Teaching, Learning & Technology
Sharing best practices from faculty around the world who are using technology to transform teaching and learning.

Why "STEM" Education is SO 20th Century...

Tweet this!

I'm preparing for a California STEM education summit next week. It has me thinking about what "STEM" really means, and how it falls short in preparing students for their future. Here's why...

Classic "STEM" education refers to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It's a great acronym that captures some of the core "technical literacies" that all students should graduate with - even if they don't become scientists, technologists, engineers, or mathematicians. I think we all agree that today's society, and tomorrow's even more so, is driven (and we hope improved) by technology.

But (in today's vernacular) STEM by itself is so 20th century. Acronyms are great, but silos are not - and how we talk about education reform will influence where we go. The 21st century, and arguably the last several decades, is an interdisciplinary world. Big challenges face society that only collaborative, interdisciplinary thinkers can address. Climate change, human disease, education for all - these are all very complex social, political, and technical challenges.

So I propose three improvements to how we talk about "STEM" education:

First, let's call it "STEM+" (OK - I know it's not all that creative, so feel free to post a comment with your own suggested acronym!). In my thinking, the "+" encompasses a host of skills and experiences that students need:

  • Interdisciplinary thinking

  • Global collaboration and communication

  • Ingenuity and creativity

  • (add your own favorite "21st century skill" here)

Second, let's shift from talking about STEM+ "education" to STEM+ "learning experiences". We all know that declarative and procedural knowledge is important, but our students need that and so much more. By focusing on STEM+ learning experiences, new transformations come in view:

  • Moving from simply delivering content and memorizing science facts, math proofs, etc. to engaging students in applying scientific thinking, and mathematical logic and modeling.

  • Going beyond having students repeat science experiments as though they are recipes, to engaging students in true inquiry.

  • Going past problem sets that demand The Right Answer to learning experiences that equip students to tackle the unknown and see that often there are many good answers - and that many times, you don't even know what the question is (at first).

Students around the world need to graduate ready and excited to make the world a better place.  To that end, my third and final suggestion (for today) is related to assessment. I am now of the opinion that if you can Google the answer, then it shouldn't be on the test. Rather, the ultimate exit exam could be a significant, open-ended real-world challenge which requires a thoughtful recommended course of action. The test would be an open-book, open-internet, phone-a-friend, poll-your-personal-learning-network, work-in-groups, ask-your-mentor, type of test. (Students: For those of you who can navigate this type of challenge, we have a career waiting for you...).

So let's move beyond talking about "STEM Education" and begin to consciously, and urgently, focus on "STEM+ Learning Experiences" for our students. My hat's off to those of you who already are...

Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Education Programs
HP Office of Global Social Innovation

Twitter @jgvanides

For information about the HP Office of Global Social Innovations, visit www.hp.com/hpinfo/grants





Jim's Top Three Tips for Writing Successful Grant Proposals

Tweet this!

Once people discover what I do for a living, it's only
natural that people want to know, "How do I get a grant from HP?" Other than
the obvious, "Read the Request for Proposals carefully and answer the
questions...", here are my Top Three Tips for your consideration...

There are never any guarantees when it comes to competitive
grant opportunities, so let me begin with a caveat: All  funders turn away wonderful proposals - there
are simply too many great ideas, and grant writers are becoming more
sophisticated. But don't let that stop you, as there are also many funders (not
just HP) who care about your success and who truly want to help education work
better for more students.

My tips are focused on education technology grants whose
purpose is systemic education improvement. These tips may apply to other grant
opportunities, but you should always start with understanding your funder and
their program's objectives. That is not a tip - that is just a reminder for
what a good grant writer already does.

 ***TIP #1 - Explain WHY your proposed project/initiative is
important, in terms of learning issues and outcomes

Funders want to know what the problem is that you're trying
to address - and it should be an issue that is described in terms of
EDUCATIONAL OBJECTIVES, not the acquisition of technology and funds for
acquisition's sake.

