Jun 27 2019

ISTE 2019: 10 Keys to the Future of STEAM Education

Emerging technologies, paired with democratized invention and problem-solving, will drive the next generation.

What’s next in STEAM education? Technology advocate and author Sylvia Martinez identified 10 keys to the future of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) but was emphatic that change will be driven by the teachers and students involved in the learning process.

“I see this as a learning revolution,” Martinez said to attendees of the ISTE 2019 conference, held this week in Philadelphia. “There’s so much out there to choose from.”

During her “STEAM to the Future: What’s Next in STEAM, Design and Making” presentation, Martinez first provided context for the evolution in learning, explaining that as recently as 50 years ago, computer technology was not accessible to the masses.

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“It’s a story of exponential growth,” she said. “In 1969, if you wanted to play a video game, you had to go to MIT.” Fifty years later, Martinez noted that this context is important to remember as educators think about changes taking place now.

“When we think about the future our kids are going to live in, what kinds of transitions we are going to go through?” she asked.

MORE FROM EDTECH: Check out these five steps to a successful K–12 STEM program.

10 Ways Educators Can Improve STEAM Education

Martinez’s 10 keys to the future of STEAM education include:

  1. Biomaking: The future of invention in technology may well lie in biology — making things out of organic material, Martinez said. By moving in this direction, inventors can lessen the use of petrochemicals, cut down on pollution and further reduce waste and environmental damage. 
  2. The End of Moore’s Law: The well-known “rule” that explains the exponential growth in technology innovation will eventually peter out, Martinez predicted, because “chips can’t get any smaller.”
  3. Synthetic Biology: To that end, she said, synthetic biology is a likely replacement for silicon technology. “Not only can you make stuff out of organic materials … you can also create new bacteria to make them do what you want them to do.” Example: the biosensor tattoo that monitors glucose levels of diabetics.
  4. Augmented and Virtual Reality: “The latest things are much more than toys,” Martinez said, using Google’s Tilt Brush technology as an example of VR with very real applications.
  5. Robots: The future of robots isn’t the actual devices, but what drives their development in the first place, Martinez said. “Simple can be smart,” she said, emphasizing that the focus should be on building something to get the job done.
  6. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: “AI is the talk of [ISTE], and it’s not just a marketing slogan,” Martinez said.  AI is powered by "algorithms that improve through experience,” she noted, but was quick to point out there is still a lot that AI can’t do, such as critically examine its own programming or expand beyond programmed capabilities.
  7. Small Solutions for Big Problems: The future’s biggest thinkers will come out of educational systems that focus on democratizing invention through collective learning and open, shared solutions — all components that will rely on increased connections through technology, Martinez said. “We can’t wait for universities and companies to come up with answers,” she said. “There are people all over the world who know how to solve problems.”
  8. Addressing Algorithm Bias and Ethics: It will be critical for people to take bias in algorithms into consideration if their goal is to improve technology. For example, Martinez said, facial recognition technology doesn’t inherently lack diversity; rather, its designers have been predominantly white males. 
  9. Fabrication: Martinez said that as emerging technology such as 3D printing becomes mainstream, more teachers and students will ask, “What do I do with it next?”
  10. Don’t forget the M: Martinez thinks math is prime for disruption. “It’s the oldest and most archaic subject we teach, and it hasn’t changed in way too long. The mathematics in our classroom doesn’t match what happens in the real world.” What’s the future? She pointed to computational technology, which allows machines to handle calculations so that people can focus on new and different ways to apply the results.

“We have to be willing to step into this future,” she said. “We have to question, what can we stop doing?”

For more of the latest stories out of ISTE 2019, check out our conference page here.

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