Understanding science and technology is vital for navigating our present-day world. From smart phones to smart houses, our lives are regulated by complex machines and software. Teaching students Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) has become one of the bedrocks of a modern education. These fields are considered essential to the future success of individuals and nations. But not everyone has equal access to this type of education. Minority students, students from a lower socioeconomic status, and those with sensory differences (such as those with hearing and visual impairments) face a number of barriers to a meaningful STEM education. viaSTEM sees ensuring universal access for what it is: a civil rights issue.
viaSTEM aims to rectify these inequalities by giving students the chance to experience STEM through simulation. To spark learners’ interest and convey concepts, viaSTEM approaches education as an embodied, dynamic engagement with the complex patterns of the world around us. The program empowers students to develop creative solutions for the questions of their everyday lives through teaching them to collect their own data and build models for analysis. Questions such as “Which line is fastest in the cafeteria?” “What time of day at the theme park would let me take the most rides?” become gateways to teachable moments.
The viaSTEM System includes three different tools: ModCompanion, Modboard and Cloudes. ModCompanion facilitates the automatic collection of data in public spaces using built-in proximity sensors. Modboard (pictured here) is an interactive board that students can use to build models of what they measure. Cloudes is a cloud-based simulation engine that executes the models people create using ModBoard. These tools are built specifically to engage kids of all abilities and backgrounds – including those with sensory differences visual or hearing impairments, and those who do not speak English as a first language. The tools utilize tactile and audio feedback in combination with visual cues to create a more holistic and interactive learning experience for all students.
The result is an affordable and engaging way to get learners thinking critically about their world, in the way that all STEM education tries to foster. These tools give them practical experience in building computational simulations, a rapidly expanding branch of STEM training and employment that should be accessible to everyone.
Check out this animation for more details
CMAC is partnering with the brilliant engineering team at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center (VMASC) to develop viaSTEM and deploy it in after-school programs and other informal educational settings in Boston, including Up Academy Dorchester, Our Space Our Place, Carroll Center for the Blind, and Framingham Public Schools. As the team tests and implements these technologies in informal educational settings, they will be working carefully to adjust and improve them to ensure accessibility and usefulness. Educators, engineers, and philosophers lead this process, bringing their distinct skill set to ensure the success of the project.
After undergoing these first stages of testing and refinement, it is the intention of CMAC and VMASC that viaSTEM will serve as a prototype for a different approach to STEM education, not just in informal educational settings such as after-school programs and libraries, but also in mainstream classrooms. We will distribute materials to school systems and other programs, enabling them to incorporate the viaSTEM platform. While the first priority is increasing access to STEM for young learners, CMAC eventually plans for this technology to address the needs of older learners as well.
viaSTEM aims to make the future of science and technology accessible to everyone by expanding access to the best tools for critical thinking and analysis. Our vision is to empower the next generation of leaders to chart new paths for tomorrow.