I love the work we do at Vertex to get kids excited about science. Whether it’s a visit to our Learning Lab for a hands-on experiment or a placement in our high school internship program, giving students an opportunity to meet our scientists and learn about the many career possibilities at a company like Vertex is critical to developing the next generation of scientific leaders.
One of my goals as our Head of Global STEAM Education is to find ways in which we can replicate the magic of a visit to Vertex and deliver it to more students across our communities — especially those who are underrepresented in today’s workforce. To do that, we work with some outstanding nonprofit organizations that share our passion and commitment to STEAM education. Vertex and the Vertex Foundation’s partnership with i2 Learning is a perfect example. Working with leading educators and scientists, i2 Learning develops hands-on STEM curricula that teachers can use in their classrooms. And to make it easier for teachers to implement, i2 Learning works with cities and school districts to dedicate a “STEM Week” every year, during which all regularly scheduled classes are replaced with i2’s curriculum. Last year, more than 22,500 students across 34 school districts participated in STEM Week.
In 2018, the Vertex Foundation made a $5 million commitment to help i2 Learning expand to more students and develop new curricula. This year, the Foundation’s support enabled STEM Week to come out West – to the Knox Middle School in San Diego.
I chatted with i2 Learning’s Founder and CEO, Ethan Berman, about what’s in store for STEM Week at the Knox.
Q: What is STEM Week all about?
STEM Week provides middle school students an exciting educational experience that engages them in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and exposes them to opportunities in those fields. It’s also an opportunity for teachers to rethink how they interact and work with students in the 21st century, moving away from the traditional lecture-and-test educational model to one that’s collaborative, interdisciplinary and hands-on. At the Knox, teachers will be running our Surgical Techniques, Kinetic Sculpture and Building a Lunar Colony courses. Overall, it’s about preparing students to succeed in today’s rapidly changing and increasingly STEM-focused world.
Q: From your perspective, what’s the benefit of STEM education? Why is it such a powerful tool to give students the skills to be successful?
In all probability the most exciting career opportunities for today’s students will be in STEM and STEM-related fields. In fact, it is likely that the best jobs are going to be in companies and industries that don’t exist today. STEM education prepares students for those opportunities.
And STEM education isn’t just about teaching those subjects; it’s about creating a collaborative, interdisciplinary, project-based learning experience that mirrors what work is like in the real world. Students experiment. They learn the engineering and design process. The scientific method. They confront failure and learn how to persevere through it – a critical skill that’s necessary in the real world, but traditional school often doesn’t leave space for.
Q: What change do you hope will come from STEM Week?
STEM Week changes the dynamic of the classroom in exciting and important ways. Teachers are often surprised to see some students – who are usually quiet – come out of their shell during STEM Week and really excel, because they can manipulate something with their hands that no one else can. Our hope is that this changes the way teachers interact with students, and they continue to think about ways to incorporate STEM learning into the classroom.
Q: This is the first STEM Week not only in San Diego, but in all of California. What does that feel like to be pioneering this program?
We’re thrilled. From day one, i2 Learning was focused on scale. People often ask us why we don’t start our own school if we’re so passionate about this educational model. A school can help a few hundred students. Our goal is millions of students. It’s very exciting for us to bring this to another urban school district. Our big picture fantasy is that STEM Week becomes STEM Month, then eventually changes all of school by becoming a full year-long program.