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Sunnyvale School District administrators, teacher attend state STEM Symposium


The 2015 California STEM Symposium drew 3,100 teachers and school administrators to the Anaheim Convention Center in October. Educators participated in more than 300 workshops, roundtable discussions and hands-on lessons created to help schools funnel more students into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) classes and programs.

Keynote speakers included NASA astronaut and former NFL player Leland Melvin, Knatokie Ford, senior advisor for the White House Office of Science and Technology, and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

The Symposium has a special focus on increasing and supporting the participation of women and girls—as well as other underrepresented groups—in STEM fields. It also highlights leaders in classroom innovation from across the state.

Sunnyvale School District’s Technology Coach Jonathan Watts, Instructional Coach Jane Chen and Vargas Elementary School’s dedicated science teacher Heather Willhalm attended the symposium, which is in its third year.

“Even with the increase in the number of STEM related jobs, women and minorities represent a small fraction of this workforce,” Jonathan Watts said. “With a focus on increasing the number of girls and minorities in STEM fields, the STEM Symposium offers inspirational speakers, and presentations with practical strategies for the classroom.”

Some of the highlights he took away from this year’s workshops were about ‘gamifying’ learning, and building student leadership.

For Jane Chen, the most interesting keynote speaker at the event was a Paleontologist who works with animators to teach them about anatomy of different types of animals and humans, so that they can create more realistic moving characters.

“For me, the take home message from his presentation was that there are so many new and interesting jobs out there that use STEAM, so we need to expose all of our students’ (especially girls and under represented ethnic groups in STEM fields) to these opportunities and show them what is possible in their future,” Chen said. “For me personally, I would have loved to have heard this speaker when I was a kid, he would have opened my eyes to the different career paths I could take in a STEM field.”

Chen said her second take away was that technology should be used as a tool to enhance teaching and students’ learning when necessary, and not just something thrown into a lesson for the sake of using “technology.”

“Human interactions and using our hands to build things are still important ways to learn and we can’t forget about that when we look to the future of education,” Chen added.

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