STEM? Where’s the beef?

The acronym STEM is commonly used to reference a set of educational and occupational fields or domains related to science, but there is inconsistency in the definition of this set and debate about whether the four fields deserve special attention as a collective entity (Gonzalez & Kuenzi 2012). This approach lumps together many disparate disciplines on the assumption that their shared importance promotes technological innovation, competitiveness, and long-term national prosperity and security.Science occupations are high status and reward their incumbents with relatively high personal income and social prestige. It is hardly surprising to see wealthy schools promote their STEM-ness and for those in, or wanting to be in those schools to do likewise.

This implies that STEM education may be more universalistic than non-STEM education, in that a student’s achievement may be evaluated more objectively in a STEM subject than in a non-STEM subject. Thus, STEM infers more than just science. It suggests social mobility, allowing socially disadvantaged persons to succeed through objectively measured criteria accepted by STEM educators and scientists. Again non-STEM educators will find themselves marginalised and rebuffed for suggesting alternate views – or worse – asking for some evidence.

My exchanges with STEM-Tweeters this week left me scratching my head, as no one could point to a study on the impact of STEM in primary or secondary education in Australia, yet all seem convinced by the commercial marketing and claims of the Chief Scientist that we need to give Science more money and attention.

Schooling is apparatus which acts as social determinants and processes which affect educational attainment in general. When I ask what is driving so many teachers to get on the STEM wagon – ie agents of social determinants and processes which affect attainment of STEM education relative to non-STEM education – and why pro-STEM have assumed games are part of their domain – I get a raft of answers – none of which address the central issue – STEM education has narrowly focused on school-specific factors expected to affect participation and achievement in STEM education.

This is the same self-fulfilling rubbish that orbited EdTech – and still does.


Gonzalez HB, Kuenzi JJ. 2012. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education: a primer. Congr. Res. Serv. 7-5700, Washington, DC.

More STEM education won’t protect our students from robots

I have a tendency to ask people – who announce the importance of things – on Twitter how they actually know their amplification is factual or accurate. Twitter is both a useful channel for sharing and expanding the scholarship of teaching, and promoting utter rubbish based on marketing and bias.

STEM is one such topic I will ask for more information about. As an Art & Design teacher, I am occasionally symobolised in some of thhe rhetoric as STEAM – but by and large, art and design is seen an outside of STEM. Why? Simple, if STEM amplifiers believed Art & Design useful, they would be no STEM, just STEAM. So from the outset. STEM prompters isolate the arts and humanities from thier agenda.

STEM is an extension of the same ‘technological determisism’ that has powered EdTech for the last decade with ingrained bias, falacies, consumerism and bubblgum-theories. For example “Children who are taught to use Web2.0 will …” now spend 82% of their time (in Australia) streaming music, television, movies and YouTube user-generated content on between one and three devices. For the poorest, their phone will be their only access to the Internet.

The urgency to advance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education is evident in the repeated calls by Australia’s Chief Scientist (e.g. 2014)

During this time, school has ‘maker spaces’ and ‘STEM labs’. The TAS (Technology and Applied Studies) workshop has rarely been visited or booked by other teachers. The Visual Arts and Performing Arts spaces have been pleading for funding. They still are. Apparenly STEM is something we don’t have – or can’t do, unless we have special conferences, hashtags and convert new rooms to this new unique demand – because if we don’t we will once again fail to prepare children for …. work. So we’re faced with a few issues here – first that education is a zero sum game that creates winners and losers and second that commercial agendas are not just allowed, but encouraged to create further disadvantage in schools and between them – tweet by tweet, based on scant evidence.

Historically, whenever jobs get destroyed by new technology, other jobs get created. Computer typesetting has put a lot of printers out of work. But we now have loads of new jobs enabled by computer typesetting like web designer and ebook publisher.

The message on Twitter is of course “studys show”. I don’t people bother to actually look or read these. If they did, they’d soon discover that any effort to create a ‘new’ focus or ‘reform’ an old on inside school system is extremely difficult and that buying new equipment doesn’t last – remember the ‘every child from year nine will have a laptop’ propoganda.

