STEM Promotes Equity and Opportunity in Learning Environments

GA Backyard Blizzard - STEM_opt (2)

RIISE is grateful for the opportunity to connect our dynamically rigorous school communities with diverse thought leaders (Tx, Gloria Fernández Tearte!).
Greenwich Academy is a leader in advancing STEM education through, 
The GAINS (Girls Advancing in STEM) Network, founded by Greenwich Academy, an online social network for girls and women with a passion for science, technology, engineering, and math; and through GATE which hosts local students fostering academic excellence and the joy of discovery through experiential learning and integrated units of study for girls ages 7 to 13. Yvonne Thevenot, M.Ed. is founder and Executive Director of STEM Kids NYC, an education company that bridges the gap between the current curriculum in schools and the immediate need for schools to prepare students for STEM opportunities. 

 

STEM Promotes Equity and Opportunity in Learning Environments
[Blog post, derived from the November 21 Robotics Competition at Greenwich Academy, by Yvonne Thevenot, M.Ed., Founder and Executive Director of STEM Kids NYC]

From infancy, all children continually observe and actively explore their environments with all their senses and process the information to make sense of the world. Educational environments, including those at home, should take advantage of this natural, inborn pattern recognition ability to help children further develop their intuitive feel for the STEM fields.  I am an educator who believes that all students are capable of acquiring knowledge, and I firmly believe that it is the area of STEM that enables all children to realize their natural ability to acquire knowledge.

I cannot imagine a more important role in education than opening up students’ eyes to the fact that we as humans can understand how things work the way they do. It is in the scientific inquiry that opens up horizons, teaches us to honor our environment, and enables us to be ready to solve problems or create opportunities that fill a specific need. Every passing day, month, and year, the wonderful world of STEM opens our eyes to what might be, because of what we learn now.  Why aren’t more schools providing for this opportunity?

 

On Saturday, November 21, I witnessed an inspiring event within the world of STEM.

At the Greenwich Academy’s 4th annual Backyard Blizzard, I saw and participated within an environment that appeared to be one that cultivates a community of learners on a continual basis.  I saw students sharing, through their enlivened spirits, the engineering strengths of their robots, and demonstrating to the judges their proficiency in technology, core values, and teamwork, all the while presenting the best view of their project that existed. I even saw students who were not even in the robotics competition swarming to our STEM Kids NYC table to hack their own app, and remained engaged with their hacking – even when it was time for lunch. I noticed one key reality – equity was at play in the gymnasium at Greenwich Academy’s 4th annual robotics competition.  Equity in the form of multinational teams, co-gender teams, and all girl teams, of multiple nationalities.  I saw coaches who were male, female, and of multiple nationalities.  My observations did not match the reality of the STEM world, where those who occupy STEM jobs are 96% white and 70% male.   I often wonder – why aren’t more schools providing an opportunity or environment that cultivates a community of learners that supports their natural knack for tinkering, asking questions, or exploring ideas through their own natural creativity and promoting equity in the classroom?

Greenwich Academy’s Backyard Blizzard provided a space by which teams of young engineers from Greenwich Academy and from various Connecticut schools and community based organizations gathered together to demonstrate what they had learned in their multi-week project that involved acquiring knowledge about basic engineering, design, and coding concepts.  This event that enabled all who sought to participate in it a chance at experiencing equity and opportunity in its most organic state, resulted in the students building a robot or hacking an app that performed a series of tasks.  Throughout the event, creativity, teamwork, and pride consumed the atmosphere. It was contagious. Based upon what I witnessed and experienced at the wonderfully organized event, I forgot about the statistics that often make me uncomfortable and what inspired me to found STEM Kids NYC while on vacation last summer.

At STEM Kids NYC, we partner with schools to help build a bridge between their curriculum and the immediate need to prepare students for STEM opportunities.  In 2016, we’ll partner with organizations like RIISE and their families, so that more students within the RIISE network are exposed to STEM opportunities, such as the hackathon led by us at Greenwich Academy, and so we can help families foster a more “STEM-inspired “ learning environment at home.  That way, our RIISE network of scholars will build an even stronger academic portfolio to share, during the application process, with the numerous private and independent schools within our network.

In addition, STEM  in a student life gives this student an ability to apply math in all of what they do, including sports. For example, if they knew the approximate angle and parabola measurement of their basketball shot, then they are likely to land a bank shot.  Geometry and basketball go together.  Further, when a student learns to code, even as early as 6, this will guarantee that she or he will develop the skills to be greater than a Bill Gates or a Mark Zuckerberg – because they would have started coding earlier than these tech giants did.  Still further, every student should have a science kit at home, and should be encouraged to ask any number of questions about their living environment, and then generate experiments to find the answers.

To be sure, involving STEM in a student’s life will result in their acquiring a STEM identity of themselves, which is someone who is capable of performing successfully in a STEM field – as a scientist, technology professional, engineer, or mathematician.  The more exposure to STEM in a student’s world, will dispel the current inequity that permeates the industry, and will ensure that more students realize the opportunities that are available to them in the world of STEM.

 

 

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