Wow! Ed: Newsletter from the Center for Educational Improvment
In This Issue

Christine Mason joins Helen Soule, Aaron Brengard, Beth Lee, Jill Flanders, Greg Egnor, and Jacqueline Luzak
for presentations on
21st Century Learning, July 6 and 7 at the

Heart Beaming: Certification, Request for Regional Leaders (Scroll down page)

CEI offering STEAM for Elementary Teachers Fall 2016

Debbie Anderson, Principal, Rhea Valley Elementary School, Meadowview, VA wins CEI subscription to Thrivist (CEI 21st Century Tool) at VAESP conference

Dear Educators,
If you are expanding your STEM/STEAM program next year, there are numerous considerations. Will your approach match your state's Science and Math standards? How do these standards overlay with the Next Gen standards and what do you do if there are conflicts? Should you use a published curriculum? At what age should you start? Will it be worth the effort?

Answers to some of the above questions are not yet known. However, from CEI's research and investigation to date, we believe it is fair to say, if implemented as intended, STEM activities will result in:
  • Greater student engagement
  • More hands on learning experiences. These often deepen student understanding and engagement.
  • More student interest in STEM/STEAM.
  • Better environmental awareness and responsibility for this planet.
  • Greater student curiosity and creativity.
  • Better preparation for 21st Century living and careers.
Whether it is upping STEM creativity with art, creating impressive 21st Century experiences with tools such as 3D printers, or helping students direct their own STEM activities, STEM/STEAM can revitalize classrooms, energize students and teachers and lead to more innovative, creative classrooms.

Will your school be the school that could? The school that is pushing into new 21st Century territories?  
Exciting STEM Education
By Donald Kim, CEI Intern
Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) is on the minds of educators nationwide. This past December the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed. ESSA places more influence over education in the hands of states and localities. The act also contained substantial funds and policies that can increase quality and quantity of STEM instruction, amongst other things. But for a while now, there has been a lot of advocacy for increaing the quality of STEM in schools. These STEM-ed organizations range from local to national, from workshops to advocacy groups. Many of these organizations are aiming to innovate the way STEM is taught.

Innovative Approaches - Skills 21
Skills 21 is an organization that is taking a unique approach to STEM education. Skills 21 provides STEM programs to increase academic achievement and interest. The organization is now making a shift from research based labs to learning suites. What this means is that Skills 21 is developing comprehensive digital tools for different age groups. Specifically they are developing "School Fuel" for PreK-3rd grade, "STEM Quest" for 3rd to 6th, and "Launchpad" for 6th-16th grade.
  • "School Fuel" is a program schools can partake in and Skills 21 curated apps and tablets to help students master grade level subjects.

  • "STEM Quest" is a practical expression of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). NGSS is an open and collaborative state-led set of standards for STEM.
  • "STEM Quest" includes virtual reality, mobile learning expeditions, and tools for teachers. This comes out Fall 2016. Finally, Launchpad is a "digital-learning platform supporting student led innovation and design." Included are 30+ courses, learning tools, mentor connections, and team profiles.
Aside from these special mobile app-based programs, Skills 21 holds their yearly "Expo Fest." This year the Expo Fest will be held in the Oakdale Theater in Connecticut from May 13-14th. At this event students can compete in 10 different challenge categories. This year's innovation challenge is "Empathy by Design." The Expo allows students to "showcase their innovative, cross-curricular products, services, community actions, digital media, and film programs." According to their website there are over 2000 attendees with 70+ teams participating, and up to 75 judges that are professionals in their respective fields. And at Expo Fest or other academic competitions you might see judges using "Trackpad," an assessment tool for academic competitions that enables real time assessment, customizable rubrics, and reports.

Why the Push for STEM?

There are many reasons why STEM is an important area of education to address. Improvements in STEM education lead to improvements in not only STEM related fields, but other fields as well in the long run. Taking Pixar for example, innovation in STEM can lead to innovation in art. But another important consideration is the increasing need for jobs in STEM fields (Kelly, 2012). Unemployment is commonly split into 3 different types:
  • Frictional unemployment, which is unemployment due to the transition between jobs
  • Cyclical unemployment, which is unemployment due to the natural ups and downs of the economy
  • Structural unemployment, which is unemployment due to mismatches in the needs of employers and skills of those looking for work.
For the most part Frictional unemployment is steady and low, and cyclical unemployment is not really something institutions can control. But structural unemployment is something that can be helped, because STEM jobs (especially computer related jobs) are set to grow substantially in the next 10 years.The projected average growth rate for jobs from 2014-2024 (Job Outlook) is 7%. Job Outlook for Software Developers is 17%. For Web developers it's 27%. For Information Security it is 18%. For Computer systems analysts it's 21%. For physicians and surgeons, it is 14%. Compare these to other jobs like Lawyers with a job outlook at 6%, architects at 7%, Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents at 10%. The development of STEM education has certainly come a long way. And hopefully with the efforts of organizations like Skills 21, the leaders of the future will be eager and able to use STEM to do great things.


Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015, December 17). Occupational Outlook Handbook.
Kelly, B. (2012, April 27). What STEM is - and why we care.
When it Comes to STEM/STEAM, CEI is on a Roll!
By: Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director
Are you looking for STEM/STEAM innovations? Are you tired of perusing websites, searching for ways to integrate STEM/STEAM into your schools? And if you are like educators we know, once you have been to 2-3 websites you may realize that you simply don't have time for an adequate review. You may be uncertain about whether to grow your own curriculum and lessons or use a formal published curriculum. With these considerations all of sudden the variables of importance to help guide decisions is multiplied. The curriculum may be good but it can be expensive, it can be rigid. You might want the freedom of your own approach, but creating your own scope and sequence and lesson plans can be labor intensive.

So what do you do? You know the drill: Compare the pros and cons of each approach, weigh the importance of specific feature, ask the opinions of others, think of needed modifications, for your school or class, etc., etc., etc., and perhaps along the way, you end up with analysis paralysis.

Let Experience Guide You. This month I waited until the last moment to overcome my inclination to do nothing. And I am grateful I did. Thinking of all the STEM topics CEI could choose to write about, I realized the value of an experiential approach with STEM/STEAM. 

So here is an update on some of the latest STEM/STEAM Innovations:

Indicators of STEM/STEAM implementation. CEI incorporated STEM/STEAM in our latest CEI 21st Century Learning Tool. CEI is now teaming with ClassGather and Thrivist and with their help, our 85-page rubric has been converted to 78 tools, including several tools for planning for and monitoring STEM implementation.

STEM/STEAM in Early Childhood. With Orinthia Harris and Brandi Carrington, CEI provided workshops for early childhood teachers in Washington DC. Over the course of five months, we have offered five workshops. As part of our work, Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School served as a demonstration site. Four early childhood teachers from this school attended the sessions. Amy Quinn, International Baccalaureate Curriculum Coordinator at this school explained the value of our efforts this way: 

"I see a difference in how my PreK teachers approach their units of inquiry that are science/STEM focused after their participation in your workshops. They are quicker to work with ideas and strategies to engage the students in the learning, that are allowing the students to develop their understanding rather than telling the students the information."

There are a million and one ways to incorporate STEAM into early childhood. We are finding that STEAM activities are well-suited to early childhood learning centers, imaginative play, and integrating art and dance with counting and math patterns as well increasing vocabulary. In the pictures below, students created their own insects and were involved in math measurement.
Orinthia Harris, Presenting at DC Early Childhood STEM
Students, Washington Yu Ying Charter School
STEM: Student, Washington Yu Ying Charter School

Making 3D Printers.
I recently attended an international STEM festival in Washington DC. The festival contained over a 3,000 fun, hands-on learning activities for kids. The one exhibit that caught my eye was "Imade3D."

Imade3D has developed JellyBox 3D printers for schools. These printers are heavy duty, durable acrylic and can be put together in 9 hours or less. They are designed specifically for students to gain experience assembling and disassembling as well as printing from the 3D printers. I attended, along with two of my colleagues: Orinthia Harris and Getachew Amare. With about 20 other participants we learned how to assemble the JellyBox 3D printers. In the pictures below, you will see Getachew and others with our JellyBox printers in various stages of development. Also pictured are Becky, a high school sophomore who serves as a resource to her school and also Virginia Tech, and her 10-year-old brother John who participated with us. 

You can gain more information on the JellyBox 3D printer program for schools by contacting CEI or Imade3D. (Please indicate that you learned about their printers through CEI.)
Should We Add the "A" to STEM?
By Sheri Brick, CEI Intern
The acronym STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) has been upgraded and the movement has, literally and figuratively, gained STEAM. Integrating arts education into STEM programs has been increasing in popularity despite opposition from critics. Schools that have adopted the STEAM program use arts to inspire creative thinking, different forms of expression, and design processes to form or improve a product. Many critics do not devalue the needs of arts education skills in STEM education. Anne Jolly (Ed week) reported that they do believe that art, like language arts and social studies, is a natural part of every step of the STEM process and it should not take away from the emphasis on STEM subjects (November, 2014). Is the "A" a benefit or distraction? 