A study by Oxford University said the jobs of the future are in robotics. All you have to do is repeat this to become a ‘celebrity teacher’ who shows amazing insight. What rubbish. Since when did “I have a pineapple, I have a pen” become scholarship.=

Toby Walsh is Professor, Research Group Leader, Optimisation Research Group at NICTA.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

There are several arguments for why we do need to invest more in STEM education.

First, it leads to some of the safest jobs. Second, STEM is likely to help grow the economy. Third, STEM will drive innovation and productivity, both of which are desperately needed by Australia to compete in the 21st century. And as a person working in STEM education, I agree with these arguments, and would welcome more focus on STEM.

However, there are also arguments that we need to invest more in the humanities.

First, STEM needs people people: interface designers; creative types, etc. It’s not just geeks that are needed in the internet and smartphone enabled future of tomorrow.

Second, STEM isn’t for everyone, and there are many even safer jobs beyond STEM.

Third, if robots are going to reduce how much we work, the humanities will help us fill time that we are not working in constructive ways.

Wouldn’t that be great? If the 21st century became famous for an explosion in great works of art, paintings that changed the way we see the world, symphonies that make us weep, and plays that touch the soul? Robots might one day be able to help make such art, too.

At the civic level, STEM is creating further ‘institutional grouping’ and competition between schools and universities for funding and attention. Rather than ‘future proofing’ society, the public promotion of STEM is dangerously premature.

I argue Students’ conceptions of how they initiate, plan, implement and monitor self-regulated learning (SRL) strategies have practical implications for teaching and learning and that the new ‘digital technologies’ syllabus (not in use) remains a primary focus for schools in the near future, but is already undermined by reports of declining literacies in society – including transmedia literacies, and vanishing system-provided infrastructure (laptops, learning management systems, support, maintenance). There are people (often used to justify STEM) that have been working on this for decades.

If it was going to be EASY to do STEM – and if all of education should be driven by what the Chief Scientist thinks … I still rebel againt the Twitter simplicity of these echos.

To illustrate, pedagogical knowledge practices may include the planning of lessons and preparation of resources that target students’ conceptual development in the STEM areas. Apart from scheduling and timetabling lessons, planning also needs to incorporate teaching strategies, classroom management, problem solving by the teacher with reflection-in-action implementation and assessment strategies.

So when I’m told there are Australian researchers and Australian research that is showing we need moar STEM – I simply don’t see it in the literature.

I went to a recent STEM showcase, where “planning”  meant the teacher devising a student booklet as a resource for students to understand the tasks required of them for designing, constructing, and testing a medical mission kit. The mathematics and science concepts were embedded in the planned resources to aid students’ understandings of the engineering activity.

STEM education is a relatively new field for primary and secondary education in Australia and elsewhere, which warrants substantial investment into research on how STEM education can elicit and verify student outcomes. To me, proclaiming yet another ‘shift’ is needed, or worse ‘happening’ has no merit without also understanding ‘how’ this will be delivered will over-come the longstanding pedagogical issues in using all forms of technology.


Game Based Learning – Push the cart and stop lollygagging.

Minecraft is not the apex of ‘game based learning’ nor is it the ‘best’ game for kids to ‘learn’ in the classroom. Minecraft Edu set out to be a ‘for profit’ solution that could be sold to teachers and therefore enslaved kids inside that biome. It panders to the teacher agenda and boundaries around their own belief, knowledge and experience of ‘games’. It was a great idea – as a business idea – but as a theoretical or pedagogical model about as sound as jello. If we look at the feast of game design and game theory – why eat jello!


This was then ‘sold’ to Microsoft for an undisclosed sum and has been repacked with their overall ‘school marketing’ campaign in the ongoing turf war with Google and Apple.

Get off the cart and start pushing. Stop presenting Minecraft at TeachMeets and try something new … even if it won’t make you Chitter-popular. Be a professional, be a gamer … be into it or drop out the game.

Today, Minecraft is presented as the ‘default’ and most teacher-relatable ‘game’ solution. It is popular with kids (ie acceptable to their parents) and recognised, even if some think it’s a lego game.

Most of this ‘gaming’ is PC and laptop, I see few working with Pocket. It’s not the same story that was useful in 2010, but over used and remixed. It’s safe, it’s easy and apparently it signifies ‘innovation’.