Not Likely to Get Funded: "Our school is underfunded, our
labs are a shambles, and we need new equipment so our lab can be

More Likely to Get Funded: "We serve a large number of
low-income, first-generation-to-college students who drop out of engineering
programs at alarming rates after their first year of college. In order to meet
the demands for high tech qualified students graduating in engineering, we need
to triple the retention rate of these students by 2012. Our largest drop-out
rates come from gatekeeper courses such as Calculus and Intro to Engineering."

In other words, describe what's NOT working and why that is
a problem.


At Mid-Valley Elementary school in Oregon, they were specifically addressing the need to increase the % of students meeting or exceeding their grade 3-5 math standards. With this type of focus, they succeeded, with the most dramatic improvements for typically low-performing students. Over two years they improved the success rate for English Language Learners from below 50% to more than 80%. That success is real, thanks to a clear notion of what needed to be addressed.



*** Tip #2 - Describe WHAT
you plan to do with the technology (the more specifics, the better)

Funders want to know that whatever they are giving you will
be put to good use. Expensive doorstops are of no use to anyone. Furthermore,
education technology is only educational if there is a clear educational
purpose and plan for the its use. A laptop is just a mobile computer, unless
there's a clear plan for what students and teachers will be doing with it. A
tablet pc has a pen and you can draw on the screen - .....soooo? How will you
take advantage of that? (If you don't know, you haven't been reading my blog!)

Not Likely to Get Funded: "We need 60 laptops to update our
computer lab to be state-of-the-art because our students are Digital Natives
and they expect to learn that way in order to be citizens in the 21st

More Likely to Get Funded: "We will use 60 tablet pcs to
convert lecture-style courses into highly participative, student-centered mathematics
learning studios. We will use DyKnow software to enable rapid feedback between
pairs of students and the discussion facilitators; faculty will use
diagrammatic responses to open-ended questions to elicit participation, gather
insights about student misconceptions about math, and provide real-time
feedback to the class."

In other words, how will technology help you design a new
and powerful learning experience for your students?


At California State University Monterey Bay, the challenge was to decrease the failure rate of students in pre-calculus math - the course they HAD to pass if they wanted to stay at the University. The intervention was a shift from lecture-style instruction to studio-style instruction, where students sat at round tables and TALKED about math together. The technology, hp tablet pcs, was used to submit solutions, questions, and diagrams. As a result of this new pedagogy and the technology's ability to facilitate simulaneous participation, fast feedback, and anonymous (penalty free) participation, the students are succeeding at higher rates than ever before. The failure rate dropped from about 25% of the students down to single digits.

In their case, they knew how they would take advantage of tablet pcs and the easy-to-use "digital ink".


*** Tip #3 - Share HOW you plan to measure the learning

What will success look like for your project? How will you
know you got there? How does this link back to the initial problem(s) that
motivated you to apply for this grant in the first place?

Anyone in this field who is thoughtful and honest will admit
that measuring learning is not simple or easy. But there are experts in this
field who can help you create an "experimental design" that will help you map
out how to see the change you hope to enable.

Sounds like research? Yes, it should. But to be honest, the
real research will take years. So before you get to "control groups" and
randomized studies, you'll want to collect what I call "emerging evidence" that
will guide you in your initial work. Think of your first pilot as the
"experiment before the experiment". If you can't create a control group, at
least have a COMPARISON group. Don't settle for self-reporting by students, but
rather observe their academic progress in the myriad of ways that show you that
novices are becoming more expert. Use the data you're probably already
collecting, and get an expert in the Learning Sciences or
"assessment/evaluation" to assist you in your grant writing.

Not Likely to be Funded: "We will survey our students to see
if they believe their learning improved as a result of the technology"

More Likely to be Funded: "Our team includes an expert from
the Office of Educational Assessment who will be measuring project outcomes
such as performance on specific project tasks, retention rate, & scores on
key tests during the course. These outcomes will be compared to similar cohorts
of students who took the same class prior to the redesign and implementation of
the technology. We will also be observing the students and conducting focus
groups with students and faculty to understand how the course redesign has
changed the teaching and learning experience."