The Facts

In the Federal Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education 5-Year Strategic Plan, a 2013 report by the Committee on STEM Education National Science and Technology Council, it was noted that the need for STEM participation in the 21st century workforce is critical, but participation is a major concern. Here are some alarming facts cited in the 2013 report:
  • Fewer than 40 percent of students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field complete a STEM degree.
  • Women who make up nearly 50 percent of the U.S. workforce and a majority of college students hold less than 25 percent of STEM jobs and earn less than one in five bachelor's degrees in high growth fields like computer science and engineering.
  • Just 2.2 percent of Hispanics or Latinos, 2.7 percent of African Americans, and 3.3 percent of Native Americans or Alaskan Natives have earned a university degree in natural sciences or engineering by age 24.
  • Data also shows that students with disabilities represent four percent of students taking Algebra II, chemistry, and physics, 0.1 percent of students taking calculus, and eight percent of students taking biology.
Government and education leaders see STEM education as a critical investment to ensure that our future leaders are prepared for and inspired to be successful in STEM fields. Can we invest in the "A" as well?

The "A" is a Distraction 
In an article by Education Week, both STEM and arts proponents have argued against the inclusion of "A."
  • Some STEM proponents see it as a distraction from the core subjects of STEM.
  • They feel that the true mission of STEM, which is to prepare students to be successful in STEM careers, will be downplayed when arts comes into the picture.
  • Some arts proponents see it as a distraction from art's true purpose and importance.
  • Critics feel that art will only be associated with STEM innovation. "However, because there are only so many hours in the school day, one consequence of increasing instruction in the STEM areas has been to decrease instructional time in stand-alone arts classes. Tight budgets and high-stakes testing in reading and mathematics have furthered this regrettable trend." (Sousa and Pilecki, 2013).
The "A" is a Benefit

STEAM enthusiasts see art as a platform for STEM success. They don't see it as time taken away from the four core subjects, but as an integral step in the STEM process.
  • Since STEM is an already integrated approach, in which students solve a technology or engineering problem using a design thinking process that involves STEM understanding, it can only benefit students to learn and apply creative thinking and design skills to the process.
  • At the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) they see such a need for art in STEAM that they created the STEM to STEAM initiative. The website highlights a myriad of examples of how arts and design in partnership with STEM can lead to true innovation.
  • Supporters also see the A as a way to attract interest in STEM. The creativity and design piece will encourage and inspire more students to want to engage in STEM activities, including minorities, women, and students with disabilities, especially those who have interest, skills or experiences in the arts.
    Adejoke Tugbiyele, "Water Go Find Enemy," 2013. Perforated metal (drains), palm stems, copper wire, permanently colored brass wire 175 x 100 x 35cm.
    Boston Arts Academy
  • RISD and the Boston Arts Academy (BAA) are two programs committed to merging the arts with STEM. At BAA over 70% of the students come from low-income families and 60 % of the students are female. STEAM initiatives are being created in the form of "makerspaces", STEAM labs, all across the country in schools, universities, camps, etc. to inspire and bring opportunity for integrative learning.
  • Using 3D printers and other technology, DeSoto West Middle School students are creating imagined cities in their iSTEAM 3D Magnet Academy. The art component of the project is essential to the design and development of the cities. In their STEAM education program, art is also critical to the presentation aspect of a project. Student create skits, songs, poems, etc. to showcase the work they have done and what they have learned.
No matter which side of the debate you are on, we need to work together to create meaningful and effective experiences that will encourage students to want to pursue the education they need to prepare them for 21st century jobs. Now that is something we can agree on. 

Sousa, D. A. and Pilecki, T. (2013). Can STEM really succeed?. PBS
"Dream a Little STEAM for Schools"

Stars shining bright above you,
Night breezes seeming to whisper "21st Century"
Students engaging in virtual classrooms
Dream a little STEAM for Schools...

Sweet Dreams, til sunbeams find you
Gotta keep dreaming, leave all archaic lessons behind you,
But in your STEAM, whatever it may be
Dream a little 21st Century
Make me a promise, dream a little more STEAM for schools.

Apologies to Ella Fitzgerald and Mama Cass.


Christine Mason
Center for Educational Improvement