But, it you want actually want to get the cart moving again about the value of games – games that didn’t exist in 2010 – get off the cart an push the damn thing. Don’t forget – games are a valid and unique media literacy that don’t need to be integrated with an essay in Google Docs to become valid in the classroom. Just like ‘play’ itself is valuable because it’s a great way build self-efficacy and agency in the world around us. It’s also fun, not creepy treehouse fun.

Teachers love the “we’re teaching kids for jobs that don’t exist yet” dogma. Well I think you may be using games that fail to promote the kind of learning and social connectedness that already exists – and if you follow the research – kids are spending over 80% of their time streaming music, TV, Netflix, Stan, Spotify and youtube. If not they are following links to terrible content via apps.

The old worry “Google will make you stupid” is dead. Kids don’t even Google. They follow links and consume TV along side their parents in binge-watching sessions. Kids don’t spend 8 hours a day on a game, young kids spend 8 hours a day playing dozens of games, which they don’t go back to ever. They download, play the basic level and when it gets hard, quit and get a new game. Forget digital natives – they are nomads for years before they get to be teens and play comp with their mates – and thats all about connectedness and shared experience, not content.

There are games, game cultures and game methods – all of which an be used to create engagement and mindfulness. They can also be presented from the stance of digital nutrition and digital sunscreen. And yet, what do we get? More people droning on about Minecraft … because it’s easy and profitable … not because anyone’s shown it improves anything yet.

Game Based Learning is not what is being presented … push the cart to the next checkpoint or the other team win.

(another unpopular opinion of a games/parenting researcher and player.



Say GROUP work one more time – I dare ya.

The job of schools, in my view is always to try and ensure students, who choose to open the door to their next adventure in life – do so to the best of their ability, regardless of what individuals believe. School leaders that run on FUD or my favourite “but when we did that at X, it didn’t work” – are just occupying chairs in my view and not worth spending time enlightening anymore. We’ve been at this ‘reform’ for at least a decade with technology and are fully aware of the new media literacies and other archetypes that put students in situations where they have to think, act and care about themselves and others.

In my ‘University’ life, it is so often apparent which students are not familiar with the work flows needed for ‘group’ work as they call it. It’s a key indicator of pre-teacher and in-service teacher mindset to me. As soon as I read, group work or hear it said in connection with learning … I know this person has – so far – been experiencing it as painful, irritating and frustrating. More often than not, they just want to do solo work – because it’s easier (in their mind).

If your child is saying “I’m doing group work” and winces if you then ask “Do you mean you’re collaborating in a group” … I’m pretty sure they will also respond with that ‘what are you on face?’. Those students who work in groups pervasively, will just nod in agreement. Collaboration in networks is fairly new, but why should collaboration (and the work flows needed to think, design and make) be new to first year University students? – Answer: They’ve been doing GROUP work and their schools have failed to recognise the difference.

The job of educators is to either open doors for students (school who help kids get to where they want to be) or to furnish the skills needed to do it themselves. When I read reflections about how difficult it was to work in a group on an assignment at Uni, I return to the obvious fact that those schools who base their ethos on communication, collaboration and inquiry (regardless of the toolset) must also provide workflows (human and technological) to overcome conflict and sulking over who’s opinion is the right one.

Collaborative projects only work if students also learn the importance of listening to understand and not listening to reply – and I think some ‘leader-populars’ on social media might revise their concepts of ‘group’ accordingly.

Buy your own console Dad.


For – I won’t delete it.

Playing with teens, especially boys is important for parents.  I could provide a list of references but as this is a blog, just trust me for a moment.

First, do a Google search of images for Dads and kids playing games. You might find this one — but you will find most images of dads are gaming with either old systems and computers and most often young children. The media representation you see, and perhaps don’t actively think about is that Dads and teens don’t play. If you add the broad media dogma of anti-social content and behaviour, then the message is Dads should not play with teens.

Most interestingly, all the images I found are co-op play on a couch. Not networked play at all. So the media message – the boundary of communication – is that Dads and teens (boys) don’t or should not play networked games together.

