Let’s talkSTEM: Creating a STEM community

Let’s talkSTEM: Creating a STEM community

December 29, 2020 | Author: Dr. Koshi Dhingra, Founder and CEO, talkSTEM.org

I founded the talkSTEM nonprofit in 2015 with the vision of a world where all girls, young women, and others from underrepresented groups see themselves as people who engage in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in their lived experiences, a world where STEM leaders come from all backgrounds so that the decision-makers, the algorithm-creators, the innovators that our world needs similarly come from all backgrounds.

talkSTEM collaborates with a wide range of partners and uses an ever-widening range of digital and other tools, including videos, apps, AR, publications, in-person events, and more as we work with partners to have impact with children, families, and school- and community-based educators.

Why talkSTEM?

logo After 25 years in education, as middle and high school science teacher, teacher education professor and researcher, community outreach director, and educational consultant, I followed my instincts to build a platform that would allow for like-minded and innovative educators to share their perspectives and to be inspired by one another.  Who are the educators that the talkSTEM platform aims to partner with and serve?  This is an extremely large and diverse group of parents, teachers, teacher educators, publishers, mentors, community, informal, and afterschool educators, and more!  We may work in different spaces and approach our interactions with children from different angles but we share a great deal!  We care about the children in our lives and we want them to develop to their full potential.  That’s why talkSTEM partners with varied groups and organizations.  Learn more about our partnerships here.

What is STEM? 

I firmly believe that STEM and STEAM (the A is for Arts) are not merely acronyms but represent mindsets.  Early in the 21st century, the National Science Foundation coined “STEM” to encourage a movement away from silos and towards contextualized and connected thinking that is actually needed in real world scenarios.  How do you nurture a mindset?  That is a key question that talkSTEM’s work is grounded in.  You can learn more about talkSTEM’s perspective on the nature of STEM here.

 

talkSTEM’s goal is to engage all children, regardless of gender, income, and race in STEM, to broaden participation in STEM fields, and to foster a sense of belonging in STEM classes and careers.  We work with our partners to help children to develop meaningful, personalized STEM experiences because we know that they will be much more likely to pursue STEM courses, to gain confidence in themselves as people who do STEM and who see the STEM connections in their own lives.  In our curricula and resources, which we make freely available to schools and other groups, we highlight the fact that the world is a fascinating places filled with infinite STEM moments:  why do the leaves on this tree rustle and make that sound so much more than those on this neighboring tree?  What patterns do we see on the tiles in this school hallway (watch the 2  min video here)?  How did the artist who created this mosaic use the pieces differently to effect high contrast versus low contrast color (watch the 3 min video here)?  Where is the math in downtown environments?

 

skyscraper that shows stem

These are just a few of the hundreds of STEM questions that the talkSTEM team and our growing community have asked and answered in specific spaces as part of our growing walkSTEM initiative, co-developed by myself and walkSTEM advisor, Dr. Glen Whitney, founder of MoMath (or the National Museum of Mathematics, the only math museum in the country, located in New York City).

We put the spotlight on children’s neighborhoods and lived experiences.  Why do we focus on specific places and activities in this initiative as opposed to going for the generalizable?  We know from brain science research (and also intuitively if we consider our own memories) that our memory of unique personal experiences tends to feel very different than our memory of ideas and concepts that we learned from textbooks or lectures.  Both are categories of long term memory; however the latter, semantic memory, processes ideas and concepts that are not drawn from personal experience whereas episodic memory involves the ability to learn, store, and retrieve information about unique personal experiences that occur in daily life. Imagine a child who has explored their own neighborhood through their STEM lens, asked their own questions and wondered about the leaves on a  tree, the height of a building, the shape of a traffic bollard, and more.  This child has the benefit of a rich repertoire of personalized STEM experiences that she can connect to concepts she learned or will learn at school.  She is cultivating her STEM mindset and developing her identity as a STEM person, someone who sees that math and science is very much alive in her lived experiences and in the spaces she moves through.   She is more likely to feel that she belongs in STEM-centered classrooms and work spaces even though much work needs to be done to foster a sense of belonging for girls and underrepresented groups.  Read my op-ed published in the Dallas Morning News to learn more about this issue from my perspective and you can also watch this 3 minute video about the “branding issue” with STEM that demands our attention.

Through talkSTEM’s work, a community of individuals, groups, and organizations is growing.  We share a lot of free resources including 300 short videos on the talkSTEM YouTube channel and other materials on the talkSTEM Learning Suite.  Members of this community come from varied walks of life who care about equity in STEM education and who view both STEM and education as immensely broad sets of experiences that take place in homes, schools, afterschool spaces, and many other settings.  I am hopeful that this community will continue to grow – we have much to share with each other with the goal of engaging our youth in STEM.

I am excited to share talkSTEM’s free, curated video collections and hope that parents and other educators will watch these short, inquiry-based videos with their children.  Ultimately, I hope they will be inspired to ask their own questions about elements in their everyday spaces and in their favorite activities (playing sports, cooking, dancing, etc.).  In this way, we can all cultivate our internal explorer, and our STEM mindsets.

 

promo

 

View our fun, curated video collection suitable for every curious mind.

 

View talkSTEM’s fun, curated video collection for girls and women in STEAM.

 

I hope you will join the talkSTEM community.  We share a good deal of fascinating content on social media so that’s a great way to stay in the loop as well with our curated news and other content.  Further, I’d love to invite families and all other individuals and groups to join our  #STEMlens movement on social media (Instagram, Tik Tok, Twitter, or Facebook), which we are extending through January 2021.  You can channel your (and your child’s) inner photographer and share your STEM questions related to your neighborhoods and favorite activities in this way.  You will be helping us create our curated visual library of STEM in the real world, which we plan on sharing freely online in the spring for teachers and all other educators to use to engage children.

If you are interested in volunteering virtually (students in high school and college, young professionals, women in STEM or Tech groups as well other individuals/groups) please email info@talkSTEM.org.  We are actively seeking partners interested in collaborating as well as partners interested in helping us grow our impact.  I would love to hear from you to discuss ways we can engage children in unique STEM learning activities in your communities!  Please email me directly at koshi@talkSTEM.org

Our walkSTEM tour docents are classroom and community educators who lead STEM walking tours.

 

girls at pi day math festival

 

Our annual, free Pi Day Math Festival in downtown Dallas draws 1,000 attendees.  Read this Scientific American blog to find out more about this Festival, which we would love to replicate in other places across the country.

 

Dr. Koshi Dhingra is the Founder and CEO of talkSTEM.org. She received an undergraduate degree from the National University of Singapore and a Doctorate in Science Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research focused on connecting formal and informal educational opportunities for over 20 years. She has years of experience teaching at the middle and high school levels, and in teacher education programs. She previously served as a director of the Science and Engineering Education Center at the University of Texas at Dallas. Following this, she founded talkSTEM in Spring, 2015.