Q&A: For more diversity in STEM, start with the teachers

STEM Education Heather Anderson is a second grade teacher at Grant Ragen Elementary School in Waukee. She's working with a student on building Cubelets.

With technology changing how teachers, teach, Clay & Milk wanted to hear from a teacher currently changing.

So we met with Heather Anderson—a second-grade teacher at Grant Ragan Elementary in Waukee— who was nominated for the Academic Innovation and Leadership Award during the Women of Innovation Awards Monday night.

Anderson is also a member of the Des Moines School Board.

She says her students sometimes enjoy, “Low-tech” classroom activities because they are always surrounded by “new-tech.” Whether it’s completing assignments on the touch screen whiteboard, Cubelets for programming, iPads for presentations or Facebook, Anderson is embracing technology.

“And for the better,” she says.

Anderson shared how she incorporates technology into her daily lessons, how to get more diversity into STEM education and initiatives the  Des Moines School Board has to promote diversity in STEM.

Why be a teacher?

HA: I was always a teacher, I’m the oldest, I would set up a classroom at home, I think I’ve always had that mentality. I was a nanny. After high school, I decided that I wasn’t going to go to college and I went out to New York to be a nanny then realized I kind of had to go to college to be a teacher.

My journey took a little bit longer but I got to where I was supposed to be.

How do you utilize technology in your classroom?

HA: I was able to get these two huge carts and we have this extra room this year—probably not next year—and we call it the STEM room. It’s like a maker space. There are all sorts of things that I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to use yet. But I always tell them we are going to learn together.

What I’ve found is they like the low-tech because they don’t do as much. They are still learning. I mean I had these huge boxes from something because I always keep everything, and the kids made these giant mazes. It showed how different angles made the ball go faster or slower, it was like a Rube Goldberg machine.

I mean it’s second grade but some of them came up with amazing things.

Is tech good for education?

HA: It’s the future, it just depends on how you use it and how it best fits your students. I try and find those extra things especially for kids you notice are really techy. And you need to foster whatever they want to do, even if you aren’t the expert.

When I get the Cublets out, one kid was like, ‘Oh I know those.’ So I had him come over and do it, so obviously he’s worked with them before but you can tell that the brain works that way. And it’s good when you learn things like that because he’s not reading where he’s supposed to be reading right now. Not that he’s not smart, it’s just nice to see them shine in other areas.

And if you have somebody say ‘they don’t like to read’, if you find out what they like, they would like to read. Like that one boy, he was reading Minecraft. So it fits.

As a school board member, what would you like to see done with technology in a perfect world?

HA: With the Iowa Stem Council I know Hoover was able to get a big STEM Grant, I’d just like to see more of it.

We had a speaker come and talk about the Skilled Trades and how tech is really part of the Skilled Trades. For them to learn a lot of those trades now, they will have to know a lot of different technology that exists. The guy speaking mentioned how they have to bring in people from other states because we can’t fill those jobs. That’s a huge opportunity that I hope students and parents will realize that can be a really good career.

How can STEM education become more diverse?

HA: When I think of diversity, I really think that since in the United States, non-white students are now the majority, not the minority. So like in a district like Des Moines, what they really need is teachers of color. And we are really trying to even train our own students to be teachers.

There are different STEM programs where they can go to Drake and into a STEM profession.

I really feel like that would be something to change, especially in an urban district or a district where it really is the majority of students are of color. They need to see teachers of color.

Every teacher should be looking at doing more cultural proficiency things they can do with their staff and to prepare their teachers to teach.