I’m talking about boys because if we apply this to Dads and girls (and we know almost half of gamers are girls) the result is almost zero. Not try mums and daughers … zero.

So the problem is this: Games are bad, Dads are there to yank the modem and mum, well mum’s in the corner crying about the state of the family and this effing console.

So does it have to be this way? Is there a solution? … I think so, and my research (so far) suggests we have to connect our past to their present and work hard to fill in the ‘gaps’ which are not technological at all.

We accept: Raising teen boys in a digital age, where they are constantly marketed to isn’t easy. Firstly, most of the games are designed for adults, and appeal to the long standing marketing of content and themes – such as boys build stuff where girls don’t. I again refrain from adding a list of references to research into the marketing of games, toys and entertainment based on gender stereotypes – but we all know it is both a reality (that we don’t think is okay) and that marketing companies don’t care as long as they sell sufficient products.

So where does this leave boys and Dads right now?

The distance problem: Well you could try and manage the time they spend online, from the stance that Dad doesn’t play with them (one step removed) or plays separately (two steps) or doesn’t play at all (three steps). Each step is a move further away from the ‘half-life’ world that your teen has created and loves.

The enduring social maturation problem: Many teens don’t want to have Dad anywhere near their friends – unless they need the family Uber service. Some Dads try way too hard and others just go about their own interests – in the role that the media and consumer machine reminds them is the ideal – work, provide, sleep and repeat.

The work life balance problem: Many Dads (and mums) are working longer hours and travelling further to and from work. The home (more research) and the family routine (more research) is far from that of the 1960s (research) when the home moved from a place of work to a place of leisure (research) and more and more consumer goods (more research). Please assume mums are in integral part of my discussion too! but alas no game research differentiates between mums and dads – it just sticks to ‘parents’.

The networked participation problem:  If parents want to understand the present and future lives of their teens, then they need to activate their own agency to do so. I don’t mean playing games six hours a day, but making an effort to be involved in the world they live in and be authentic in doing so. If you are lucky – you might be accepted as a co-player, you might even be allowed to play competitive games in a team. You might even learn something and have some fun you never imagined. Most people have a hard time accepting this – but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

The ignore it problem: If you stand aside, being a critic and demonizing their use of games and networks, it means you don’t understand the power of networks and culture of participation that they have created – though social play (more research).

But the research is limited …

What isn’t in the research (I’m working on that as a tiny dot with about then other dots) is what happens when teens and Dads play networked games. In fact there’s no research that could be related to the current state of XBONE, PS, STEAM etc.,

Does the the balance of power shift to the child as people often seem assume? Well, actually, it doesn’t – or at least no one’s shown it does. I know I can’t show it does either. What I see is the same network-effect that people such as John Seeley Brown and Henry Jenkins have been talking about for a decade. Except this time, there is a powerful buff – the bond between parent and child.

I see parents with twenty years of gaming experience is the norm not the exception … but few have on-going network experiences of playing with thier kids as teens.

There’s no point trying to get teens off line – yanking the modem, yelling and threatening them … because while you take the game-time, the network remains pervasive and you opted out. You don’t know the network and it doesn’t notice you’re absence.

In short, you might as well lock them in a panic-room for the time you also yank their access to their network – and there is no evidence to suggest that this has any effect on changing their behavior. If your teen is also stressed, anxious and worse – depressed – then you have to wonder what damage this causes.

What does matter: The quality of the time they are allowed to play (thin and new research). The device they play on (thin research) and the network they play with (broad research about network cultures). Let’s assume parents are at least monitoring the total time and the physical space (research into the latter is thin, but exists).

It is la-la land to think that kids will emulate their parents childhood in some weird Famous Five or Secret Seven way … let it go ..l let it go … and find a new way forward – even if that way sounds crazy right now.

There’s some (research) to tell you how digital media is causing depression and anxiety in families (but isolating that from other factors – pure speculation) – but I’ll bet most readers have felt the wrath of a rampaging teen who’s just had the wifi shut down.

Now think how much you could spend in therapy (do they really have answers or strategies based on games and not TV.) Ask them if  TV watching is their baseline (and what specific XP do they have in games research). I’ll wager, most have been blaming games for social decay and addiction on thin experiments and leaps of faith so far. Some seem to have got very rich off it.

