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Legend, Innovation Leaders Come Together for STEM Education

By Paul Leroux
January 28, 2013

In a workshop titled “Learn. Build. Create: Connected Learning Over the Next 4 Years,” the nation’s mayors were joined on January 18 by education leaders in a lively discussion about the ways in which STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education can be improved.

The workshop featured a panel moderated by Conference of Mayors President Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter during the Conference of Mayors Winter meeting in Washington (DC). The panel included Conference of Mayors Technology and Innovation Task Force Chair San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee, MacArthur Foundation U.S. Programs Director of Education Constance M. Yowell, Electronic Arts, Inc. Government Affairs Senior Director Craig Hagen, Special Assistant to the President for Education Ricardo Rodriguez, and musician and education advocate John Legend.

Nutter underscored the importance of STEM education in his opening remarks, saying that it should be “…considered part of the national defense of the USA.” Lee echoed this sentiment, saying, “Every industry is rolling in technology. How do we get institutions not only interested but committed in STEM education?”

Legend provided key insights from the perspective of an education reform champion. He summed up the challenges of STEM education into two dilemmas. The first was how to create a culture of “thinking about math and science as it relates to life and relating it to things that matter.” The second was, “How do we makes sure we hire, train, and connect the right people to those teaching profession jobs?”

Yowell, speaking in apparent answer to these dilemmas, noted that the MacArthur Foundation was working hard to close the learning gap in STEM education that exists between what experts know about learning and the way schools are organized. Yowell noted that the foundation was overseeing a $100 million initiative in digital media and learning in order to close this gap, bringing together game designers and curriculum experts. Citing the basis for partnerships like these, Yowell said, “The most sustainable learning happens when young people’s social world, academics, and what they’re learning are connected.”

Elaborating more on what such partnerships might look like was Hagen, whose company is one of the leading video game producers in the world. Hagen said that a top priority for his company was answering the question, “How do we embed common core curriculum into these games?” Ideally, Hagen said, this would, “...bring together the best and brightest to combine curricula with intellectual property.” In one example of this, Hagen presented mayors with the newly unveiled plan for SimCity EDU, an online lesson-planning platform that will provide teachers with access to educational content embedded in a best'selling game about city management and development.

Rodriguez spoke on behalf of the White House and highlighted its plan for the next four years. He said that the last four years had been about “recalibrating and raising expectations for our system,” but the next four had to be about “making a nation of students that are critical thinking and deep learners.” According to Rodriguez, “Raising the bar on STEM education is critical to collective future as an economy as well as individual opportunity.”

Each of the panel’s participants acknowledged the hard work that mayors put in to, “drive innovation and change,” as Rodriguez put it. After they concluded, the mayors engaged in a question and answer session in which they were able to share best practices for innovation in STEM education.