Thursday, April 26, 2012


American school children need better educational opportunities and more compelling forms of exposure to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)—and to the people who work in these fields. [snip]. This crisis in STEM education is colliding with, and being compounded by, grim economic realities in most U.S. states. As a country, we are poised to expend fewer resources on one of our most pressing long-term educational and economic challenges. The National Academies have likened this crisis to a rapidly approaching, category-5 hurricane.

MIT has a unique relationship to these issues. We don’t have a STEM problem. As a world leader in engineering and science education and research we continue to attract a strong, diverse, and technically superb applicant pool. [snip].

In December, 2011, Ian Waitz, MIT’s Dean of Engineering, launched the MIT-K12 project, driven by a series of questions: How can we change the perception of the role of engineers and scientists in the world? What can MIT do, right now, to improve STEM education at the K12 level? What if MIT became a publicly accessible “experiential partner” to the country’s K12 educators? What if MIT students generated short-form videos to complement the work those educators are already doing in their classrooms and homes?


The Pilots: Our own learning starts at home

Since July 2011, we have successfully implemented two pilot rounds of video production by MIT students. [snip].

We also conducted a formal assessment of these videos, creating an online survey for students, which generated 300 responses, and a version for K12 teachers to use after viewing the videos with their classes. The results of the surveys bore out most of our objectives. For example, while nearly 90% of student respondents indicated that the videos “showed me that science and engineering could be cool,” the teachers’ survey indicated that the program would benefit from more direct involvement with educators during the assignment phase. [snip].

We were able to integrate some of this learning before we initiated the second round of pilot videos. For round 2, we provided students with more support on production and pedagogy and settled on a “classic experiments” theme for the videos. The participating students responded very favorably to the additional support, and the quality and range of the videos submitted for the second round significantly exceeded that of the first.

Applying what we learned, learning from ourselves, and making something BIG

Providing educators from around the country a productive pathway into MIT and effectively supplementing their classroom needs is not so daunting a challenge — all we need to do is ask them. After consulting with a number of MIT’s 73 existing internal K12 outreach programs, we discovered that many outreach relationships already exist within the Institute, they just aren’t configured to this purpose. There is a network of several thousand MIT alumni who focus on K12 education; the Blossoms program provides 50-minute science and math video lessons to high-schools, the Edgerton Center and the Office of Engineering Outreach Programs run a variety of programs that engage K12 teachers by delivering supplementary engineering and science programming to their students; the Scheller Teacher Education Program licenses K12 teachers in mathematics or science instruction for grades 5-12—this is just to name a few; there are many more.

By leveraging existing connections within our own networks and catalyzing new ones, MIT will respond to the needs of students and teachers and establish relationships between the MIT students creating content and the people who will ultimately use it. The model for MIT-K12 has the potential to scale-up quickly; we will harness the energy of 10,000 of the brightest young engineers and scientists in the world.

Harnessing Smart Crowds

Our goal is to develop and host an open platform for crowd-curated content relevant to K12 STEM education. Our efforts will not only allow us to identify specific and advantageous areas for student work, they will also allow us to create a sense of community around this work, and its effects, among educators and students at every level.

A crucial component in the success of MIT-K12 will lie in the program’s ability to make MIT “available” to educators and to catalyze contributions from outside MIT. [snip]

MIT-K12 will be an avenue for determining how to best assist teachers because it will be comprised of tools and systems that will allow educators from anywhere in the world to submit requests for demonstrations of scientific principles or experiments. Since MIT-K12 will also accept suggestions from other field experts, it will also provide educators with an environment where they can learn from each other about ways in which to improve pedagogical practices and techniques. [snip].


Crowds + Partners = Efficiency

Given the scale of the problem MIT-K12 is hoping to address, we are extremely wary of models or interventions that implicate administrative costs and overhead. In this space, a successful model is one that costs less per educational output over time, and with increased adoption, not more. By using a crowd-sourcing model to solicit, curate, and manage the content of this project, we can reduce both the administrative and promotional burdens that would normally be associated with such a large and ambitious undertaking.


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