So I’m saying, go out today and for $400 you’re online with them this afternoon. You’re playing and connecting with them in a way you are not doing now. What’s that a few hours of counseling – which you can’t resell on Gumtree if it doesn’t work.

At no point has anyone proven (or even written much about) how teens don’t want parents to play with them, nor that parents would be rejected if they asked. Your teen will probably jump at the chance – you’ll be set up in no time, connected to their friends – who frankly will be amazed that a Dad (or Mum) has rolled up to play on their terms.

Is this so hard or weird? Of course not – kids shoot hoops with dads, go fishing with dads, watch the game with dads and much more …. but it trails off because kids grow up, and arguably, the advent of media makes this years earlier than it once did.

You might have an 11 year old who’s disconnected with you and connected with ‘randoms’ on-line … but if you get online and genuinely want to play and understand them as a person – with their own self-efficacy, agency and knowledge — you aint gonna find that by yelling and yanking the modem.

The problem is … you won’t find a workshop or parenting event that is going to tell you about this — or give you a plan … because so far, moaning and disconnecting has been the response to them enjoying and connecting … now which parenting approach is the one you really want.

Kick ass, don’t kiss it – that’s what networks were designed to do.

Moving on from my irritation of the SMH identifying yet another “celebrity” teacher and then immediate efforts of some on social media to echo, amplify and associate with said teacher, I returned to the hub of what has been happening for over a decade.

Teachers (you and I) must reject these media-representations of ourselves and others. We certainly should not amplify, endorse, repeat or try to build capital by association. Why? Because no one – NO ONE – can be stand above, or even outside the core principles JSB is saying in this short reading. No ‘celebrity’ – whether self made, or in the case of some on Chitter – self-endorsed – can be so without also accepting the importance and kindness of others.

The popularity contest is a media trope – it’s damaging the profession not highlighting the best elements and ideas. Let’s be clear about this – the masses buy into the idea that the ‘future will be better’ idiom because it’s human nature for MOST people. The same people usually want to belong and will endorse the  people who not only appear say the right things, but have sufficient perceived (and media shaped) qualities we find in ‘contestants’ and ‘participants’ in TV reality shows. For example, the battling carpenter with cute wife and even cuter toddler who can’t afford to finish their house. They want to follow the social drama, and feel good in finding some sense of connection and identity with them.

This isn’t what JSB is talking about at all. It isn’t how most people got past the beach head of ‘we don’t like technology’ in the first place. I guess some might argue they are doing this – but I also argue they are busy building their own telepresence and care just as much about being listed on “cool influencer lists” and posting photos of themselves with other ‘cool people’. They might not admit it, but rather than scholarship, they are as invested in their own entertainment and status as anything else. Again, listen to JSB and then ask? Who is doing this in a pure sense, and who is just talking bollocks to feel important – I nomonate Dan Hasler as gentleman who is doing what JSB is talking about – and someone I massively respect as both a teacher and arse kicker not licker.

There are no celebrities – and whether or not some media-editor uses the term or not – the fact is, there are no celebrities – therefore, all sycophantic associates need to calm down and read this post from Dan.

I used to wonder why academics ignore so much of what went on in K12. Didn’t they know about these “new” things? Why do they avoid getting involved?

I think I’ve come to better understand it, but I don’t consider myself an “academic” given I’m a teacher. The issue is lack of evidence and commercial bias. In business, it seems a general working knowledge of a market is all that’s needed to head up some education-sounding marketing push. Evidence of success is to self badge or become endorsed via the media as a “celebrity”.

The fact neither do any research, can produce no meaningful evidence and will not escape the “no significant difference” problem – isn’t a problem — unless you ask for evidence.

If brand X makes a game called “bussfish” then bussfish is the best educational game ever. If teacher B has the archetypes needed to attract media interest and says “future” things that pop culture wants to believe – why ask for evidence?

On the other hand, if what you are doing is entirely based on evidence, data, analysis and connections to other people doing the same … then the questions you have … cannot be dismissed simply because it suits business agendas or imedia fodder. In fact, as a teacher – being on the end of hype and marketing – creates very real classroom issues.