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The Engaging America’s Talent Conference took place at the Peabody Hotel from March 22nd to the 24th.  During three days of intense discussion one theme emerged over and over from speakers and participants alike. If teachers want to get kids pumped up about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, they must throw out the traditional classroom model in favor of going high-tech, interactive, and literally “into the field.”

The conference centered on the evaluation of three specific educational themes, topics ranging from the evaluation of age specific education models and integrating “real research” in student projects to the application of technology as a learning tool in and out of the classroom. 

For K-12 students, speakers from around the country stressed a focus on the importance of hands-on learning. From Idaho, Alabama and Texas, program leaders reiterated the importance of reaching kids at an interactive level. This included using media tools and web-based learning to spur interest.

The benefit of informal education models like after school programs was also discussed. Whether the topic was a wetlands project in Mississippi, community-based environmental conservation in Hawaii or a crime scene investigation summer camp in Arkansas, program leaders stressed the importance of working with kids “in the field”.

And examples covered a broad spectrum of topics. Speakers presented findings that hit on everything from student across the US identifying and digitally logging near-extinct ladybugs to discovering pulsars in deep space.

Not surprisingly, the research findings also reflected the idea that kids work best in teams. From Vermont and California, to Alaska and New York, highlighted projects showed how students are achieving dramatic results by working in groups to attain a common goal. And the findings also reflected another commonality: the idea that to ensure successful integration of their endeavors, students must attempt to expand the team by working with the local community, stressing an emphasis on conservation and environmental responsibility.

Of course, the findings related to technology-focused education were the most prevalent.  This is, after all, the first generation of school children to be born into a world where computers and the internet have been available from the first day of class.

Research from New Mexico, Maine and Arkansas demonstrated the importance of using technology to prepare students for the 21st century economy. Whether to enrich the teacher/student relationship through distance learning, putting laptops in the classroom, or empowering teenagers to build robots and learn CAD, the message was clear. Being comfortable with technology is vital in preparing kids for the workforce of tomorrow.

With over one hundred and fifty education professionals from around the country in attendance, the impact of the conference will surely be felt as they take home what they’ve learned and begin to apply it in the classroom.