Wow! Ed: Newsletter from the Center for Educational Improvment
Artificial Intelligence Will Permeate Our Lives
February 2018
In This Issue

11 Award Winners and Round 2 of the Compassion Survey

CEI STEM Video: Tinkering, Making, and Engineering

Trauma and Mindfulness Workshops from CEI

Dear Educators,

Fly Me to the Moon (and back)-- however, make sure that my moon-mobile is equipped with an autonomous driver linked to a GPS to help me navigate the galaxy. But wait! There is an App that can help me plan this.

This month, we give schools some fuel to propel their STEM dreams forward. For a step into the future, begin with the article on AI by intern Marah Barrow, then refresh your knowledge of STEM careers with input from Morgan Grant. And finally, drift up to the stars for a closer look at our galaxy and beyond with Joanna Marzano.
AI: S.T.E.M.ulating Maximum Success for Tomorrow's Workforce
By Marah Barrow, CEI Intern
A computer is only useful if the person using it knows what he/she is doing. The same goes for Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies that are becoming commonplace in today's world. We all have heard of the nightmarish sci-fi scenarios where AI takes over the world. Some of us may experience the beginning of this when our cell phones change our calendar dates or we are thrown into a panic when we can't get enough bars to place a call. It is crucial that we do not allow AI to outrun human intelligence (Shum, 2018). However, educators who often lack a background in AI are running a constant race to engage students in lessons related to STEM and AI.


AI is becoming more complex and advanced by the hour. Consider IT Doctor and Google DeepMind:

  • IT Doctor, an artificial intelligence software that operates as a psychologist named Amy, provides a somewhat unbelievable, but entirely real, example of the dynamic and complex nature of changes that today's students, tomorrow's workforce, may face. As a virtual psychologist, Amy is able to successfully diagnose mental health concerns based on her linguistic analysis of speech, language, and emotions. 
  • Google DeepMind addresses other medical concerns, such as early diagnosis, and as any fan of today's popular medical shows knows, surgeons are frequently assisted by advanced technology (Liu, n.d.).
Other AI Innovations. Did you know that AI also has the potential to impact police operations, farming, and blood testing? 
  • Taser International, a company devoted to enhancing technology used in police cameras, will be expanding its services to include new technology that combines recognition algorithms, videos, and computer vision technologies to provide immediate categorization and analysis of police video (Tilley, 2017). 
  • In the farming industry, AI is increasing food production, which will become even more important as the world's population continues to rise.  Farmbeats, a program organized by Microsoft, promises to assist farmers with increased food production through the use of data-driven methods to provide them with resources that increase crop yields and reduce costs (Farmbeats, 2015). 
  • AI is also making headway with the environmental detection of serious pathogens to aid scientific leaders in the prevention of public health concerns, like the widespread Zika Virus. Project Premonition, "uses everything from autonomous drones to robotic mosquito traps to try to identify pathogens as they are emerging" (Shum, 2018).
  • Microsoft has also partnered with Adaptive Biotechnologies to use advanced blood-testing techniques to examine the properties of a person's immune system, allowing doctors to more readily diagnose and treat autoimmune diseases and cancer (Lee, 2018).
Implications for Schools

What is your school doing to prepare students for AI? For careers in AI? For using AI in their everyday lives? 

Students today are expected to be well-versed in the very real nature of AI and virtual reality. AI is changing the world, and thus students are expected to be prepared for a future where it will be infused into a broad range of industries and careers. Impressively, students are coming to school with previous exposure to artificial intelligence like Siri and Alexa, as well as technological skills far advanced of previous generations, making them the perfect candidates for 21st century/STEM related education. However, for students to stay current, teachers must continually update how AI is integrated into STEM curricula and instruction.

AI in North Carolina.  Education standards often require teachers to design lessons that encourage 21st century learning, including STEM-related tasks (Garmen, 2017). In North Carolina, students in elementary schools are expected develop STEM skills using virtual  and project-based learning, and business and community partnerships, (NC DPI, 2013). This process continues through both middle and high school, with teachers being held accountable for these STEM learning goals (NC DPI, 2013).

AI in Wisconsin - and Nationally. AI is not only being incorporated into classroom lessons, students are also participating in competitions such as the Wisconsin Regional Future City Competition, which provides another avenue for students to develop 21st century/STEM related skills. In this annual competition, middle school students use SimCity software to design a city that tackles population growth and transitions, sustainability, and other probably issues that cities of the future will face. 

