SALT LAKE CITY — More than 150 teachers from across the state met Friday for a demonstration of new educational technologies that will be piloted in schools this fall.
The training session, organized by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and the STEM Action Center, presented teachers with 11 technologies aimed at closing achievement gaps and increasing college readiness in mathematics.
“We will see what technologies are the best fit,” said Meredith Mannebach, program director for the STEM Action Center, which was established earlier this year by lawmakers with a $10 million investment.
The action center is designed to coordinate best practices in the state, particularly in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which are collectively known as STEM.
"I think it’s critical to our state to be seen as a player and to be seen as an innovator in STEM education and STEM technology, because everybody across the country is focusing on this," Mannebach said. "In our global economy, we need to focus on STEM if we want to fill the jobs of tomorrow."
Much of the technology presented Friday consisted of learning software programs that provide immediate feedback to students and allow a child to work at their own pace.
Rachel Southwick, a fourth-grade teacher who participated in a demonstration of the Think Through Math program, said computer and tablet-based learning appeals to the interests of today’s children.
“It’s just way individualized,” she said. “The don’t have to stay with the class the entire time. If they’re ready to move on, they can.”
Lissa Saunders, a sixth-grade teacher who also participated in the Think Through Math presentation, said the program is designed to be used not just in the classroom, but at home as well.
“It helps to fill gaps (students) may have,” she said. “I think it gives the kids great practice. It brings the interest to their level.”
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, observed many of the presentations and took time to thank the teachers for being present for the training. He spoke particularly highly of the immediate feedback potential of the learning programs, comparing them to a tutor who can help students with their homework.
“This truly has the capacity to improve math and science outcomes more than anything in history,” he said. “We’ve always accepted the notion that some kids are good at math and some aren’t. That’s just not true.”
He said he was pleased with the work done by the newly created STEM action center in launching the technology pilot, and praised the efforts of educators to address the needs of Utah’s students.
“(The Governor’s Office of Economic Development) and the State Office of Education have been doing an amazing job of deploying this,” Stephenson said. “It shows the level of professionalism we have in our classrooms.”
John Alexander, a teacher at Kearns High School who participated in Friday’s training, said he was encouraged by the programs but concerned about students who may not have full access to technology.
“We have a lot of students who don’t have a computer in the home so we’re going to have to help them with that,” he said.
The technology offers a systematic way of presenting material that could free teachers up to focus on the individual needs of their classroom, Alexander said.
“I don’t think it can hurt,” he said of the new technologies. “Kids are going to be exposed to a method of solving problems and that’s what we’re trying to do, create problem solvers.”
The initial pilot is expected to reach more than 31,500 students in grades seven, eight and 10, or roughly 25 percent of the state’s targeted population, according to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
Contributing: Rich Piatt