In April 2023, hundreds of STEM educators and advocates from across the US gathered in Jacksonville, Florida for the annual STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice convening. Inspired by the themes Ideate, Innovate, and Implement, the convening created space for educators “to sit with the challenges that we face in STEM education and workforce” development, and then put plans together to meet those challenges head on back in their home communities.
Among the 100+ attendees were several members of PghSTEM, the Pittsburgh Regional STEM Learning Ecosystem. Delegates to the convening included:
- Lorraine Shaffer, former elementary school and computer technology teacher, now founder of Kid’s Innovation Playground.
- Terri Shields, founder of JADA House International, a faith-based institution that provides resources, support, and family navigation for at-risk teens, women, and kinship care for senior citizens.
- Max Dennison, Digital Inclusion Coordinator for the City of Pittsburgh and director of the CitiParks Rec2Tech program.
After returning from the 3-day conference, we asked them to share their impressions and reflections from the experience.
What was the convening all about? What ideas or themes were explored?
Max Dennison: The conference was about STEM education and it drew people from all over the country in the space to talk about ideas and what they are doing in their cities. We talked about everything from education and new tools coming out to formal education [in STEM]. Very informative and cool conference.
Lorraine Shaffer: Exploring the STEM Ecosystem from a more global perspective. Sharing ideas and seeing common themes such as invention education, engineering, and upcoming initiatives and opportunities through the DoD and STEM Next.
What did you learn while attending the conference? Did you attend any especially informative sessions or any enlightening talks?
Terri Shields: I’m continuing to learn that AI is here and changing the trajectory of our systems. The lectures were very informative for me, there are people to learn about and how they’re contributing to the ecosystem changes.
Max Dennison: In the workshops I attended, I learned plenty of new ways to teach STEM learning. Definitely some ideas I can bring back to my classroom, but also seeing where the future of STEM education is goin with advent of AI. There is still so much unchartered water when we talk about STEM education and the future of tech education.
Lorraine Shaffer: I had never thought of drones as an avenue to teach coding to kids. I attended a session from Build. Fly. Code. It has inspired me to create a new program at Kid’s Innovation Playground using drones for kids to explore coding.
I have used Engineering is Elementary curriculum for 10 years. I was able to catch up on new initiatives from EiE. I was able to learn about a free curriculum from Siemens. I’ve already shared the Hour of Engineering website with educators and administrators in my local ecosystem.
Meeting so many of the youth that were part of the Chief Science Officers program was so inspiring. I’d like to see if we have this program in the Pittsburgh area.
What was your favorite moment or experience from the conference? Did you make new connections? Have an ah-ha moment?
Lorraine Shaffer: Connecting with the women from Million Girl Moonshot was the best. Having met them and hearing about their program and grant opportunity makes me excited for the next couple years getting involved alongside them.
Max Dennison: I don’t know if I have an ah ha moment. But to my surprise I actually enjoyed to conversation with former Governor Bush. I found myself agreeing with him on many of his views regarding in STEM being in the schools.
What one key takeaway would you share with the Remake Learning Network? A resource to try? Some words of wisdom to share? A lingering question to ponder?
Lorraine Shaffer: Remake Learning offers a plethora of opportunities to network with other like-minded STEAM advocates. Being able to see similar things playing out around the country and the world gave me energy to keep on keeping on!
Max Dennison: My takeaway from the conference was to attend more conferences. Sometimes you can get boxed in to your ideas and there is a big world and other people are working on the same problems. Network, network, network…