In this year's regional competitions, Wisconsin students in groups of 3-5 competed in designing a city that solves an age-related problem afflicting the elderly (STEM Forward, 2017). Teams are judged on five variables: virtual city design, a 1500-word essay on the city design, a scale model of their future city, a 7-minute presentation, and a project plan. The national final for this competition is on February 20, 2018

AI Alone will not suffice

Without a doubt, AI and other STEM skills are essential to almost every future career option students. But what about all those other important things they're supposed to learn in school? As Geoffrey Colvin explains in his book Humans are Underrated: What High Achievers know that Brilliant Machines Never Will, STEM misses a huge chunk of important lessons that students must learn before making their trek into the real world.

Today's students must be equipped with the social and emotional knowledge that is just as essential as STEM to functioning as a competitive member of the workforce. Colvin mentions programs that enhance this potential like those with an emphasis on business development, motivating the pursuit of students' individual passions. One such program, Start-Up Tech, focuses on these skills (Garmen, 2017). SAP and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, teaches students to strive towards their creative potential in the area of entrepreneurship, by focusing on the use of right brain skills. Individualized mentoring allows students to truly focus on fulfilling their potentials (Garmen, 2017).

So, while STEM is essential for success in tomorrow's workforce, social and emotional skills cannot be forgotten. Along with STEM programs, the Center for Educational Improvement emphasizes "Heart Centered Education," focusing on the five C's (Mason, 2012):
  • Compassion
  • Courage
  • Confidence
  • Consciousness
  • Community
Teachers have a steep task, one which requires preparation for the technological realities of today and tomorrow, but does not leave behind the uniquely human qualities that make the world a place worth living. Education, more than ever before, is focused on honing students' academic skills, while at the same time helping them become more relational in a world that continues to take society further away from essential human contact. 

As STEM education becomes more advanced, and AI becomes a larger part of our daily lives, so does the need for a focus on social and emotional development, ensuring that our students will graduate with both advanced technical skills and also the softer skills that will ensure that they understand something about our "humanness." This is crucial not only for optimal performance in their careers, but for their understanding of themselves and their relationships with others.


Farmbeats. (2015). Farmbeats: AI and IoT for Agriculture. Microsoft Research.

Garmen, K. (2017, May 29). In the era of artificial intelligence, STEM is not enough. Forbes.

Liu, S. (n.d.). IT Doctor. Careers with Stem.

Lee, P. (2018). Microsoft and Adaptive Biotechnologies announce partnership using AI to decode immune system; diagnose, treat disease. Microsoft Blog.

STEM Forward. (2017). Future City Competition. STEM Forward.

Tilley, A. (2017). Artificial Intelligence is coming to police bodycams, raising privacy concerns. Forbes.
Teaching our Children about Careers in STEM
By Morgan Grant, CEI Intern
By now, most of us are familiar with the importance of STEM in schools. After all, the future is STEM, isn't it? In the next decade the number of STEM jobs are estimated to rise by 17%, compared to non-stem jobs which are expected to increase by 9.8%. However, it is currently unknown how these jobs will be filled due to what some continue to see as inadequate implementation of STEM Education in the United States. Only 20% of the United States' labor force will be equipped with the skills needed for STEM jobs according to a 2013 estimate (Pocock, 2013). As recently as 2015, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranked the United States in 38th place in math out of 71 countries and 24th for science (Desilver, 2017). 

Some experts are recommending that teachers revamp the way they teach STEM  to increase both students' testing proficiency and also interest in these topics (Pocock, 2013). Introducing STEM careers in the classroom is one way to attract more students as it helps to create a real-world application. 

Connecting the Dots

Teaching children transferable skills that can help prepare them for STEM careers is critical. Students are more likely to value STEM if they understand why it is relevant and how it can help them in the future (Pocock, 2013).  Learning that they could possibly use their knowledge of math and science to become an "Imagineer" for Disney World or work with highly influential tech companies like Apple could change their perceptions. If students were aware of the wide array of jobs and the diversity of careers where STEM will be helpful, perhaps more students would give more serious consideration to STEM career options.

Currently, the U.S Labor Department states that the top 10 fastest projected growing occupations from 2016 to 2026 are:
  • Solar Photovoltaic Installers
  • Wind turbine service technicians
  • Home health aides
  • Personal care aides
  • Physician assistants
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Statisticians
  • Physical therapist assistants
  • Software Developers
  • Mathematicians
(U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017).

Solar Photovoltaic Installer? How many of you know what that is, and how many of you have recommended that job option to your students? If you guessed it might have something to do with solar panels, you are correct. However, consider this: the annual median pay is $39,240. The job requires a high school diploma, although some candidates take a year at a technical college. Many of the fastest growing career jobs seem to be for technicians and aides. What are the implications for the future? Particularly given that most of these jobs require less training, resulting also in lower salaries than the white-collar jobs that used to top these lists.

