Blended Learning Can Advance STEM

As I was doing some professional reading this morning, I was struck by the title of Taniya Mishra’s piece “ATTN Girls: Stay Interested in STEM.” As the mother of two daughters who are both studying science in college, I had an instant personal connection to the piece. Mishra holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science and works in the AT&T Labs in the Speech Algorithms and Engines Research Department. She clearly comes from a place that gives her credibility when she offers girls advice on STEM. Her advice is threefold:

  • Inventory your interests - find what you are passionate about and stick with it
  • Stay interested in STEM - don’t feel like you have to do what is popular and trendy; if you like STEM don’t let others woo you away
  • Connect with mentors - no matter how old you are, a mentor is an invaluable resource.

But as I read the article and reflected on my daughters’ path to STEM disciplines in college, I realized that there is a piece missing in Mishra’s advice and that is advice to schools. Let me give you a little background before I share my advice for schools.

My daughters attended a suburban public school in Northeast Ohio that has consistently been rated as Excellent or Excellent with Distinction by the Ohio Department of Education. By all measures, it’s a good school with a solid core of traditional classes. The problem is that my daughters wanted more. They knew early on that their interests were veterinary medicine and aerospace engineering - not the kind of focus that you will see in most K-12 schools. But my girls, like so many, knew what they wanted and weren’t willing to settle for the status quo. This is where blended learning became vital to providing them both with the education they needed to pursue their passions.

One daughter took advantage of the Ohio Credit Flexibility law to test out of some core classes, enroll in an online advanced math class at Stanford’s Online High School, take courses at a local community college, and graduate high school in three years. The other daughter advanced herself in math by taking online courses for her foundation, advanced calculus courses from a local university, and a newly designed blended mathematics course from her high school. She graduated high school with 16 semesters of math credit. Through a combination of blended pedagogies (self-blend {a la carte}, station rotation, individual rotation) and independent study my daughters were able to create the high school curriculum that met their needs.

So, while I wholeheartedly agree with Mishra’s advice to girls. I would be remiss if I didn’t add my own advice to schools to round out her list. It is not acceptable to only offer a core curriculum that meets the needs of some students. With blended learning, schools have access to the technology and resources to meet the unique academic needs of individual students. Schools must look at the opportunities to integrate different models of blended and online learning, in all areas of their curriculum, so that all students have an appropriately challenging curriculum that inspires them to pursue their passions After all, we’re talking about  human beings - not widgets.