In science and education, questions are often more important than answers. They are how we discover.
On December 5-6, 2017, at the Canada 2067 National Leadership Conference in Toronto, over 300 delegates and panelists discussed critical questions about the future of science learning. Among those in attendance were youth, educators, industry, policy-makers and community partners.
Throughout 2017, Canada 2067 triggered an important national conversation about the state of STEM learning – science, technology, engineering and math – and its direction.
Since the initiative’s launch in October 2016, more than 170,000 people have weighed in on how Canada can remain a leader in engaging students through STEM, ensuring they become critical thinkers and problems solvers. The input, received from across the nation, shares ideas and thoughts on what we need to do to ensure today’s youth can become tomorrow’s innovators and entrepreneurs, ready to meet challenges in the workplace and as informed citizens.
These inputs, as well as discussions with stakeholders across the country are building the Canada 2067 STEM learning framework – the first iteration of which was presented at the conference. Discussions from the leadership conference and input from participants and other stakeholders (being collected at canada2067.ca) are being used to influence the evolution of the framework into spring 2018. The draft framework shaped the agenda for the conference itself.
Conference panelists and participants tackled some big questions. How should we teach? Who’s involved? What should we learn? How should we learn? Who should be involved? The collective response promises to help drive progress in STEM learning.
In the spirit of STEM inquiry, here are 12 questions raised during the sessions and some notable comments.
- How do we prepare students for unforeseen careers?
Steve Brown, the CEO of Nelson, noted that at least 35 per cent of grade 12 students will end up in jobs that don’t exist yet today. “We can’t teach them prescriptively,” he said.
- How do we bridge the gap between lofty pedagogical ideas and the experience of the classroom teacher?
That’s often a wide gulf, said Chris Meyer, a teacher with the Toronto District School Board. Science is a process about generating, testing and applying knowledge. There’s a good chance, said Meyer, that the average teacher hasn’t had formal training in science or even deep experiences in it as a student. It’s imperative to give teachers the resources, training and expertise in their subject areas, for their grade levels.
- Are teachers passionate enough about STEM and where it leads to spark the passion of their students?
Teachers need to focus not just on textbook content but also on how STEM applies in the real world. Those are the teachers who can really motivate, said Julie Belanger, Research Leader, RAND Europe. She noted that STEM teachers who take part in high quality professional development are much more likely to stay in the profession, get excited and engaged, and make the educational connections that excite students in turn.
- How can partners in education inspire students?
There was a time when outside partners in STEM education predominantly included science centres and museums. Now, we see countless initiatives with community organizations, industry and post-secondary institutions. These can build connections to careers, and provide both enriched experiences and meaningful role models.
Sylvain Laporte, President of the Canadian Space Agency, talked about the sense of awe when an astronaut walks into a school gym. That emotion, combined with learning, can lock in memories for life. Christina Jennings, Chairman & CEO of Shaftesbury Films, mentioned other forms of inspiration, like their show Emerald Code about teenage girls and STEM. “If they see it, they can be it,” she said of the show’s audience.
- What is the end goal of partnerships in STEM education?
Beyond building a pipeline for STEM careers, hands-on activities and deeper learning experiences can build science literacy, said Ridha Ben Mrad, Chief Research Officer & Associate Academic Director, Mitacs. That helps to expand innovation in any field, and fosters a population that can understand and care about science-related issues. There’s a social imperative to that goal, added Eduardo Cetlin, President, Amgen Foundation. The federal government also plays multiple roles to support youth development, as discussed by Christiane Fox, Deputy Minister, Intergovernmental Affairs & Youth.
- What are the key competencies that students need to master in a changing world?
Chantal Beaulieu, Executive Director, Council of Ministers of Education, said students need to excel in six broad areas: 1) critical thinking and problem solving; 2) innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship; 3) learning to learn, self-awareness and self-direction; 4) collaboration; 5) communication; and 6) global citizenship and sustainability.
These global competencies are applicable to every workplace and every function, noted Mojdeh Paul, President, 3M Canada. Beaulieu says the challenge is not just to instill these competencies but also to figure out how to know that students have attained them.
- How do we prepare students for a world of disruption?
The competencies need a strong STEM foundation, so that students can master – and design – technologies of the future, said John Knubley, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Innovation, Science & Economic Development, Canada. He added that employers are faced with rapid change, and they need to be part of the dialogue of what tomorrow’s workplace will look like and what talent will be required.
- How can we forge better and more meaningful links between what students learn?
Everything is connected. For instance, music can be understood through physics, and physical education through biology and chemistry. The school system needs more integrative thinking, not compartmentalized thinking, said Bruce Rodrigues, Deputy Minister, Ontario Ministry of Education.
- How can we encourage students to engage in STEM beyond academics?
Most students don’t end up pursuing traditional STEM jobs. We need to emphasize the impact of STEM on society and citizenship. Do that, and we’ll increase the number of students interested in STEM for careers and for life, said David Blades, Professor of Science Education and Curriculum Studies, University of Victoria.
- How can appreciation for STEM emerge best?
Students enjoy the process of making things, imagining and engaging in highly sensory experiences. Teachers can frame that through the context of science, said Sara Diamond, President, OCAD University. She said we need multiple points of entry to STEM knowledge.
- How can technology shape the way in which students learn?
Guy Tetrault, Director of Education for Saskatchewan’s Sun West School Division, discussed the importance of electronically-blended learning, online programs, distance learning and digital repositories of information. Traditional face-to-face learning, project-based learning and inquiry-based learning are being used in various combinations. Tetrault said personalized learning is really differentiated instruction on steroids – and the steroids are today’s technology.
- How do students learn best?
Through learning sciences, we know that learning is highly relational, socially constructed, activity- and inquiry-oriented, and deeply contextual. Phil McRae, Executive Staff Officer, Alberta Teachers’ Association, said that school systems have to step back and examine how technology is in service of that. It has to be meaningful.
Spencer Turbitt, Chief Executive Officer, iApotheca, acknowledged that teachers make great efforts to discover how students learn. He said that it’s important too to help students become self-aware enough to discover that for themselves. Empower students to understand their own learning styles and preferred pathways, which can vary widely. That realization itself can make students passionate about learning.
Where do we go from here?
Videos of each panel are available at: https://canada2067.ca/en/conference/national-leadership-conference/