With a majority of the listed professions being a part of the STEM field, it is easy for us to see the high value of STEM subjects in schools. However, look again at the list and ask yourself how much teachers in your school are focusing on skills related to these careers.  Are you studying the future of solar technology? Or what services an aging population will need? Are students learning about gerontology?   Students may have a false notion that jobs in STEM are boring due to old stereotypes and misinformed depictions of these careers in the past.  STEM is not simply about lab work, hypothetical mathematical calculations, or studying science in remote locations.

Students are also less likely to be interested in pursuing careers that they know relatively little about. Explaining what a mechanical engineer does or what the typical day of a software developer looks like can help foster curiosity.  Students also need opportunities to look into the future and imagine how jobs are changing. Careers in STEM are constantly evolving and transforming how we operate as a society.
Engaging Students

Showing students that STEM is the future and introducing them to STEM careers is only half the battle. Students must also want to pursue these careers because they believe that they can. One of the initial problems when it comes to STEM curriculum in the United States is that too many students end up shying away from math and science. Girls, minorities and students who come from low income families continue to be less likely to show interest in STEM and therefore have lower representation in STEM careers. Educators find that students from these groups are more likely to believe that they are not smart enough and quit too early (Hill, 2017; Ossola, 2014). Lack of representation may cause some to think that the field is not for them even if they are doing well academically in these subjects (Hill, 2017).

A few schools are trying to address the problem by teaming up with community partners to create initiatives to inspire children and those from underrepresented groups.

Maryland. Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland hosted an event "STEM Girls Count!" in which more than 70 fourth-grade girls were introduced to hands-on activities that ranged in various science, math, technology and engineering fields. In addition, all workshops were led by women in STEM fields who worked in Anne Arundel County (Arias, 2016).

Dr. Judith MacGregor, a member of the American Association of University Women in Anne Arundel County and also the STEM coordinator for STEM Girls Count, tells the Capital Gazette, "By starting at the elementary school level, the program hoped to provide key encouragement for girls to consider careers in which women are still significantly under represented, such as engineering and computer sciences" (Arias, 2016).

Virginia. Piedmont Virginia Community College, the Virginia-North Carolina Alliance, and the University of Virginia's School of Engineering and Applied Science have teamed up to introduce STEM programs to females, minorities and potential first-generation college students to local schools in the Charlottesville, Virginia area. From this partnership, students learn more about innovations in engineering, professional development and job readiness skills. Through the success from this initiative, an elementary school version of this curriculum, called iSTEM, has been implemented in Charlottesville City Schools (Gallorini, 2017; University of Virginia, 2017).

Cost Effective Alternatives

STEM can be expensive, particularly if schools are integrating advanced technologies into programs and providing meaningful, hands-on experiences to students. There are less costly options. Rather than completely outfitting labs with the most up-to-date, expensive equipment, schools can selectively invest in a few specific items. As a site on maker-spaces suggests, " Raid your closets and storerooms for underutilized equipment, science kits, or technology " (Martinez, n.d.).  And partnerships with local businesses and engineers can be the foundation for generating interest in STEM careers. Also, a career panel of STEM professionals or a day focused on STEM career exploration can help answer students' questions and open them to the possibility of working in the field. Field trips to zoos, science museums, high tech businesses, or institutions of higher education with a focus on STEM can also introduce students to professionals in the STEM field.


Arias, K. (2016). My time: AAUW holds successful 'STEM Girls Count!' program. Capital Gazette

Gallorini, M. (2017). Diversifying the STEM Pool. WMRA.

Martinez, S. (n.d.). Makerspace on a shoestring. School outfitters.

University of Virginia. (2017). Lab School for advanced manufacturing technologies. University of Virginia

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2017). Fastest growing occupations: occupational outlook handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Teaching our Students to Reach for the Stars
By Joanna Marzano, CEI Intern
STEM could potentially give students the opportunity to explore and discover their most daring ambitions. Take a moment and dream a little. Imagine faster transportation to travel to exotic sites across the seas. . . or perhaps to virtually visit another galaxy, to jump from star to star or planet to planet.

Introducing STEM to students at an early age provides them exciting opportunities to develop vital skills for the future, while simultaneously shaping them into individuals who will one day re-shape the world. STEM disciplines also help students exercise skills that many consider to be the key to succeeding in the 21st century. These skills include not only the science and math skills, but also "soft skills" such as collaboration, creativity, grit, and global citizenship (El-Ghobashy, 2014).

