Taking STEM into schools | City of Ideas

Posted 11/06/2017 by By Eric Esteves, Social Innovation Fund Director


The last week of October was STEM Week in the Boston Public Schools - the culmination of a month that saw several Boston Foundation investments in connecting students with the local innovation economy come together in a series of events across the city.

The heart of STEM Week happens, naturally, inside the schools, where more than 6,000 middle school students and 300 teachers at 37 schools across Boston set aside their regular class schedule to participate in innovative, hands-on science and engineering curricula developed by i2 Learning in partnership with MIT and other leading STEM organizations.

Additionally, five schools are offering their sixth-grade students a special four-week, STEM-led interdisciplinary curriculum to extend the benefits of immersive instruction.

It's a remarkable program, and it earns rave reviews from the students. But what makes STEM instruction even more powerful is taking it beyond the schoolhouse door.

Lisa Gilbert-Smith, principal of the Dearborn STEM Academy, notes that too many of Boston's young people live within the confines of a four-block radius around their home or school, which defines their existence and limits their potential. "They don't see themselves as Bostonians. Yet, this is everyone's city," says Gilbert-Smith. At a gathering of STEM leaders at the Boston Foundation to discuss the power of STEM for students, she pushed for a more comprehensive approach to helping students develop into independent thinkers and users of technology. because "they're adept at texting, but that's about it."

Under her leadership, Dearborn STEM Academy is exploring a more intentional focus on incorporating "design thinking" into its curriculum and school culture. The organizational design consultancy IDEO defines design thinking as a "human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success."

Paul Grogan at Hack Diversity eventThe connection between in-classroom STEM education and the booming innovation economy was reinforced in other ways in October. As part of "Tech Gives Back," the Boston Foundation joined with TUGG (Technology Underwriting Greater Good) to offer "Guppy Tank," a chance for 6th graders from across the city to visit 10 high-tech companies, and work with employees to imagine and "pitch" new apps to judges from the companies.

We also celebrated the inaugural year of the remarkably successful Hack.Diversity program. (Image at left: Paul Grogan speaking at the event) Hack.Diversity bridges the gap between the local innovation economy and typically-overlooked urban colleges, universities and two-year institutions, by connecting students with internships at tech firms, and providing the wraparound support and services for them to succeed. Companies receive diversity and inclusion training to enhance their hiring policies and ensure that the work environment is more welcoming to candidates from all backgrounds. In parallel, each intern is paired with a mid-level or senior executive within the Hack.Diversity Mentor Network-composed of dozens of black and Latino engineers and executives throughout the innovation community-who establish a one-on-one relationship and coach students through their professional journey.

By teaching students STEM skills in the classroom, and then giving them the opportunities to connect with the opportunities right outside their door, groups like i2, Hack.Diversity and others are ensuring Boston's innovation economy can work for more young people growing up in Boston's neighborhoods.

We're also striving to make every week STEM Week throughout the city.

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