access, the Speak Up surveys this fall probed on the frequency of the use of digital tools and the Internet outside of school.

First, we asked teachers how often they assigned homework or projects that relied upon digital tools or the Internet. Then, we asked school site administrators that same question about their teachers. Finally, we asked students how often they used the Internet or digital resources to support their homework or school related assignments. Here are the results for California:

  • Just 8 percent of teachers say that they assign digital homework daily or almost daily (for CUE members that jumps to 20 percent). 18 percent of teachers say that they assign digital homework at least weekly (34 percent for CUE members).
  • About 16 percent of school site administrators say their teachers are assigning digital or Internet dependent homework on a daily basis (almost 30% of administrators who are CUE members believe this to be the case for their teachers). One-third of school site administrators say their teachers are assigning digital or Internet dependent homework at least weekly (and half of administrators who are CUE members).

So, already we see a disconnect between teachers and administrators – and even CUE members – on perception vs. actual practice.

But here is the real rub: 40 percent of California middle school students say they are using the Internet daily to complete homework (and 67 percent say they are using the Internet several times a week). We see similar findings of high school students: 42 percent say they use the Internet for homework daily, and even for students in grades 3-5, 22 percent say they use the Internet daily for schoolwork).

Speak Up 2016: How often do California teachers assign homework assignments that require Internet access? How often do California middle school students use the Internet to do homework?

This makes the disconnect between teachers and administrators look like a narrow statistical gap while the difference between teachers and students is an imposing chasm.

Students are using the Internet to support school-based learning at almost 4 times the rate in which teachers say they are assigning those types of activities. Why is this? Because quite simply, as the students explain to us every year, the use of digital tools:

  • puts the students in control of their learning,
  • makes the learning process more efficient, and
  • personalizes the experience in a way that fits their needs, in a way that we are not yet replicating in the classroom.

This use of technology in learning has evolved way beyond engagement – for the students it has always been about their vision for a new type of learning experience that is socially-based, un-tethered and real world relevant.

Do our teachers and administrators know about this reality, and if so, how are they adapting to this sea change in their learning lives of our students? How are they moving from a school-centered rules and procedures to a focus on the student learning experience? How are they incorporating information such as the Speak Up Research about how our students are self-directing learning using digital tools and resources to transform the learning experiences for all students?

Lots of important questions. It is our nonprofit mission at Project Tomorrow to help every school and district find answers to these challenges. You can learn more about our work, the Speak Up data and how your school and district can gain free access to similar data about your students at our website www.tomorrow.org.

Download the related infographic on California Speak Up 2016 data.