Defining STEM: Pittsburgh STEM Summit 2013

The Pittsburgh STEM Summit was full of exciting new information and offerings for the regional STEM community. There were many intriguing programs, internships, and opportunities being showcased, but I believe that the most beneficial presentation of the entire conference did something that was long overdue.

Panelist Q&A session at the 2013 Pittsburgh STEM Summit

Panelist Q&A session at the 2013 Pittsburgh STEM Summit

At this year’s Pittsburgh STEM Summit, STEM was finally defined. No, I’m not just talking about what the acronym stands for (which, in case you’re wondering, is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

Defining a STEM education can be complicated because there are so many offerings and initiatives that claim to be STEM-focused. While STEM is a broad term, there needs to be a more exact way of defining the criteria that makes up STEM programming.

Cynthia Pulkowski, Executive Director of ASSET STEM Education, proposed a definition of STEM and revealed ASSET’s goal to develop a STEM learning network in Pennsylvania.

Pulkowski’s definition offered a four-pillar system for evaluating STEM initiatives. The pillars included:

  1. Inquiry-based education
  2. An integrated curriculum
  3. Project-based group learning
  4. Career awareness

This four-pillar definition provides a more exact means of assessing the quality of STEM offerings and gives specific standards to those creating or purchasing STEM programming.

The most important thing in terms of STEM education is for all educators, innovators, legislators, administrators, and stakeholders to be speaking the same language. This new, more comprehensive and evaluative definition of STEM will finally allow everyone involved to understand one-another much more fluently than ever before. With this understanding will come the ability to create more quality partnerships for those within the STEM community and to set a much higher standard for STEM education within our region.  For more information on Zulama’s STEM curriculums, check out our program.

What do Digital Media, Learning, and Green Beer have in common?!

Attendees at the Digital Media and Learning conference

—Bev Vaillancourt, M.Ed., COI

Inspiration. Imagination Collaboration. That’s what filled the air at the Digital Media Learning (DML) conference last week in Chicago. Nikki Navta, Norton Gusky, and myself attended, proudly representing Zulama.

What do you find at a DML conference? Amazing stories of success with online media! We all know the power of social networking and gaming for youth. Add to that a sense of civic engagement and social justice, and the opportunity for positive change seems as close as a click of the keyboard. A standing ovation. That’s what highschoolers from Oakland, California, received from a room filled with educators for their community advocacy work. It was a special moment in the conference to have these kids share their media savvy. Talk about participatory learning. These kids have it nailed!

We all know kids love to play games. So do grownups! Imagine a room full of adults getting excited watching kids learn through games. What happens? Critical thinking. Common Core State Standards are addressed. And innovation driven by the 21st Century Skills. Learning and fun are rolled into one. What could be better?

Norton Gusky and I had the pleasure of sharing the enthusiasm of students enrolled in Zulama’s popular Entertainment Technology Academy with anyone who would listen during the round table cafe on Saturday. Interaction with so many amazing educators on Saturday was one of my favorite times of the conference.

As the conference ended, the Chicago River turned bright green and revelers filled the streets for Chicago’s famous St Patrick’s Day celebration. More than the green river, this conference ended with a green light, a big GO: run, gallop forward, carrying education into the age of technology, and changing the definition of school for the better. What an exciting time to be a teacher!



DML 2012—Amazing!

This crowd “says it like it is”. It’s refreshing to be among highly-educated people who don’t speak in rhetoric (or, at least they speak in understandable rhetoric). The discourse, both onstage and off, was lively, direct, and sparked controversy. If even a small percentage of the “action items” raised at the conference are started and/or completed in the near future, we will have made progress towards true and deep education reform.

John Seely Brown’s keynote truly set the stage for the rest of the conference:

DML 2012 Keynote delivered by John Seely Brown (aka JSB)


One of my roles is to serve on the planning committee for TRETC (Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference), which is now in its 14th year of existence.  TRETC has always been focused on educators sharing with other educators, and has a great, hands-on lineup already started this year. Karen Cator, the Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, is our keynote speaker! Diana Rhoten, Senior Vice President, Strategy, Startl and Andy Russell, Launchpad Toys is speaking at the pre-conference.

TRETC is a prime opportunity for educators to shine and lead by example by sharing with fellow educators from the southwestern PA region.  This is a way for teachers to:

  1. take your message to people outside your district, and
  2. try out your presentation before you do it at PETE&C or ISTE.

Educators on the leading edge may think their topic is kind of “old news,” but are usually surprised by how many folks in the audience are hearing it for the first time.

Educators: Submit your presentation proposal here! Click on Presentations in the upper-right corner.

TRETC has an expanded format this year, with a full-day of pre-conference workshops offered (mainly) by vendors.  At the conclusion of the pre-conference, there will be a vendor reception to unwind and socialize with fellow attendees.

BONUS to being a presenter: FREE registration – you can show your district how you just saved them some money!

Check out the agenda here!

—Nikki Navta, President, Zulama