Within the STEM arena, astronomy has shown promising results in piquing the interest of students of all ages. Astronomy is a great way to introduce students to STEM, because it's so fascinating! All of us have marveled at the vastness of our universe, the beauty of the stars, and the clockwork phases of the moon. Astronomy is also a great way to connect STEM to real-world applications. Without astronomy, we might not have calendars, clocks, or even an understanding of the changing of the seasons (Argyri, 2015).  Consider these related STEM activities from STEMworks:
  • Building a Galaxy
  • Space Math
  • NASA Coding
  • Does the Moon Rotate
  • Sunspot Cycles and more.
Imagine spending several afternoons building a galaxy. Compare the potential student interest for that activity versus reading about ancient wars or any of a number of other topics. 

Bringing Astronomy into the Classroom: NASA All-Stars

NASA All-Stars is a program that aims to introduce STEM to public schools using data analysis techniques. The program works by using data on the science behind astronomy, as well as its history, impact, and much more (Bhat, 2013). Implemented in Chicago, the All-Stars lessons are taught in a story-based manner, which keeps the students interested in learning a new subject.
Below are a few examples of what students learn about with All-Stars:
  • Infrared Astronomy with the Spitzer Space Telescope: In 2003, the Spitzer Space Telescope was launched, which gave us a look at celestial wonders that are otherwise undetectable. Infrared allows us to see through all the "dust" floating around in space, uncovering distant galaxies, Saturn's largest ring, and even unknown and far-away planets!
  • X-Ray Astronomy with Chandra Telescope:With X-ray technology, we can observe one of the most elusive wonders of outer space-super-massive black holes. With the help of Chandra, we made the discovery that most galaxies the size of ours have black holes in their center that weigh up to ten billion times the mass of our sun.
  • Gamma Rays with the Fermi Telescope: Gamma rays are the highest form of energy, and with the help of Fermi, we were able to discover that space and time move together smoothly, just as Einstein predicted.
With NASA All-Stars, students are given the opportunity to learn about the wonders of space and the science behind it. They are given their own projects to complete and present, improving their research and public speaking skills, as well as their STEM literacy. Once the program ends, students and their families are provided membership to the Adler Planetarium, keeping their newfound interest in space alive and refreshed long after their time with the All-Stars.

Look Up to the Stars

Look Up to the Stars dedicates itself to teaching students about science, using astronomy as its outlet. Furthermore,  with a partnership with the Center for Educational Development (CEI), their program also incorporates 21st century skills and STEM into their lessons. Students are engaged by images of stars seen through a custom-made telescope, along with other celestial bodies. Astronomer Kevin Manning visits schools and libraries across the country to teach lessons and hold workshops, some examples include:
  • Astronomy for Everyone. The Size and Scale of the Universe gives students a chance to grasp the enormity of our universe using hands-on activities and visuals.
  • Roadmap to the Stars. The Night Sky Explained teaches students how to read the night sky with star charts.
  • Telescopes. Eyes on the Universe, a lesson that teaches students how to use a telescope and why telescopes are important for astronomy
These lessons are more than just an interesting and fun time; they teach students scientific literacy, which will guide them down a path towards exploration and discovery.

Space Exploration Online

StarNet provides teachers with valuable resources for interactive activities to help students learn about astronomy. The activities are available for children of all ages, take about 10-20 minutes to complete, and cost between $0-$10 to put together. A few examples of these activities are
  • Nuclear Fusion in Stars explains nuclear fusion by using marshmallows to represents atoms crashing together in the nucleus of a star to form new atoms.
  • How Do We Find Planets Around Stars?teaches students how to find planets orbiting far away stars by spinning foam balls (which represent stars) that have smaller balls attached (which represent planets).
  • Solar Energy explains students the power and importance of sustainable energy by observing how water in a bottle painted black has a different level of air pressure compared to water in a clear bottle.
Activities like these help students get a better understanding of astronomy by providing them with interactive ways to learn. Most are inexpensive; some even free, requiring only household objects like 2 liter bottles and cardboard boxes.

What Could You do with Astronomy?

Science, technology, engineering, and math are vital for the development of our 21st century society. It is up to teachers to bring STEM into the classroom in an immersive and interesting way, and luckily, we have programs like NASA Al-Stars or Look Up to the Stars with experts such as Kevin Manning, to help everyone along the way. Using real-world (or out-of-this-world) applications to bring relevance into the lessons, we could cultivate the scientists of the future.


Argyri, (2015,Sept. 18). Astronomy and space science in the STEM classroom. Scientix.

El-Ghobashy, N., (2014). Why it's time to change and how and why we're bringing STEM into the classroom. The Future of Work. Fast Company.
Navigating into the Future

Just as we use our GPS for everyday navigation, students are needing help and inspiration to navigate into their futures in this time of rapid technological growth, AI infusion into our everyday lives, and uncertainty.  Which jobs will exist 5-10 years from now ? What will job security look like?

Is your school doing its best to help students prepare, even as you, like the rest of us, are not quite sure about the roadmap to the future?
Christine Mason
Center for Educational Improvement