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With more than six million Twitter followers, Neil Degrasse Tyson is a prolific voice of the digital zeitgeist with tweets ranging from his take on the World Series to Batman vs. Superman. Though he often weighs in on pop-culture moments, his posts are typically anchored within the context of his background as an astrophysicist, running the gamut of space travel, natural history and mathematical data.  His career reflects the perfect amalgam of STEM education, which encompasses science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  In recent years, STEM has become more of a focus for educators, as the need for literacy in these areas has increased with globalization and a highly competitive economy. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs was three times as fast as growth in non-STEM jobs. With these skills at a premium, the key to meeting the demand for talent in this sector is early outreach to students—as well as educators—to create access to these programs and encourage participation in this field.

STEM Ideas in Education

STEM-based curriculum is gaining traction in many schools as educators recognize the benefits beyond just the output. Through these project-based programs, students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills and how to work collaboratively, experience that translates to any future profession.  In response, schools are finding new ways to bring engineering and math to life, including the creation of “maker spaces” in addition to implementing STEM curriculum.  Within these learning environments, educators pose real-life challenges—such as saving endangered species or improving air quality—that require problem solving through the application of science, math and engineering, incorporating technology as a tool to help facilitate the process and even as a means to communicate the solution.

Technology as Teaching Tool

A STEM project typically begins with a brainstorming session, which may include storyboarding as well as using graph paper and notepads to sketch, draw diagrams and jot down notes. Though research supports the practice of handwriting notes versus typing them (for greater retention, comprehension), smartpads, such as the Bamboo Slate and Bamboo Folio, offer the benefit of handwriting plus the technology that allows users to save files digitally as well as edit, organize and share with others. These smartpads work with regular paper and a smart pen to capture ideas, then with the touch of a button, you can save files locally or when paired with compatible apps, convert text to type, quickly search through notes, annotate documents and collaborate with multiple users on a single design or drawing.  Both the Bamboo Folio, which comes with a protective cover, and the Bamboo Slate, accommodate regular paper in both half- and full-size sheets and are lightweight and portable.

Brian S. Friedlander Bamboo smartpadsOne proponent of incorporating this kind of technology into the learning environment is Brian S. Friedlander, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Education at the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey. Friedlander shows educators how to bring assistive technology into classrooms to support student learning, encouraging the use of technology to enhance the ideation process for students across multiple disciplines. He’s found success in pairing a Bamboo Slate with a high-quality notepad such as one by Rhodia, which comes in blank, lined, grid or dot pages. He believes it’s important for kids to be able to express their ideas without distraction, from say a laptop or tablet, for what he considers “unencumbered” brainstorming. He recalls that early innovators such as Thomas Edison often used journals to document progress from ideas to solutions.  Keeping a diary such as this is still relevant, however with a Bamboo Slate and a Rhodia notepad, students can upgrade how they capture and share thoughts and ideas, like posting an infographic to social media—a journal entry for the digital set.

STEM Education for Real Life

Creating leaders who are proficient in STEM starts with educators who can inspire and engage students through hands-on learning and by nurturing the social and emotional skills required to work through real-life challenges. It’s also important to offer access to the right tools that will help bridge the gap between ideas and solutions. Technology, like Bamboo smartpads, provides the platform for innovative ideas to take shape, turning abstract concepts into something more visual and tangible.

While not every STEM student will have the Twitter following of Neil Degrasse Tyson, they can still play a significant role in steering a new way of thinking to find solutions for the important issues we face today and help create a better world for everyone, in the 21st century and beyond.

To learn more about STEM in education visit http://www.ed.gov/stem


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