Think about the headline that you would like to appear one
or two years from now. "Retention Rates Skyrocket; Graduates Snapped Up by
Local Employers". Whatever your vision may be, if you measure your progress
with a sound measurement plan from the beginning, you're far more likely to get



It isn't always measurable by grades, but in the case of Canada College (California), the redesigned Engineering Mechanics course did see a significant shift. The intervention was shifting from a 2 hour lecture block to 2 hours of lecture, demo, and lots of time to practice - and get individual help during class instead of going to office hours. Professor Enriquez could monitor and support students via his own computer, while in class, so that students could get embarrassment-free help in real-time. Office hours became a non-problem, and twice as many students got an A compared to the way the course was taught previously.



If you have your own tips you would like to share or have
general questions about grant writing, feel free to post a comment below. I
look forward to hearing from you...


Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Worldwide Education Programs
HP Global Social Investment

Twitter @jgvanides

For information about the HP Global Social Investments, visit www.hp.com/hpinfo/grants



Classroom/Audience polling via SMS, Web, and Twitter - Polleverywhere.com has it all

Tweet this!

Those of you who have been following my blog know I'm a big fan of "knowing what your students don't know in real time" so we can help them get over their misconception hurdles. While I mostly talk about real-time graphical response through tablet pcs (DyKnow, InkSurvey, Classroom Presenter, etc.), I can't discount the importance of simple polling. Polleverwhere.com just made it even easier...

I know there are MANY polling services out there. What caught my eye on PollEveryWhere is that they make it really easy for the instructor and for the participating students.  I've created a sample poll (sorry - it's a free account, so the results are limited to the first 30 of you who participate!). You can create multiple choice or short answer questions ahead of time or on-the-spot. Then you share the question with your audience, in one of several ways:

  • Download and share an auto-generated PPT slide for your poll (you can download the PowerPoint for my sample poll)

  • Show them the poll on the web

Go ahead and give it a try!

  1. First, go to my example poll on "Which color do you find to be more relaxing?"

  2. Next, enter the code for your answer on this website http://www.polleverywhere.com/vote (or send a text message to 99503; the text of the message should be the code that corresponds to your answer)

  3. Return to my example poll to see your response (sorry, but the free version I'm using only supports the first 30 respondents!)

Credits: I heard about PollEveryWhere from a LinkedIn group I just joined called Twitter-Using Educators, launched by "Tweet Meister" Thomas Whitby . Those of you who are educators are welcome to join this linked in group - and another Thomas created called Technology-Using Professors. Many thanks to Brian Wasson for the pointer to PollEveryWhere!


If anyone has any experience using non-clicker polling tools like this, please post a comment and tell me about your experience!

Since the value of polling hinges on the quality of the questions, I'm also interested in any pointers to resources that help instructors write good multiple choice questions for classroom polling.


Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Worldwide Education Programs
HP Global Social Investment

Twitter @jgvanides

For information about the HP Global Social Investments, visit www.hp.com/hpinfo/grants



More Evidence that Digital Ink is Significant - Nat'l Univ reports results

Jim Vanides

For those of you wondering about the significance of "digital ink", Dr. Ron Uhlig at National University (San Diego, California, USA) has collected some rather compelling evidence - and a great example of the use of tablet pcs...

Dr. Uhlig is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science & Information Systems at National University, an HP Technology for Teaching grant recipient campus. To date, Dr. Uhlig, his colleagues, and approximately 90 students from 4 graduate courses and 3 undergraduate courses have been using tablet pcs as they tackle complex math, computer science, and engineering topics. The results are exciting and intriguing.

In his poster presented at the ASEE Global Colloquium in Capetown, South Africa, Dr. Uhlig has a table that describes some of the impact they've seen. They compare exam responses by students who took identical courses in 2007 (without tablet pcs) and in 2008 (with tablet pcs), and found LARGE increases in the percentage of students answering specific questions correctly. The number of students in the data set is small, but the improvements are amazing (from 11% correct in 2007 to 81% correct, for example).

