Article | Lynn Journal

STEM Week Begins as Hands-On Projects Align Classroom to Real World

Read this article in the Lynn Journal about the 2020 STEM Week Challenge!

October 21, 2020

Massachusetts kicks off the official start of STEM Week today, and Mass STEM Hub has already engaged more than 300 educators from over 200 schools to support hands-on, applied learning activities for K-12 students. Through three exciting project-based challenges, students at every grade level can ask questions and get real-world feedback from leading industry experts at partner organizations Partners In Health, Dell Technologies, New England Aquarium, IBM, and Bionic Project, Inc.

In total, more than 200 professionals across 61 Massachusetts businesses and organizations have signed up to serve as volunteer project judges.

“We worked with leaders from some of the top companies to create a meaningful, engaging applied learning experience,” said Joanna Jacobson, President of the One8 Foundation, which houses Mass STEM Hub. “K-12 students are presented with timely, real-world problems, and have the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from industry experts as they develop creative solutions.”

Over the past month, teachers who participated in Mass STEM Hub trainings – representing an estimated 35,000 students – have begun integrating the STEM Week Challenge into their virtual and in-person classrooms. Challenges are aligned to what students are learning in each grade and anchored in problems that are relevant to their communities, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Different prompts at each grade level were developed in collaboration with industry partners, as well as curriculum partners Innovative Learning Partners, PBLWorks, Project Lead The Way, and ST Math.

With the challenge underway, students and educators can log in to the “Ask-An-Expert Forum” – a secure website to ask questions of professionals and get advice on their work in progress. This real-time feedback loop helps to deepen learning and empower students to apply their knowledge and skills in a relevant, meaningful way. For example, one high school student from Nipmuc Regional High School in Upton inquired on the Forum about data encryption for their app design. Several industry experts replied with first-hand experience, helpful articles, and additional questions to consider.

Students in Grades 9-12 are developing apps to help slow the spread of COVID-19 after learning from experts at Partners In Health, a leader in COVID-19 contact tracing.

Students also learned from experts from IBM iX, the business design arm of IBM Services, how to apply design thinking to their app designs. Winners of the challenge will also have the opportunity to work with IBM iX designers to further their app development.

“We’re thrilled that these amazing students are designing for communities in Massachusetts,” says Dr. Emily Wroe, Director of Implementation and Design for the Massachusetts contact tracing program at Partners In Health. “Partners In Health has been working in social justice and global health for three decades, and we’ve seen over and over again that the best solutions to any problems are always deeply rooted in the community, and are truly human-centered.”

“As an industry design thinking partner for the STEM Week Challenge, we are proud to play a part in helping young people build empathy with users, reflect on the insights they uncover, flex their creativity and solve problems collaboratively and iteratively – the core tenets of design thinking,” said Gorham Palmer, IBM Distinguished Designer. “These are skills that will help them think bigger, serving them well not only in school today but also the opportunities ahead of them.”

At the middle school level, students are using the engineering design process to develop an adaptive device for individuals with paralysis. Experts from Dell Technologies and the Bionic Project, Inc. are supporting this challenge. Winners will be awarded the chance to attend a showcase to present their ideas and discuss design with Dell Technologies executives.

“We’re asking young people to consider accessibility challenges – to consider a different perspective – and then develop a human-centered, responsive solution that could make a real difference in another person’s life,” said Will Borden, Director of Bionic Project, Inc. “There are so many fulfilling opportunities worth exploring in the STEM fields, and we hope this experience will unlock those rewarding possibilities for students.”

With support from the New England Aquarium, students in Grades K-5 are designing and developing games that teach math concepts while having fun. Winners will be invited to share their designs with the New England Aquarium community.

“Students decide early on whether or not math and science is ‘for them,’ but through fun and rigorous experiences like the STEM Week Challenge, kids are learning and practicing the same skills our team uses every day,” said Vikki N. Spruill, President and CEO of the New England Aquarium. “Through applied learning, we can keep students engaged and equip them with the tools they need to be the future stewards of our oceans and environment, and future leaders in STEM.”

Students will continue to exchange ideas and questions with industry partners until they submit their projects by Oct. 23. All students who submit projects will receive tailored feedback from industry professionals, helping to realize the connection between classroom projects and real-world applications of their designs. Winners of the STEM Week Challenge will be announced in November at a live virtual event.

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