Of course we all know that it isn't digital ink alone, but rather the introduction of new approaches to teaching that include rapid input from students and feedback from instructors. As is the case with many HP Technology for Teaching grant recipients, the faculty at NU are using DyKnow software to accomplish this.

Congratulations to the NU team - and thanks for sharing your poster with us!


Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Worldwide Education Grant Strategy
HP Global Social Investment

For information about the HP Global Social Investments, visit



Tablet PCs vs. Traditional Whiteboards for Active Learning - paper from CSU San Marcos

Edward Price, Chuck De Leone, and Robin Marion from California State University in San Marcos, have been using Tablet PCs from their HP Technology for Teaching grant to explore how they might compare to traditional whiteboards in support of students working in groups. With the help of Ubiquitous Presenter software, some interesting results are beginning to emerge...

The CSU San Marcos project entitled "Assessing the impact of digital whiteboards in an active learning physics course", is described on their project webpage as follows:

Whiteboards and Tablet PCs are compared as tools for conducting group work in a introductory physics class where students work on activities in groups and share their answers with the whole class. In the study, groups record their work on either a 3'x4' whiteboard or a Tablet PC using Ubiquitous Presenter. Students can share their whiteboard with the whole class, or the instructor can project Tablet-based work. Watch the Tablets in action. Assessment focuses on how the choice of tool affects classroom practice and student interactions during small group work.

You can find a video of their project at http://emmy.csusm.edu/physics/eprice/UP_Tablets.wmv (May require Active-X to be enabled in order to view it).

Not surprisingly, a big advantage of the Tablets + Ubiquitous Presenter approach is that the notes and sketches are archived. But there were other important advantages (and some challenges), which they describe in their "Findings" page. From there, you can also download a pre-pub version of a paper that will appear in the proceedings of the 2008 Physics Education Research Conference:

"Archiving Student Solutions with Tablet PCs in a Discussion-based Introductory Physics Class"

Abstract Many active learning based physics courses use whiteboards as a space for groups to respond to prompts based on short lab activities, problem solving, or inquiry-oriented activities. Whiteboards are volatile; once erased, the material is lost. Tablet PCs and software such as Ubiquitous Presenter can be used as digital whiteboards in active learning classes. This enables automatic capture and archiving of student work for online review by students, instructors, and researchers. We studied the use of digital whiteboards in an active-learning introductory physics course at California State University, San Marcos. In this paper we examine the archival features of digital whiteboards', and characterize the use of these features by students and instructors, and explore possible uses for researchers and curriculum developers.

In our project, we used tablets and Ubiquitous Presenter for as ‘digital whiteboards' in a course that includes extensive small group work followed by whole class discussions. When using whiteboards, as had been done previously, students would carry their board to the front of the class to present their work. With the tablets, we had the ability to project student work in class and archive student work on the web.

Based on interviews and surveys of students, as well as classroom observations by our evaluator, this led to increased visibility of student work during whole class discussions. This is clearly evident in the photos below. Students said projected work made note taking easier and more likely during these presentations.


To the CSU San Marcos team, thank you for sharing!

Jim Vanides, B.S.M.E, M.Ed.
Worldwide Education Grant Strategy
HP Global Social Investment

For information about the HP Global Social Investments, visit



Showing results for 
Search instead for 
Do you mean 
Follow Us

About the Author(s)
  • Jim Vanides is responsible for the vision, strategy, design, and implementation of education technology innovation initiatives. His focus is the effective use of technology to create powerful learning experiences that help students around the world succeed. He has been instrumental in launching over 1200 primary, secondary, and higher education projects in 41 countries, including the HP Catalyst Initiative - a 15-country network of 60+ education organizations exploring innovations in STEM(+) learning and teaching. In addition to his work at HP, Jim teaches an online course for Montana State University on the Science of Sound, a masters-level, conceptual physics course for teachers in grades 5 through 8. Jim’s past work at HP has included engineering design, engineering management, and program management in R&D, Manufacturing, and Business Development. He holds a BS in Engineering and a MA in Education, both from Stanford University.
The opinions expressed above are the personal opinions of the authors, not of HP. By using this site, you accept the Terms of Use and Rules of Participation.